Open architecture is reducing the cost and time needed to develop and deploy critical Air Force capabilities, but officials want to see further agreement with industry on standards, according to a lead official for rapid capabilities.

Randall Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), told attendees at a Tuesday industry event that bringing together common standards for weapons systems and aircraft is needed to help his office move to contract faster on ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities.

Randall Walden, director of the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office, at Defense Daily's Modular Open Systems Summit. Photo: Matthew Beinart.
Randall Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, at Defense Daily’s Modular Open Systems Summit. Photo: Matthew Beinart.

“If you remove some of the layers to actually get those decisions made, you’ll be amazed how fast you can go,” Walden said.“The area where I think we can accelerate and actually go faster is in the making a decision on program and getting onto the contract. All too often, we spend too much time in that front end thinking about what we want to build and the contract.”

Air Force RCO’s open systems approach is focused on coupling its Unified Command and Control Initiative (UCI) with Open Mission Systems (OMS) standards.

Walden said industry partners who sign Initial Capabilities Documents and meet the UCI/OMS standards will assist with getting capabilities deployed faster.

“If you can agree on standards upfront, typically you can compress the timelines and shrink the cost to something that’s more manageable,” Walden said. “This is something that is fairly easy to do, even if you had to do it in a system that’s already flying today. Once it’s done, what you typically find is about 50 to 80 percent reduction in cost and schedule. Why is that true? Because you agree on the standards going in.”

The UCI/OMS approach allows Air Force RCO to go after a ‘plug-and-play’ mode where new capabilities can be integrated as algorithms similarly to the way applications are downloaded on phones.

“What we found was a handful of applications out there, like mission planning apps, were naturally pulling information that they typically wouldn’t have had because the prime or the subcontractor who was building those algorithms would’ve done their own thing. In this case, it’s now opened up to a cadre of different industry partners,” Walden said.

In addition to working on standards for open systems, Walden says industry can play a role in information assurance and ensuring that cyber security is baked into new capabilities.

“Government, as good as we think we are at information assurance, it’s really industry that helps us do that,” Walden said. “What we found that the information assurance was one of the tougher areas. There’s not a complete agreement on how one would secure those networks, but suffice it to say we are securing them. We’re leveraging industry best practices both on weapons systems for defense as well as commercially available technology.”

Future Air Force modernization priorities with its weapons systems and aircraft will require the RCO to deliver capabilities able to function in open environments, according to Walden, who sees the area as a main operational focus.

“Don’t view it purely as a requirement, view it was an efficiency and just being smart. Doing open architecture, doing things that make sense for upgrades, I think are critically important,” Walden said.