Open Architecture Opens Opportunities for Acquisition Reform

Two U.S. Air Force space and cyber airmen work in the Global Strategic Warning and Space Surveillance Systems Center at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado, image via afcea.org

Two U.S. Air Force space and cyber airmen work  at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colorado – image via afcea.org

There has been a steady stream of recent ideas to reform military acquisition. Nickolas Guertin and James P. Craft have proposed one of the most intriguing. “One technique for speeding up the acquisition process is to use open system architecture (OSA),” they write in “The Cyber Implications of Acquisition Speed: Part IV,” published recently in Signal Magazine.

This is an idea Intelsat General Corporation has long advocated as a way to advance the capabilities of customer legacy systems. It’s also one reflected in the open architecture of Intelsat EpicNG, industry’s most advanced high-throughput satellite (HTS) platform. The second of the constellation, Intelsat IS-33e, is scheduled to launch on August 24. Three more EpicNG satellites are scheduled to launch in 2017.

In a recent SatCom Frontier article, Intelsat General President Skot Butler gave the primary reason for the value of open architecture in communications satellites. “(Customers) don’t want to change out their communications architecture … they don’t want to pay that bill …,” Butler said. “But … they do want to increase their throughput. … We’ve got to be able to accommodate this, and new architectures like Intelsat EpicNG, that kind of high throughput architecture is going to allow that.”

The post goes on to say: “Open architecture is a concept industry needs to embrace to be nimble enough to accommodate demands of both commercial customers – who are themselves nimble – and the military.”

Guertin and Craft espouse this nimbleness across all of the military’s systems, using an example from the U.S. Navy’s OSA strategy, published in 2011. The Navy has since collaborated with industry in implementing changes.

“The execution of this OSA strategy addressed improved competition; incentivized better performance; and measured increases in speed,” they write.

“Both speed and flexibility are crucial to product development today. Systems must be updated quickly to address warfighting needs and to manage a capability gap. They also must address constantly changing cyber threats. This necessitates a new way of doing business.”

This new way is facilitated by open systems architectures facilitating rapid innovation and quicker technology updates. Industry becomes more constrained by closed systems in developing that technology and competing for new business. The challenges of military risk-aversion and cultural silos are better handled when open architecture is used to help knock them down.

Open Systems Architecture isn’t completely new to the military. Once called the “Modular Open Systems Approach,” it has existed in DoD since 1994, but the closed systems of the F-22 Raptor and the Distributed Common Ground System are examples of resistance to its overall adoption.  With these programs and other areas, silos remain.

In part, that’s because of the proprietary intellectual property involved in the systems. Some companies resist exposing that technology to the open interfaces needed to bring innovation to legacy systems. This resistance can impede development of technology to advance the system and it’s past time for such resistance to be overcome.

Intelsat General’s Chris Hudson described in detail the advantages of open architectures for new high-throughput satellite (HTS) systems in a story last year.

“Only when the department manages this as an ecosystem through a well-publicized intellectual property strategy will it be able to functionally change how it interacts with industry,” Guertin and Craft write.

They anticipate this happening:

“Eventually [changing to wide-spread OSA] will change the underlying architecture of the Defense Department’s warfighting systems from a large collection of uncoordinated, non-interoperable systems built on unique design constructs to a cost-effective and coordinated enterprise product-line environment,” Guertin and Craft write.

That’s when acquisition and system improvement will move fast enough to be effective in a rapidly changing – and increasingly dangerous – space environment.

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