Implementing a common architecture for military systems

They’re playing together nicely – the Army, Navy, and Air Force, that is – in their efforts to bring a common architecture to electronic systems across all three services. These efforts are resulting in three main initiatives: the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA); Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR)/Electronic Warfare (EW) Modular Open Suite of Standards (CMOSS); and the Hardware Open Systems Technology (HOST).

During the 2019 Embedded Tech Trends conference (held in January of 2019), Mike Hackert of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) reported that the teamwork and enthusiasm among the services and industry has been remarkable. According to Hackert, the successful tri-service convergence can be seen in the convergence of SOSA and CMOSS’s collection of standards for OpenRF applications and also in the alignment of CMOSS and HOST’s collection of hardware.

“SOSA has become the focal point of embedded system standardization development,” Hackert said. “The objective is to use industry standards wherever possible (e.g., VITA, VICTORY, MORA), then add specificity where necessary for interchangeability or interoperability while creating or extending standards.”

Systems that meet the specifications of each initiative have already been deployed, including the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35 Technology Refresh 31 (HOST) and PEO C3T Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) Requirement – Hardware and Software Convergence (CMOSS). Mean-while, many embedded computing suppliers have released SOSA-based board products since last fall.

Hackert and his fellow leads at the Air Force (Dr. Ilya Lipkin, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center [AFLMC]) and the Army (Jason Dirner, Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center [CERDEC]), have coauthored a detailed multipart article on the tri-service convergence for a common open architecture and how it will affect systems design, enable tech reuse, speed up refresh cycles, and lower life cycle costs. The first installment of this article will appear in our March issue.

I’ve banged the drum on this subject many times in this space over the last few years – that commonality in hardware and software systems makes economic sense. Hardware initiatives like SOSA, CMOSS, and HOST – as well as software efforts like the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) – are successful today because they solve the long-term cost challenge faced by every service.

The fact is that the Department of Defense (DoD) cannot afford years of development on another platform like the F-35 – it takes too long and costs too much. That cost struggle, which was shaped during sequestration and the budget constraints of the last administration, was another factor that spurred the enthusiasm of the three services toward collaboration. While their internal schedules and approval processes may vary in length and depth, their need to drive down costs while speeding up the deployment of technology to the war­fighter remains paramount.

The three services are engaging industry and media in this effort as well, with outreach programs and committees dedicated to educating others about the benefits of reuse at the hardware and software levels. Part of that outreach endeavor includes the reality that the military services are taking active roles in various standards bodies, such as CERDEC being a board member of the VITA standards organization, or one of the services driving the initiatives, such as NAVAIR did with FACE.

The Open Group’s role should not be overlooked either, as they provide the organizational framework for both SOSA and FACE. (

Hackert announced in his presentation that next year at ETT 2020 (to be held in Atlanta), SOSA, HOST, and CMOSS will be partnering with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to host the Tri-Service Open Architecture Plugfest: Interoperability Demo (scheduled for January 29, 2020). Stay tuned to to learn more about this event as info becomes available.

For more discussion on commonality in military electronics systems and speeding up the DoD acquisition process, please listen to my McHale Report Podcast with Bill Guyan, VP and general manager of DRS Land Systems for Finmeccanica at

Guyan and I continue a conversation we’ve had over the years on how reduced budgets drove commonality in technology, not only on the front end but also on the back end with maintenance, supportability, and training. He tells me that these “supporting costs are often far greater than acquisition costs … such as training people to operate systems, buying spares for systems, and making sure they are available in the field and on home base. There are a lot of costs associated with having lots of variety.”

Standardization at the box and component level will enable technology to be fielded more quickly, get users proficient more quickly, and be easier to sustain over the long haul, he adds.

We also discuss how adversarial threats are growing more sophisticated and the reality that the U.S. military – to maintain and grow its battlefield advantage – must have a more agile acquisition process and embrace game-changing technologies such as artificial intelligence.