In our last article on The Modern Battlespace, we sat down with Dan Dittenber, who is leading the development of the next-generation Gray Eagle and Gray Eagle-Extended Range (GE-ER) unmanned aircraft at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, to discuss why the military is looking to embrace open systems in its weapons systems, and what open systems could enable for America’s warfighters.
Dan is uniquely qualified to discuss open systems since he has been leading the charge – working to implement the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) and Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) in the GE-ER aircraft. He also was recently involved in a test conducted with a number of other U.S. Army industry partners intended to demonstrate how they’ve each embraced open standards in their development of platforms for the DoD.
To learn more about this recent test, we brought Dittenber back to tell us about who was involved, what was demonstrated, and what results they generated.
The Modern Battlespace (TMB): I understand that General Atomics recently conducted some demonstrations in conjunction with Collins Aerospace, Parry Labs, and other industry organizations. What did these tests attempt to determine?
Dan Dittenber: The Army has been really focused on advancing the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) and Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE). We’re in the process of integrating MOSA and FACE into the next generation, extended range version of the unmanned Gray Eagle aircraft, which we call Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER)
The Army has stated that FACE and MOSA are the systems that they want to use and standardize on, and have published the reference architecture and data models for use by industry partners. General Atomics and a number of other Army partners decided to take that to the next logical step and see if we could actually implement into just a small piece of what the total system capability would look like.
We wanted to implement it in such a way that would meet the Army’s standards for compliance, but also in a way that would show real capability – not just software talking to each other based on a data model, but a capability in a system that people could see, touch and interact with.
TMB: Which organizations were involved in these tests, and what role did they play?
Dan Dittenber: We teamed up with Collins Aerospace, Parry Labs, Palantir, and Tektonux for a base implementation that breaks apart the business logic from the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) and has a separate transport services segment (TSS).
Each of the companies involved in the test brought different pieces of the solution – each had their own data models derived largely from the reference architecture that the Army provided.
“Because we were all working to the same open standard, this integration happened in just a couple weeks.” – Dan Dittenber
In this approach to model-based systems engineering, all of the disparate data models should work and interoperate. And we found that largely that was the case during our combined testing.
TMB: What were the results of the tests that you conducted?
Dan Dittenber: We ultimately were able to show that the business logic that General Atomics developed to control GE-ER could, in fact, communicate with other pieces of business logic across this third party-developed TSS (Transport Services Segment). We illustrated that it could interface with HMI that is also built by another company.
“This demonstration shows the Army that they can really drive down the cost of re-hosting capabilities from one platform to another.” – Dan Dittenber
All of these different Army partner organizations brought in their pieces of the pie. They were all able to integrate, and we were able to show that the GE-ER control software could be hosted on the Collins Aerospace TSS on their representative future aircraft cockpit. We were able to integrate with the Tektonux HMI and use it to control GE-ER. Because we were all working to the same open standard, this integration happened in just a couple weeks. Something like this in legacy systems could take months or longer.
TMB: What about the next steps? Where do General Atomics and the other Army partners go from here?
Dan Dittenber: That was an incredibly powerful demonstration to show the Army. The Army is completely committed to open standards for its future systems including the GE-ER platform, so we want to demonstrate we are implementing model-based systems in accordance with Army guidance. That the system that we’ve built to control GE-ER – and potentially other Air Launched Effects (ALE) in the future – is a portable piece of software that the Army can use on other platforms moving forward. This demonstration shows the Army that they can really drive down the cost of re-hosting capabilities from one platform to another.
The next steps include implementing this software architecture into the next-generation GE-ER aircraft. We’re taking that to flight demonstration later this year.
Long term, we’re looking to get to a place where that open architecture capability is hosted on the airplane. In that environment, we can support third-party services integrating directly onto GE-ER, which will enable the Army to maximize user interface and maximize usage data off of that platform. That’s where we’re trying to get to.