Open architecture and reuse initiatives make economic sense

I’m often preaching in this space about how the demand for commonality is driving procurement and technology development within the Department of Defense (DoD), a demand brought on by the DoD budget cuts the last few years and sequestration. Now, with budget increases promised by the Trump administration, I see the demand only growing because it just makes good business sense; I also see a number of initiatives currently pushing for more open architectures and technology reuse across multiple platforms.

To return to old procurement models, where the DoD funded technology development from the ground up or paid more money for proprietary technology based on closed architectures, is just economically unsound.

Recent initiatives are gaining traction because the government – believe it or not – is getting better at working together across the services. The cost benefits of commonality happen not only on the front end with procurement, but also on the back end with supportability. Every piece of hardware needs personnel trained to both operate and maintain it. Enabling more commonality and reuse provides tremendous maintenance and training savings. The same goes for software, as reusing software components reduces recertification costs.

Industry efforts

During the Embedded Tech Trends (ETT) conference in New Orleans earlier this year, Charles Patrick Collier, Technical Lead with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), briefed the audience of embedded computing suppliers on the Hardware Open Systems Technology (HOST) and the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) initiative – each of which involve industry and military/government organizations working together to essentially shorten fielding times, lower life cycle costs, leverage economies of scale, and promote reuse.

I thought his most striking slide showed how military platforms are getting astronomically expensive, with the Joint Strike Fighter being at the apex with its nine million lines of code and 17 years of development. The slide rightly points out that anything beyond that is simply unaffordable.

Now, there are naysayers out there who claim that the government always comes up with ambitious initiatives that always fall apart as the various parts of government fail to agree. They’re not wrong, but I believe those failed efforts are not predictors of today’s models.

Today, the military services are taking active roles in standards bodies. For example, the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) became a member of the VITA standards organization. Even more importantly, all the services are buying in. The recent budget-constrained environment has created a new reality: New platforms and upgrades must be affordable; to do so they must embrace commonality, open architectures, and a culture of reuse.

“That the HOST effort is taking place outside of the VITA Standards Organization is ideal, because NAVAIR would like to enforce common design approaches that will require a level of cooperation that might otherwise have been resisted if individual vendors were left to their own devices,” says Michael Munroe, Technical Specialist at Elma Electronic, in his article on page 14 of this issue.

HOST and SOSA are just two examples. Another initiative is the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) consortium, founded out of NAVAIR, but now involving the Air Force, Army, and nearly every major prime contractor and system integrator. FACE essentially enables the reuse of software applications from one aircraft platform to another and sometimes from one military service to another via the use of a common API.

“I think the FACE organization is doing a tremendous job from the standpoint of setting the standard for software interoperability and the verification process for those software components, ultimately [lowering] the cost of developing high-quality software and certified aircraft” says Jim McElroy, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for LDRA, in the Executive Outlook on page 34.

A precursor to FACE was a program that Rockwell Collins created for reuse of avionics components across multiple Army helicopters, called the common avionics architecture system (CAAS). This program worked because it enabled the Army to port capability from platform to platform without starting from scratch. In other words, it was a good business model. For more on Rockwell Collins avionics, see the Special Report on page 18.

These initiatives and others are creating momentum for the open architecture proponents within the DoD and convincing the leadership that they will save money in the long term while making the warfighter and his systems and tools that much more efficient.

Moreover, the government’s increased engagement with the standards bodies cannot be overstated. The efforts by those like Collier and his colleague at NAVAIR, Ilya Lipkin, Lead Manager for SOSA at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC), has enabled enthusiasm and buy-in from industry to these programs. Collier led a previous effort while with the Air Force to create the SpaceVPX standard for military satellite applications.