Military Embedded Systems

MOSA – Friend or foe?


June 12, 2024

Chip Downing

S5 Intelligence

As I travel to various places around the world, I am surprised by the perception that different government and supplier organizations have of the modular open systems approach (MOSA). MOSA is designed to lower costs for global coalition forces while accelerating new, highly competitive capabilities for the Warfighter, but folks still do not understand these benefits and sometimes turn MOSA into something that should be feared.

Let us be clear – MOSA simply wants to enable the rapid insertion of the most competitive warfighter technologies. I looked at three of its architectural and operational capabilities:

  1. To drive affordable innovation throughout the supply chain based upon open standards and an open systems architecture (OSA);
  2. To leverage the latest advancements in silicon with software that fully enables artificial intelligence (AI) that will augment rapid Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control (CJADC2) decision-making;
  3. To fully enable CJADC2 to deliver the most comprehensive situational-awareness visualizations to the warfighter and commanders for rapid and precise executions of threat responses.

The mandate for MOSA

MOSA is not a new, unproven process for efficiency – it is a remarkably simple and straightforward open systems blueprint for procuring the best, most competitive technologies for creating unequivocal advantages for all coalition armed forces. Ten years ago, MOSA was an interesting purchasing and design concept; today, MOSA is the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)-preferred method for implementation of open systems and is in fact required by U.S. law. Title 10 U.S.C. 4401(b) states that all major defense-acquisition programs (MDAP) are to be designed and developed using a MOSA that:

  • Employs a modular design that uses modular system interfaces between major systems, major system components, and modular systems
  • Is subjected to verification to ensure that relevant modular system interfaces comply with, if available and suitable, widely supported and consensus-based standards
  • Uses a system architecture that allows severable major system components at the appropriate level to be incrementally added, removed, or replaced throughout the life cycle of a major system platform to afford opportunities for enhanced competition and innovation.
  • Complies with the technical data rights set forth in 10 U.S.C. 3771-3775

Core requirements for MOSA

Achieving the benefits of MOSA requires adherence to five major MOSA principles:

  1. Establish an enabling environment – A program manager must establish supportive system requirements, business practices, technology development, acquisition, test & evaluation, and product support strategies.
  2. Employ modular design – Functionality must be isolated during the design process to enable the system to be easier to develop, maintain, modify, and upgrade. A modular systems design will provide the foundation to upgrade or change functions that change or evolve quickly over time with minimum impact on the rest of the system. This is accomplished using open industry standards for key interfaces.
  3. Designate key interfaces – A MOSA system design manages key interfaces to utilize open standards to produce the most life cycle benefits possible.
  4. Use open standards – Open hardware and software interface standards must be well-defined, mature, widely used, and readily available, enabling rapid interchangeability, interoperability, interconnection, compatibility, communication, and logistics support. Open standards managed by independent standards organizations enable immediate support from a wide supply chain supporting an existing market with proven commercial products and related safety and security certification evidence.
  5. Certify conformance – MOSA module verification and conformance to key interfaces based upon open industry standards is the foundation of program efficiency. Proven conformance notably reduces multiple-supplier integration risk, driving accelerated deployment and higher levels of quality throughout the system.

The use of the FACE standard in MOSA programs

The use of The Open Group Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard and Business Approach is now widely referenced as a proven strategy to use open standards-based software in programs using MOSA. The FACE business approach and technical standard is independently managed by The Open Group as a consortium; more than 100 government and industry entities have worked to establish this open avionics environment for all military airborne platforms. The consortium was formed in 2010 and is made up of military customers, avionics suppliers, and academia.

The FACE Technical Standard and Business Approach enables the U.S. and coalition partners to enable military aircraft to rapidly refresh their avionics platforms to support the latest advances in computer hardware and software. The FACE Technical Standard, a “standard of standards,” is based upon existing and proven open standards. There are over 60 open standards that the FACE standard supports, and these are managed by independent standards organizations that serve the global avionics community. These organizations include ANSI, ARINC, IEEE, IETF, Khronos Group, Object Management Group (OMG), and The Open Group, and they manage standards as diverse as ARINC 653, C/C++, DDS, IPv6, Java, OpenGL, POSIX, TCP, and Vulkan, with a wealth of existing commercial solutions. Many of these commercial products have existing airworthiness-certification evidence that both reduces risk and accelerates the deployment of critical airborne software.

Conformance eases integration and accelerates deployment

One of the hallmark achievements of the FACE Consortium is the creation of a conformance program to evaluate the presence of the key interfaces defined in the FACE Technical Standard. Conformance is also a key pillar of MOSA. FACE Conformance means that a product meets 100% of the applicable FACE Technical Standard requirements. There is no conformance category for a product that does not meet 100% of FACE API requirements – this condition provides greater assurance that conformant products are both portable and reusable, and should accelerate integration of software modules from a diverse supply chain.

One of the unsung heroes of the FACE approach is the adoption of proven industry standards. Instead of writing an entirely new and unproven set of APIs and a new, proprietary, U.S.-only solution stack, the FACE technical team decided early on that the use of existing avionics standards was the fastest and most feasible path to accelerating new capabilities to the warfighter. This standard-of-standards approach based upon open software standards already proven by global commercial suppliers accelerates military avionics efforts and does not waste industry time rewriting proven standards with yet another new, unproven, and proprietary API. Another benefit of this approach is that many commercial avionics software suppliers already have existing airworthiness certification evidence that is proven in flight – this proof reduces program risk and further accelerates the deployment of critical airborne software.

Is MOSA a friend? Or a foe?

MOSA brings with it a wide range of beneficial qualities. The only entities that should fear MOSA are first, supplier entities that have enjoyed unbridled largesse with government customers because they have a captive supply chain that locks in uncompetitive capabilities to the warfighter, or second, program managers who fear the change that MOSA brings and enjoy a cozy relationship with a single-source supply chain that requires minimum effort to manage.  Although MOSA is driven from the top of the U.S. DoD, it is not a USA-only concept, and at its core is designed to be highly inclusive of the exceptional innovation of global defense partners.

MOSA is a friend of our warfighters. Its adoption across all armed forces and their supply chains will increase our global military competitiveness against all adversaries.

Chip Downing is the founder of S5 Intelligence Corp.