In modern warfare, speed is a defining factor in maintaining overmatch and winning the future fight. Yet, upgrading platforms and capabilities isn’t a task that typically has been fast or agile. To help the Department of Defense stay flexible while promoting platform modernization at the speed of innovation, they are adopting an open systems approach and evaluating new approaches such as digital backbone enablement.
Embracing an open systems approach to airborne platform modernization addresses several of the challenges that the DoD is currently facing. Not only does it help to eliminate “vendor lock,” but it opens the door to greater competition. Innovative, smaller companies are now able to test and experiment with solutions more easily, bringing new technologies onto the platforms.
We recently spoke to experts within Collins Aerospace about the open systems and open infrastructure that is needed when modernizing platforms.
Early Adoption of Open Systems Approach for Hardware and Software
“HOST and SOSA are the next generation of hardware interoperability,” Jonathan Demildt, Associate Director at Collins Aerospace, told us in a recent interview. Experts within Collins Aerospace have been long-time contributors to the HOST, SOSA, and FACE working groups and committees, in many cases since they were formed. Working in conjunction with NAVAIR and the Army to provide feedback and develop the standards that will help the DoD customer develop more interoperable and affordable solutions to keep pace with threats, the team then helps customers implement these systems. “Leveraging open standards allows the customer to move quickly to make replacements, add new capabilities, or fix issues within the system,” Demildt added.
The active engagement in these open systems working groups and communities offers many benefits to the Collins engineering teams, Azeem Khan, Senior Principal Systems Engineer, told us. Not only do they offer feedback on the standards being developed, but they take the information back to their development teams. “We look at the capabilities that we need to deploy to meet our customer needs and ensure that we implement them. For example, processing, or avionics I/O to communicate between different boxes or sensors. We are able to implement these solutions and conform to the standards and requirements faster because we are on the front lines of development.” By leveraging common standards for hardware and software, the solutions act as building blocks that can be reused across numerous platforms, helping the DoD increase modularity and interoperability while enabling reuse of hardware across both legacy and future platforms.
Developing the Digital Backbone for Open Infrastructure
While there are already established open standards for hardware and software, such as HOST, SOSA, or FACE, there is not always an open standard that fits a new component of the aircraft. As the DoD seeks to modernize and develop connected aircraft, an open infrastructure is required to address the digital data capabilities within the aircraft that enable safety, security, and connected avionics technology. These capabilities integrate electronics hardware and associated software components.
Max Taylor, Associate Director of Systems Engineering for Collins Aerospace, explained how the digital backbone emerged for these types of solutions. “When you look at what it takes to add or update new capability in modern aircraft, there are many aspects to consider that are not covered by standards such as HOST or SOSA or FACE,” he explained. For example, customers may ask, “Where do we put the new computing module?” or “If the processing cabinet is full, then where does the new HOST compliant card go?” Perhaps the customer is looking to account for additional power draw or provide the proper thermal environment for a new capability.
As these challenges emerge, Taylor explained that an open infrastructure is needed. Taking an enterprise-wide open systems approach allows Collins Aerospace to address these challenges by providing the basic infrastructure to place digitally-enabled components on the platform.
Unique Insight to Address the Most Pressing Challenges
“Here at Collins Aerospace, we have unique insight into these challenges and the foundational elements that it takes to solve them.” The digital backbone offers the open infrastructure needed to address these challenges and support platform modernization efforts with an eye on future technologies and software integrations.
“We work with aircraft providers and customers and apply systems engineering to build solutions that are open, flexible, and adaptable throughout the life of the vehicle,” Taylor said.
This approach enables customers to upgrade frequently while integrating new products and technologies faster.
Accelerating Integration and Innovation
An open systems approach and open infrastructure digital backbone accelerates innovation. It encourages third-party integration of new technologies. Without requiring the original equipment manufacturer, emerging technologies can be plugged into the system and tested, without impacting the rest of the infrastructure environment.
The team at Collins has already demonstrated how to securely separate critical systems from other mission systems to shorten the integration and deployment times. “By creating a partition, what happens on one end of the system doesn’t impact the other end of the system,” Khan explained. Not only does this result in faster airworthiness recertification, but it speeds up the upgrade cycle, allowing for more rapid airborne platform modernization.