If the Army’s diverse set of modernization priorities share anything in common, it is that the scientists and engineers working to achieve those capabilities are taking a modular, open-systems approach so that future weapons can be upgraded and adapted at the speed of technological progress.
The Army’s eight cross-functional teams (CFTs), are tasked to chase six lines of effort: Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF), Next-Generation Combat Vehicles (NGCV), Future Vertical Lift (FVL), air and missile defense, secure battlefield networks and soldier lethality.
The one- and two-star leaders of each team, their four-star “senior mentors,” civilian scientists and engineers and senior Army civilian leaders at the recent Association of the U.S. Army Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., all evoked modular, open-architecture systems as necessary to making successful leaps ahead in those areas.
Barry Pike, the Army’s program executive officer for missiles and space, said a modular, open-systems approach will allow fielding of capabilities years sooner than planned. An imperfect, upgradeable solution fielded now is better than an ideal solution fielded a decade from now, he said at AUSA.
“As we go through this design process, we’ll use these open systems architectures to allow advanced capabilities to be inserted at later points in the program,” Pike said. “We’ll field an initial capability as fast as we can and then, through an open-system architecture, be able to enable additional payloads, inside the missile.”
Pike is working with the LRPF cross-functional team to field longer-range guided munitions that can outreach enemy artillery. The CFT already has moved up possible fielding of the Precision Strike Missile by four or five years because of the expectation that some desired capabilities can be inserted in future iterations.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Maranian, who is dual-hatted as the Commandant of the Army Field Artillery School a and leader of the LRPF cross-functional team, said that approach is common to most if not all of the CFTs.
“One of the first principles of our CFT, and I think it’s common across most of them, is not waiting for everything to be ready at once, but to be able to cut in technology as we go and spiral technology out so that we can deliver something that’s better into the hands of the war fighter,” Maranian said.
Paul Rogers, director of the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, said TARDEC already has developed standards for autonomous systems and lethality that will define capabilities for the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). Industry is invited to not-reinvent the wheel and use those architectures to design and build hardware and software for NGCV.
“We have behaviors that are already developed and well-tested,” Rogers said. “What you cannot afford to do if you are in industry is go out and repeat development of that capability. It would be foolhardy. … We have a library of behaviors and it's designed so that we give it to the next person who is developing a capability for the Army.”
For NGCV, TARDEC has developed flexible, standard architectures for advanced power trains, lethality and modular active protection systems (MAPS) to which industry can adhere in building new technologies before pitching them to the Army.
“We’re recognizing that the threat will be evolving very quickly,” Rogers said. “Our vehicle architecture needs to evolve as quickly if we want to match their evolution.”
TARDEC also has created a common architecture for logistical resupply and has “mapped that architecture” onto more than 20 different vehicles, including NATO partner vehicles, Rogers said.
“Taking that same architecture and mapping it onto ground combat systems. As we go forward with NGCV and we get in this next phase of building manned vehicles partnered with unmanned vehicles, our premise is, don’t spend your money chasing autonomy,” Rogers said. “You’ll go broke and the Army won’t be able to sustain that software and autonomous behavior going forward. So, come in and take what we’ve already invested in and use that as your foundation to build from.”
The Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) is taking the same approach in developing the Future Vertical Lift family of next-generation rotorcraft, according to Director Juanita Harris.
“The architecture for Future Vertical Lift (FVL) configurations is very, very important,” Harris said at AUSA. “We’ve been working with the [Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE)] efforts to look at open architecture structures because threats will change, capabilities will change and we have to have open architecture systems where we can plug and play and increase performance aspects. That’s a key basis of where we’re going.”
Brig. Gen. Wally Rugen, who leads the FVL cross-functional team, said the Army is taking an open systems approach to developing all of the clean-sheet rotorcraft and advanced unmanned aerial systems that will eventually replace all of the Army’s legacy helicopters and drones.
“When we think open systems architecture, we want an architecture that is both open and resilient, government designed and defined specs that you as industry teammates plug into so we can shorten our typical five-to-seven years upgrade [schedule] into something much shorter,” Rugan said.
At the pinnacle of Army acquisition, chief weapon buyer Bruce Jette said adopting modular, open-systems standards is essential for rapid adoption of commercial technology for military uses. As weapons and equipment are increasingly software-dependent, the Army must require open systems so third-party vendors can improve their operation quickly, said Jette, who serves as assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)).
“We’ve moved to software-defined radios. The radios innards can do certain things,” Jette said. “There’s a left limit and a right limit. … Software drives that. What we want to get to is, we’re not going to buy a radio anymore. We’re going to buy a receiver transceiver and we’ll have an open spec developer package. And then you can sell apps. You design the software to function with the hardware. But we want to have hardware so that multiple people can offer their innovative ways to make that hardware function more effectively. Maybe, with an open standard, one can tune faster than another.”