Modular Open Systems Architecture and its Impact on Military Weapon Systems Innovation

open systems architecture
Sgt. Craig Anson, gunner with C Battery, 119th Field Artillery, adjusts the quadrant on the M777 Lightweight 155mm howitzer to send up site data. Soldiers with the 119th Field Artillery Regiment conducted direct fires training during Northern Strike 20 at Camp Grayling, Mich. Northern Strike fills Joint All-Domain training and task iteration gaps in both the Army/Air National Guard training strategies, which sustains and enhances reserve component proficiency.

Creating an open systems architecture isn’t a new concept for the Department of Defense or military service. In fact, the concept of integrating systems and avoiding customized systems that often cause vendor lock has been discussed since the early ‘90s. Yet, in today’s environment, the threats from our adversaries are changing faster than ever before, and that highlights the DoD’s need to implement an open systems architecture to speed innovation.

While the call for open systems architecture began with the Open Systems Joint Task Force, formed in 1994, the effort has evolved over the years. But the original intent to “accelerate the adoption of open systems in weapons systems to reduce life-cycle costs and facilitate effective weapon system intra- and interoperability,” stays the same. Yet, as technology evolves, these standards and requirements also must evolve. That renewed call to action is now taking center stage and the military services are coming together for a joint fight across all domains.

Today, the demand for open systems enables multi-domain operations across military forces. In a tri-service memo from Secretaries from the Navy, Army, and Air Force, it is clear that a joint effort is needed to ensure victory in the future battle. “Victory in future conflict will in part be determined by our ability to rapidly share information across domains,” Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson wrote in the memo. “Sharing information from machine to machine requires common standards.”

The DoD’s Modular Open Systems Approach, formerly known as the Open Systems Approach, is a strategy created to implement affordable and adaptable technologies into a widely supported systems architecture. With common standards implemented throughout, each component of the system is defined, including the component’s responsibility, how it communicates, and how it interacts with other components in the system. With this common architecture in place, major system components can be added, removed, or replaced throughout the lifecycle of the system without ripping and replacing the entire system. In both a hardware and software approach, this increases the speed of innovation for the military.

“This effort has changed the face of acquisitions and now these major programs have requirements for open systems architecture,” Sarah Miller, Chief Software Architect within Mission Systems at Collins Aerospace, explained. “Independent vendors now are developing different components of the weapons system, following these requirements, so that the customer can rapidly upgrade or make capability changes to the system.”

Miller pointed to the importance of speed and flexibility in the process. “The adversary is working fast in these environments and is adapting quickly to our technologies. We need to be faster. To do so, our systems need to be upgraded quickly to counter a new threat in days or weeks instead of months or years.”

While embracing this approach, industry vendors are working with the DoD to help define these standards and working in consortiums to develop best practices and build government-owned software factories. In these DevSecOps environments, software is created and ownership stays with the government so they can rapidly deploy it.

According to Miller, the culture across industry and government must shift for success. She pointed to an openness to share and collaborate with peers and oftentimes competitors, for the greater good of national defense and security. Secondly, it is creating an environment to test, fail, learn from failure, and take those lessons forward.

In addition, she highlighted the importance of agility and flexibility. “Technology moves at such a speed that standards must be reviewed and revised to reflect new and emerging innovations,” Miller stated. Finally, it requires protection of intellectual property, especially when collaborating with small and emerging companies that have their finger on the pulse of new innovative technologies and development methods.

The implementation of the Modular Open Systems Architecture Requirements has been included in the latest budgetary ask for Fiscal Year 2021. If passed, it will allow DoD to negotiate with government contractors to obtain government purpose rights license for systems or component software interfaces, developed by vendors, without impairing the patent or copyrights.