“Family of Systems” Approach Necessary in New Acquisition Reality

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Family of Systems
The FLRAA CD&RR project agreements under the AMTC OTA were awarded to Bell Textron Incorporated, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. These competitively awarded OTA agreements consist of risk reduction activities that combine government research with input from industry partners to inform the future development and procurement of the FLRAA weapons system. Deliverables include initial conceptual designs, requirements feasibility, and trade studies using model based systems engineering. (Photos courtesy of Industry)

Today’s defense and aerospace contractors are facing a new procurement reality. With nimble, lean competitors and greater scrutiny on cost and schedule, traditional contenders are having to create new strategies to secure awards.

This new reality puts incredible pressure on partners to move quickly and deliver effective, mission-ready systems in increasingly smaller delivery windows – and at lower cost. With schedule and cost becoming the highest order criteria, OEMs need to reduce development time, eliminate schedule risk, and decrease both non-recurring and recurring costs.

This is a significant departure from the way that military aircraft have traditionally been designed and developed.

This shift is making it essential for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that partner with the military to embrace commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions that have documented performance histories, feature a certification pedigree, and can be integrated quickly and seamlessly into new aircraft.

This is a significant departure from the way that military aircraft have traditionally been designed and developed.

A modular and scalable family of systems solution

The military has historically favored unique and new hardware for new development programs.  This results in OEMs essentially starting from scratch for each part of a new aircraft. Each line-replaceable unit (LRU) that goes into a new system or platform is conceived and designed specifically for it.

While that approach has advantages, it comes with a cost. Each LRU that is custom-made for a platform and its requirements increases the development time and increases the platform’s recurring cost. These LRUs are often not manufactured in large-scale quantities like their commercial counterparts. This increases the cost of the LRU significantly, making maintenance more expensive over time.

The lack of commonality created unnecessary complexity and increased the sheer number of disparate LRUs the military needs to purchase and store to meet future maintenance requirements.

Also, since each individual platform has historically had unique parts and equipment, there were sustainment challenges. The lack of commonality created unnecessary complexity and increased the sheer number of disparate LRUs the military needs to purchase and store to meet future maintenance requirements.

COTS solutions that work across platforms – a family of systems that can meet the requirements of multiple platforms – are a solution to this problem. Having a family of solutions that works across all similar platforms helps to reduce the sheer number of LRUs that the DoD has to stock and manage. A family of systems can reduce complexity and help to increase operational efficiency. The end result is simplicity and decreased sustainment costs.

Since these solutions are being leveraged across military and commercial aircraft, they have a larger user base, which means they’re being manufactured in larger quantities. This helps to bring down the “per unit” cost, making future maintenance and replacement costs more reasonable.

Using the same LRU across aircraft platforms and airframes further decreases cost by allowing the military to purchase them in higher quantities. For example, the military could purchase 100 units of one LRU, instead of purchasing 10 units of 10 LRUs.

Today’s new acquisition and procurement reality – where delivery windows are tight, and cost reduction is paramount – is putting new, unique pressures on traditional OEMs and military industry partners.

Finally, COTS solutions can help the military meet its open systems architecture goals and requirements. The military’s needs are changing as the service branches look to the next generation of aircraft – whether it’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) or Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD). As the pace of the enemy’s progress increases, defense partners need to enable our military to evolve faster.

A scalable and modular solution that doesn’t require hardware changes across platforms, rather simply software modifications, is a great asset to the defense partner and aircraft manufacturer.

Today’s new acquisition and procurement reality – where delivery windows are tight, and cost reduction is paramount – is putting new, unique pressures on traditional OEMs and military industry partners. To combat this challenge, OEMs should look for proven, certified hardware and software solutions to expedite the delivery of their next-generation systems.

OEMs can deliver new platforms more quickly and reduce complexity and cost for the military by opening the door to COTS solutions and embracing a “family of systems” approach to program development.