Open Systems Believed Essential As Army Upgrades Precision Navigation Capability

The modern Army relies heavily on equipment that can precisely locate and track all of its tanks, trucks and troops, but upgrading hundreds of thousands of GPS receivers across its fleets is a daunting and costly task.

Equipping the entire Army with hardened, assured precision navigation and timing (PNT) equipment is therefore an effort where an open systems approach can provide an affordable, efficient path to modernization, according to Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Ground Combat Vehicles (PEO GCS).

“We think that the killer use-case for this, at least initially, is distributing precision navigation and timing across our platforms,” Bassett said at Defense Daily’s 10th annual Open Architecture Summit, held Oct. 19 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “There’s great opportunity as we evolve to assured precision navigation and timing to … share it across the platform with VICTORY architecture.”

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VICTORY is the tortured acronym for Vehicle Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability and is the Army’s initial push for common software and hardware standards among its tactical and combat vehicle fleets.

“The savings associated with that, as opposed to modernizing every GPS receiver on a platform, is enormous,” Bassett added. “We think the business case is there. We think the opportunity is there. We think the standard is there. We’d really like you to get on with it.”

Scott Davis, who as PEO for Combat Support and Combat Service Ssupport, manages the Army’s truck fleets – including both Humvee and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle – agreed that PNT lends itself readily to an open-systems approach.

“PNT is going to be a big area that pushes this because, if I can use a VICTORY compliant box with a switch, I can now provide a single source for timing, location and a number of vehicle attributes that now anything that plugs in can draw that from, be it a remote weapons station, a sensor, radios, all those sorts of things,” Davis said at the summit. “It’s not only helping from a modularity and upgrade perspective, but its clearing out all that ash and trash that sits in the crew compartment.”

VICTORY is the first of three “pillars” in the PEO GCS open architecture approach. The other two are the Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program and the common in-vehicle network (IVN) standard that will roll out on Stryker double-V hull A1.

“We are trying to make those software components and IVN standards available to other platforms to potentially adopt, so when we bring out a command post of the future, we have common look and feel across multiple platforms and we can drive down the cost of iteration of those platforms,” Bassett said.

MAPS is an effort to arrive at a suite of active protection systems (APS), controlled by an open-architecture processor that can defeat or destroy incoming missiles and into which new and emerging technologies like sensors, radars and countermeasures can be seamlessly plugged. It should be tailorable to a particular vehicle and particular missions, depending on the expected threat environment.

The Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center is working to develop the MAPS standard leading up to a demonstration of the hard-kill countermeasure capability in 2018.

“For me it’s not about just getting a hard-kill active protection system under MAPS, it’s about having an architecture that I can evolve over time, so that if I want to add a soft-kill layer, if I want to add an active-blast layer, if I want to add direct smoke, other things, I’d rather that was done consistent with an open-systems architecture so we can evolve those things over time,” Bassett said.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] holds a contract to develop the MAPS processor and some hardware. Raytheon [RTN] also is working on some MAPS-compliant hardware components. IMI Systems is working on the hard-kill component based on a decoupled version of its Iron Fist APS. All three companies have adopted an open-systems approach – defined by the TARDEC standard -  to designing their MAPS components.

The in-vehicle network architecture should bind all the disparate systems mounted on modern combat vehicles, which have been piled with radars, sensors, sights, weapons and other gadgets in their decades of service.

“Let’s face it, vehicles are not getting less complex,” Bassett said. “They’re getting more complex. They’ve got more sensors. They’ve got more processors. We’re bringing things onboard like condition-based maintenance and sensors and algorithms. The set of things that has to go onto one of my platforms is getting bigger, not smaller.”

“As that complexity increases, the last thing I want in the future is for the timelines necessary to integrate and field those systems to get longer,” he said. “Having mature implementation of open systems architecture – whether that’s VICTORY or in-vehicle network or others – having those prepackaged and proven to a set of published standards gives me the ability to evolve those platforms more quickly in the future.”

Bassett, who has been PEO GCS for four years, said he has seen the Army’s acceptance and implementation of open systems evolve during his tenure. He admits adoption of VICTORY has been slow and cautious, mainly because the Army has to build a case for its use. He attributed the lag to the lack of two basic elements required for the successful implementation of an open standard.

Until now, the primary focus was readying vehicles to accept hardware and software built to VICTORY standards. Now the Army is shopping for the C4ISR electronics and other equipment to plug into those vehicles, Bassett said.

“You have to have a well-defined, mature standard that people feel like they can adopt safely as they evolve their systems,” he said. Over the past four years, the Army has deliberately refined the VICTORY standard and has “gotten over that hump,” he said. “The second thing you need is a reason to use that standard. We’ve been looking hard for what are the use-cases where we can demonstrate both the applicability and the utility of VICTORY standard and implementation.”

Having watched the evolution and eventual acceptance of open systems architectures in Army modernization programs, Bassett is now all but convinced that it is essential for efficient, affordable future upgrades to those platforms.

“If industry is trying to meet our demand for rapid programs, I don’t know how you get there to be able to integrate faster in this complex environment unless you start adopting some of those open standards, so you can keep those elements of your architecture constant and … bring them together rapidly to develop advanced capabilities,” he said. “I don’t want industry to do it because it’s in my interest – although it is. I want you to do it because it’s in your interest. It’ll help you go faster. It’ll help you develop and deliver more-mature systems and as we mandate the applications of those standards it will make you competitive in a marketplace where I don’t think you’ll be competitive without adoption of those open standards.”

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