Constructing the Network of Networks to Enable an Open Systems Approach

Network of Networks

Enabling an open systems approach in the field is crucial to achieving many different goals in the world of defense. Initiatives like Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) and Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) call for more seamless data sharing and communication, and it directly corresponds with a notable move to a united Joint Services.

To learn more about the application of open systems and the components that enable it, we spoke with Elaine Bitonti, Vice President of Business Development, Mission Systems at Collins Aerospace. Bitonti spoke to the process of building a robust network of networks, necessary security infrastructure, and the immense benefits that come with an open systems approach.

Here’s our full conversation:

The Modern Battlespace (TMB) Editors: What were some of the greatest challenges that defense leaders currently face with regards to open systems across the battlespace?  

Elaine Bitonti: To pace threats now and in the future, it’s critical that we embrace open systems that allow interoperable communications across domains. Most federated platforms or proprietary communication systems today don’t necessarily communicate across platforms within a singular service, let alone joint services. There are too many solutions out there that are focused on a single mission and are not conducive to serving the bigger picture for defense leaders. For this reason, I think we’ll start to see military leadership focus on integrating solutions that connect those disparate networks and building the right type of architecture that will enable that.

It’s also important to consider that the battlespace is constantly changing, so you need a system that’s going to change with you. We need to be able to quickly adapt in the field to keep pace with the threat, and there isn’t time to be translating between different systems and tailoring software updates for each solution. That’s where open systems can really help establish that network of networks, and reliably connect everything. Then the actual waveforms and other tools that warfighters are relying on in-theater are as updated as possible.

TMB Editors: What would you say are the key areas of focus for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) in 2022 and beyond?  

Bitonti: From the Collins perspective, developing and fielding that network of networks architecture is paramount. It’s critical in connecting the right sensor to shooter. This prompts defense leaders to consider how to enable a network of networks that is cloud-based or integrated with artificial intelligence or machine learning. They need to think about how to connect those capabilities at the tactical edge. With that consideration comes its own challenges because many of those technologies today are very consumer-facing and not necessarily equipped with the capabilities needed in a robust, tactical environment. So of course, that needs to be considered as these network infrastructures are stood up.

Seamless, secure data sharing is also a must in the development of these networks of networks. It has to be done at the speed of relevancy, with no data loss from network to network to truly facilitate decision making at the tactical level. It all comes back to needing the right type of systems that will enable that. As an industry, we need to help the customer find the path to solve that problem, and that’s how MDO is going to progress.

TMB Editors: Can you elaborate on how an open systems approach fuels progress in MDO, and defense in general?

Bitonti: Open systems empower our customers to leverage the industrial base better. And when they communicate their exact requirements needed from industry, it really increases their flexibility at the end of the day. It also welcomes a more level playing field for industry to compete. Whoever offers the best solution that’s going to support the tactical operation most effectively is going to win the business, not necessarily who has the largest presence. Of course, that benefits the customer in both delivering a best-of-breed situation for the technology but also the speed to market for those solutions.

TMB Editors: What technological components or concepts do you think are key to the progress of adopting an open systems approach? 

Bitonti: In my opinion, there are three parts to it. The first is software-defined communications. A prime example would be software-defined radios that support multiple waveforms and allow for reliable comms in any domain.

Supporting that capability is the second component which is a comprehensive network of networks. That capability is how we enable initiatives like JADC2.

Equally as important is the third factor: the security architecture.

When all of these systems and platforms are communicating, customers expect the ability to differentiate between security classification. And if you don’t have the right underlying security, architecture, and different types of cross domain guards, you’re not actually going to be able to leverage that data. Defense leaders don’t want solutions that only talk to each other at the same security classification level – that just creates more opportunity for miscommunication. Much of the time, the security architecture is not as extensively discussed, but it’s foundational to actually being able to connect as much of the data as possible. Because without that you continue to have stove pipe systems that don’t result in more reliable or immediate communication.

This piece is part of a series on open systems architectures and their growing impact in-theater. Subscribe for regular updates about this series and learn about open systems approaches in action.