The Army is requiring modular, open systems architectures for any new gear with computing or communications components to enhance interoperability and ensure its ability to upgrade equipment as technologies emerge.

Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, principal deputy to the assistant secretary of Army for acquisition, technology and logistics, has long been an apostle of modular, open systems and has evangelized for them in his current role as the service’s top uniformed acquisition official.

As the Army embarks on modernizing its equipment over the next decade, it needs to identify the equipment it will keep and bring all of it to a common, standard baseline architecture to facilitate rapid capability upgrades, Williamson said at a breakfast meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army at its headquarters outside Washington, D.C.

“As I look for a baseline architecture for our comms and computer systems, I’ve got to have that if I want to overlay cyber protection on top and things like that,” he told Defense Daily after the breakfast. “I have a set of existing systems that are on a different architecture and I don’t plan to do an upgrade to those systems until a certain date…Where I have influence is on the new ones. What I don’t have is the funds to bring those older things up.”

The Army is instituting standardized language that spells out the modular open systems requirements for various platforms and systems so that all new gear is basically compliant, he said. It then can focus on bringing its still-useful legacy equipment and vehicles up to those standards with software upgrades and software retrofits where feasible and affordable.

“This is a journey,” he said. “There’s no time when you can flip a switch and everybody is compliant. You have to establish the environment. You have to establish the culture. Then you have to have mechanisms to check compliance.”

A shining example is the Joint Battle Command Platform (JBC-P), commonly referred to as Blue Force Tracker, that provides battlefield situational awareness and friendly force locations. The system was initially designed for installation on a couple thousand vehicles and included a commensurate amount of satellite bandwidth.

JBC-P is now installed on more than 120,000 platforms and is significantly more capable and informative than its first iteration, Williamson said. From the original baseline architecture, the Army has added cyber protections, speedier data transmission and expanded the underlying logistics base.

“What we cannot afford to do, what we cannot afford to continued to do, is have a bunch of one-off systems that create integration challenges not only within the Army but with our joint-force partners and, I would add, with our coalition partners with whom we will always fight.”

Walking around trade shows in recent years, Williamson said vendors would proffer the technical compliance of their wares with established architecture standards before he could even ask. Both industry and Congress have accepted and understand the value of open architecture, especially as it could speed technology to the field.

“Over time, I believe we can get there,” Williamson said. “Our industry partners have taken this to heart. They get it. Congress…has reinforced the need to do this because they see the power.”

“If I take six to eight years to come up with a good idea and then put it in the field, we are already two generations behind and that is unsustainable,” Williamson added. “There are great technologies out there. There are great capabilities out there and we have a process where we start our discussion with ‘If we do this right, we will see this in the field six years from now,'” Williamson said. “That’s insane. Our speed to market has to change. Our ability to get it to the soldiers quickly has got to change.’