Military Embedded Systems

MOSA strategies gaining momentum across the Atlantic


October 12, 2023

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

DSEI Day 1 photo courtesy Military Embedded Systems

Many questions on open architecture initiatives and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) modular open systems approach (MOSA) mandate were being floated to U.S. embedded hardware and software suppliers at the DSEI 2023 show in London in September.

Members from the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) and Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) consortia exhibiting at DSEI 2023 both told me there is considerable interest in the SOSA and FACE Technical Standards and in MOSA from European companies, even if there is no official MOSA mandate like the one from the DoD.

There is quite a bit of interest in SOSA and SOSA aligned products within the U.K., says Noah Donaldson, chief technical officer, Annapolis Micro Systems; not so much in continental Europe, yet, he adds.

I asked Chip Downing, Outreach Committee Co-chair of the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium and Senior Market Development Director for Aerospace and Defense at RTI, what type of open architecture strategies are being pursued by European defense departments and if the U.S. initiatives like FACE influenced those efforts.

“Both FACE and SOSA are big standardization efforts, supported by large U.S. military programs supporting international deployments,” he said. “FACE and SOSA each have close to 100 defense companies in their respective standards organizations.”

European and “regional military defense budgets simply cannot support efforts of this size,” he explained. “Both initiatives are ‘standards of standards’ that anyone can use, so regional/national organizations can immediately take advantage of these efforts and meld then with MOSA efforts of their own.”

Large programs of record often carry even more weight than government mandates and the U.S. military has a few of those.

What fuels the adoption of MOSA and SOSA in the U.S. is that – along with the MOSA mandate – there are major programs requiring SOSA aligned products, says Bob Kirk, sales and business development leader at Annapolis Micro Systems.

Open architecture efforts in Europe are more regional in origin.

“Some may ask why these regional militaries created their own open architecture initiatives,” Downing continued. “The simple answer is that both FACE and SOSA are just now gaining significant traction, so these countries decided to create parallel efforts to ensure their capabilities were not left behind.

“MOSA is truly a global effort and it is a simple fact that larger standards organizations get more media buzz,” he explained. “The drive for using MOSA strategies and open standards eclipses all regional and budget and program constraints – it is an existential imperative. The inherent value provided by using an open architecture based upon open standards simply cannot be compared to legacy stovepiped endeavors. The adoption of MOSA and SOSA and FACE and COSA and more should not, and is not, gated by a demand by a large U.S. DoD program to require supporting open standards – these ‘OSA’ efforts get accelerated when large programs make it part of their requirements.”

The interest in open architectures had actually been steady prior to the MOSA mandate and even before SOSA and FACE were founded, as ways to lower life cycle costs, reduce obsolescence headaches, and leverage commercial innovation.

“Using open architectures is the only way a defense company can outrun their competitors and nations can maintain a technological advantage over their adversaries,” Downing says. “Gone are the days of a defense prime owning their supply chain that is required to use a closed architecture. In the new MOSA world there is a limited pool of talent that can support this strategy, and competitors using open architectures simply can execute faster with lower costs by having a larger talent pool that has experience with open architectures. Having a closed architecture used to be a way to lock down business on a given military program – now it locks out business because innovation cannot happen fast enough.”

More education needed

Many international customers are dipping their toes into SOSA, as it addresses many of the problems they are looking to solve, but education is needed, says Mark Littlefield, director of system products at Elma Electronic. There are a lot of misconceptions about SOSA, with the main one being that it is limited only to U.S. companies, but that is not true, he added.

VPX opened doors

What also drives SOSA is the demand for high-density VPX products, as VPX has been adopted by the SOSA Technical Standard, says Nigel Norman, CEO of Sarsen Technology, a U.K.-based distributor of embedded FPGA, GPU, and computing hardware, software, and IP for high-performance applications. The aforementioned Annapolis Micro Systems is one of his clients. There is a demand for higher density with a smaller number of channels, and VPX solutions enable that, Norman adds.

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