Open standards, COTS, and AUSA

When it comes to U.S. military trade shows, nothing usually tops the Association of the U.S. Army’s (’s) annual meeting for determining the mood of the Department of Defense () – and of the course the U.S. Army – regarding electronics procurement. Last month’s event did not disappoint: Attendees and exhibitors from the warfighter to the components supplier showed enthusiasm for new technologies and the DoD’s increased demand for open architectures and open standards.

I quizzed a few exhibitors on what the vibe was at the event regarding new technology and the market for commercial off-the-shelf () procurement in the COTS Confidential section of October’s McHale Report newsletter (Read here: The response was consistently positive.

“The ‘buzz’ is that after the past eight years, and for 99 percent of the exhibitors, the defense market is back,” stated Doug Patterson, vice president, Military & Aerospace Sector, at Aitech Defense Systems. “There’s clearly optimism that there’s a need for advanced technology. Any negativity seemed to come from companies that didn’t take the opportunity in the past decade to position themselves with new, innovative technology to hit the ground running.”

The Army, especially, is embracing COTS and open architectures, said John Ormsby, Business Development, Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions. “The Army’s requirements align well with the ‘sweet spots’ where COTS excels, such as reducing government risk and NRE [nonrecurring engineering costs] and delivering capabilities to the warfighter faster.”

The enthusiasm for COTS and new tech was evident across all applications, noted Greg Powers, Global Market Leader, Aerospace & Defense Performance Solutions Division, W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., in the discussion. “It seems all segments, depending on where your interests and expertise lie, are humming with activity for COTS vendors and people are eager to engage. This is because COTS-based, multiplatform open architecture has asserted itself as the mantra of the agencies and industry participants.

“Many of the COTS-based applications establish pedigree via select industry standards groups, such as Society of Aerospace Engineers (SAE), for items such as rugged 10 Gb Ethernet cable, or VITA Standards Organization (VSO), for -based rugged embedded computers,” Powers continued. “These industry groups have really taken the reins on the standardization of cutting-edge technologies with intimate oversight from various branch R&D arms, including CERDEC [U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center], AFRL [Air Force Research Laboratory], and NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command]. Joint approaches by the agencies are also becoming commonplace, furthering commonality. We are fortunate that technology and innovation are well funded at present.”

The increased participation of U.S. military organizations such as CERDEC and NAVAIR is overwhelming evidence of their investment in open standards. “They buy in from the beginning and it gets more people at the military and system integrator level interested in supporting a standard,” says Jerry Gipper, executive director of VITA. Key initiatives VITA works on with the government include the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA), which enables reuse of key sensor components across multiple platforms and services; and Hardware Open Systems Technologies (HOST), which will essentially create a three-tier VPX standard that will have open architecture characteristics on the top two tiers, with the bottom tier being proprietary and containing the secret sauce for U.S. military end users.

Also in the air at the event: The fact that open standards are becoming the necessary coin for doing business with the DoD on electronics platforms.

“We have received requests for proposal from the end users where lack of open standards could prevent a company from proposing,” David Vos, Lockheed Martin Fellow, told me in a discussion we had recently on the release of the .8 standard. This new standard describes an open standard for the design requirements for an Air Flow Through (AFT) cooled plug-in module having 3U and 6U form factors while retaining the VPX connector layout. It’s the first standard to address AFT in 3U form factors, meeting a crucial need to reduce size, weight, and power. The standard’s working group within VITA was sponsored by Lockheed Martin, Abaco Systems, and Curtiss-Wright, which chaired the working group.

“Prior to the development of the ANSI/VITA 48.8 standard, we were always challenged balancing the high-performance processing requirements our customers needed to effectively execute their mission,” Vos said in a Curtiss-Wright release on VITA 48.8.

As I’ve said many times in this space, the DoD is not going back to the past, where they funded everything from the ground up. That practice is economically unsound, even with military budgets increasing. Open standards enable commonality and reuse across multiple platforms, translating to lower life cycle costs. Those who embrace this concept are primed to do well in the coming years.

Topics covered in this article