Marine Corps Wants Open, Plug-And-Play Combat Vehicles

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.–The Marine Corps has enshrined open architecture in its master technology investment plan as a means to rapidly upgrade communications technology as new equipment emerges.

Listed in the 2017 Advanced Technology Investment Plan, a 200-page guide to the Marine Corps’ technology development efforts and needs, is “open plug-and-play communication architecture” that will provide vehicles “the capability to add a new communication, sensor and data component to a system and have it integrate seamlessly without changing architecture or technical configuration of the vehicle.”

The full ATIP document can be accessed here.

“Adapting such architectures for the tactical vehicle fleet has great potential to improve tactical and operational flexibility for commanders,” the ATIP says. Program Executive Office-Land Systems distributed copies of the document at the Modern Day Marine expo in Quantico, Va.

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Michael Halloran, science and technology division chief at PEO-LS, lists open architecture as a fundamental element of future combat vehicles for the Marine Corps.

“We need lightweight, power efficient, fuel-efficient, survivable, mobile vehicles that are common plug-and-play architecture,” Halloran said Sept. 19 at MDM.

The program office already is writing open architecture into requirements documents, he said. Industry is falling in line, but their issues of intellectual property rights remain, he added.

“Yes, it is being written into the requirements documents,” he said. “Industry is responding extremely well and we are working through the proprietary data-rights issue. Oftentimes in the requirement process and in the acquisition process, you end up trading off requirements as the cost of a given systems tends to decrease over time. Often plug-and-play is one of those things that gets traded.”

The idea is to set standards for interfacing technologies to avoid the hodgepodge of proprietary systems that were bolted onto vehicles out of operational necessity over the past decade and half. Modular, scalable, open-systems architecture enable “plug-and-play mission flexibility across all tactical vehicles, will enable rapid vehicle modernization and shared resource allocation,” the ATIP document says.

One such architecture goes by the mouthful title, “Vehicular Integration for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR)/Electronic Warfare Interoperability.” Under development by the Army, it is commonly shoehorned into the acronym VICTORY.

VICTORY is a solution to a problem that arose from “operating forces applying solutions to identified C4ISR capability shortfalls through short-term solutions quickly bolted onto ground vehicles,” which weighed them down and created complex systems of systems that couldn’t always talk to each other, the ATIP says.

The architecture seeks to remedy that problem in future vehicles by defining common terminology, systems, components and interfaces. It also will set government-defined standard technical specifications for new technologies while providing a set of reference designs for industry to work into the products they pitch to the military.

So far, VICTORY has gained only minor traction, though the joint light tactical vehicle that will replace portions of the Army and Marine Corps legacy Humvee fleets is being built with a compliant electronics backbone. The Army’s Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support is working to introduce it to legacy support fleets.