A Northrop Grumman [NOC] executive said Tuesday more open architecture designs in acquisition systems could lead to increased savings for the Defense Department in addition to better technological advancement.

“If you can maintain the airplanes and then upgrade the avionics, there is such a substantial cost savings, rather than buying a new airplane,” Palombo told reporters during a briefing at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. “You can do this and create a highly digital and integrated suite of equipment at the fraction of a cost a new airplane.”

UH-60L Digital Cockpit Photo: U.S. Army
UH-60L Digital Cockpit
Photo: U.S. Army

Open architecture (OA) is an approach to requirements that is designed to make adding, upgrading and swapping components easier and cheaper. The DoD approach to OA enables acquisition and engineering communities to design for affordable change, employ evolutionary acquisition and spiral development and develop an integrated roadmap for system design and development.

Palombo said the first place he’s seen OA implemented in a “substantial way” is through the Army’s program to upgrade digital cockpits in its fleet of UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Northrop Grumman was selected by Redstone Defense Systems in August to supply and integrate mission avionics equipment, which will replace the older analog gauges with digital electronic instrument displays.

Northrop Grumman said its design solution features a centralized processor with a partitioned, modular operational flight program with an integrated architecture that enables new capabilities through software-only solutions rather than hardware additions. The new designation for this upgraded aircraft will be UH-60V, according to a company statement.

Palombo said OA allows requirements and capabilities like threat sensors for aircraft to be as technologically-advanced as possible, considering how fast threats evolve and develop.

“Things can be swapped out much more quickly than they could in the past, both from a hardware and a software perspective,” Palombo said. “If you think of the…qualifications associated with changing software, when you do that more rapidly, it enables you to keep up.”

Palombo said a big question moving forward was how the Army will proceed with its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program that will replace the service’s aging helicopter fleet, as well as the aircraft of other services. Palombo wondered aloud if the Army will treat FVL as a “typical legacy procurement,” where everything is combined together and the service gets what he called “program lock” with a particular supplier?

Or, Palombo asked, will the Army push for a true OA approach, like it did with the UH-60L cockpit upgrade, where contractors know the platform will be able to be enhanced for a long period of time?

“Are you going to look to actively procure a modular OA system where industry partners have the ability to add in new technical capability in a regular sequence,” Palombo said. “Or are you going to procure a closed and proprietary system whereby it becomes very costly and the government’s ability to make changes and adapt to threats becomes more difficult?”

Army spokesman Joe Ferrare said Tuesday the FVL family of aircraft will be developed through leveraging the Joint Common Architecture (JCA) development and Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) standards. Further, Ferrare said, the Army will demonstrate a new model-based architecture design using FACE standards between 2015 and 2019.

FACE, Palombo said, is an industry and government consortium meant to create a common OA approach for avionics and is helped managed by the Open Group, which says FACE is a government-industry software standard and business strategy for acquisition of affordable software systems that promotes innovation and rapid integration of portable capabilities across global defense programs. The Open Group says it is a global consortium that enables the achievement of business objectives through information technology (IT) standards.