Military Embedded Systems

DoD leadership embracing open standards


January 31, 2020

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

The process of speeding up acquisition and lowering costs
through the adoption of open standards apparently takes a lot of time, as there
are significant cultural roadblocks to such change not only within the
Department of Defense (DoD), but also at the prime contractor level, where open
architecture and commonality goes against long-standing business models.

However, due to the enthusiasm behind the Sensor Open
Systems Architecture (SOSA) Consortium, fueled by the work SOSA members are
accomplishing and the successes of the open architecture initiatives it is
built on – such as FACE [Future Airborne Capability Environment], CMOSS [C4ISR/EW
Modular Open Suite of Standards], and others – these obstacles are slowly being

“The primes have a stranglehold on the services,” said
Randall G. Walden (in photo), a member of the Senior Executive Service and
Director and Program Executive Officer for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities
Office, during his keynote address at the Tri-Service Open Architecture
Interoperability Demonstration, held at the Georgia Tech Research Institute on
January 29, 2020.

Randall G. Walden, a member of the Senior Executive Service and Director and Program Executive Officer for the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, delivers his keynote address at the recent Tri-Service Open Architecture Interoperability Demonstration in Atlanta.


I asked him to elaborate more on that comment during the
Q&A portion of the program and he responded, “The primes are tied to a 20th-century
business model,” and they don’t want to change as they fear it will put them
out of business.

An example of that concern would be the F-35 and F-22 5th-generation
fighter planes, both built by Lockheed Martin. Despite having a shared builder,
the aircraft could not speak to each other, as they didn’t use the same data
link, Walden said. That problem was in fact later resolved and they can now
communicate, but that previous situation speaks to the lockdown problem.

The resistance to change is not just at the prime level, as
the military services have teams that prefer the 20th-century paradigm, a
culture that feels more natural to them, he continued.

“They are getting the message,” Walden said, noting that it
is a slow process, particularly when using older systems: “New systems that
are built on open standards make sense,” which is where the primes are seeing
the benefits of the new business model, he adds.

The second keynote of the morning, U.S. Army Col. Nickolas
Kioutas, Project Manager for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PM PNT) at
PEO IEW&S [Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare &
Sensors] spoke to the practical benefits open standards – specifically CMOSS –
will bring to the Army’s ground vehicles.

“Right now, we suffer from vendor lock, [which makes it
expensive and time consuming] to enable rapid integration of the latest
technology to outpace the threat,” Kioutas said.

CMOSS will enable the Army to move to a leaner box, swapping
radio cards, situational-awareness cards, or whatever capabilities need to be
integrated, he said, adding that the leaner box will also create more room for
the warfighter in what is already a crowded space.

Currently about 400 tanks need GPS upgrades, Kioustas said.
That upgrade process is expensive, requiring many non-recurrent engineering
costs and a great deal of testing time, which all results in longer offline periods.
In the long term, after CMOSS is deployed, the tech-refresh process will be
much more efficient: “We want to be able to refresh one-fifth of the Army every
year, over a five-year period baseline.

Slow adoption of standards within the defense space is
nothing new; the process can be even slower in space applications. For example,
look at SpaceVPX or VITA 78, which uses the VITA 65 OpenVPX backplane standard
as the basis for adoption in space applications.

Patrick Collier, the author of the standard and founder of
SOSA, said although the process always takes a long time, eventually it evolves
and requirements for its use begin to pop up. That is finally happening for
SpaceVPX, Collier said: “During a visit with a prime contractor where I had a presented
the SpaceVPX concept years before, a gentleman raised his hand and said, ‘You
said it would take two years for this to build up and you were absolutely

The end user is driving this change, as technology and
capability must be deployed more quickly to the warfighter while also reducing
the burden on the taxpayer. Industry cooperation, whereby companies help to
create and manage standards, is necessary to break the stranglehold of the
proprietary business model. This must be industry’s job, said Walden, as “the
government is horrible at creating standards.”

Industry is actually doing this. I’ve been covering this
market for more than 20 years and have never seen such enthusiasm from not only
industry but also from the government and the prime contractors. A big reason
for the change is that that the three services are heavily involved in the
standardization process and are pushing the primes to play. These organizations
include the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) C5ISR Center (formerly
CERDEC), AFRL [Air Force Research Laboratory], and NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems

While the tri-service leadership has really been the driving
force, SOSA lead Dr. Ilya Lipkin – who is with Air Force Life Cycle Management
Center – always tells me that standards groups succeed or fail based on the
enthusiasm of their volunteers. Using his metric, I’d say this tri-service
approach will in fact succeed, as the passion of the members is real.

There is still work to be done, and the different standards
need to be monitored throughout development to ensure they are aligned. But in
the end, it won’t matter whether your single-board computer is designed under
SOSA or CMOSS or HOST – they will all work, said Lipkin, in response to a
reporter’s question on the matter: “They just need a tweak” and they are all