An Open-and-Shut Case for Army Open Architecture
What started as a way to improve Army C4ISR and electronic warfare has grown into a tri-service effort.
A suite of open architecture standards developed by the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center enables the convergence of hardware and software to improve the Army’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. The C4ISR/EW Modular Open Suite of Standards, referred to as CMOSS, allows the communication components of military vehicles to share a common platform. The open architecture applies necessary Army baseline as well as industry standards.
A military vehicle can be laden with radios, video displays, sensors, electronic warfare tools, antennas and other vital communication technologies, each with its own power draw and platform footprint. For the Army, years of quick-reaction solutions stuffed into a vehicle have taxed size, weight, power and cost and have created operator overload, the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) indicates.
The CMOSS-defined architecture allows for quick insertion of new capabilities, enables interoperability between capabilities and eliminates redundant components, such as the need for multiple antennas, says Jason Dirner, lead electronics engineer at CERDEC, located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. With the CMOSS architecture, CERDEC also is looking to reduce acquisition costs through greater industry product competition and fewer custom-designed units.
Embedded within a technology, CMOSS consists of a group of layered standards—standards that are useful on their own but, when combined, form “a holistic converged architecture,” according to CERDEC. CMOSS includes software, hardware and network layers as well as functional decomposition of components to enable use of the architecture, Dirner explains.
The software layer, which supports the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE), the Joint Tactical Network Center (JTNC) and frameworks such as REDHAWK, drives applications so they can be ported easily between hardware. CMOSS also enables the software capabilities to be used in air, ground and vehicle environments and interchanged between these platforms.
Next, the hardware layer of CMOSS defines the physical and electrical specifications for components to work in a common environment. It functions as a common form factor, enabling physically interchangeable capabilities. The hardware layer supports profiles such as OpenVPX and VITA, Dirner says. Also, the network layer provides connectivity within the CMOSS platform. It allows legacy systems to share services within the converged architecture, according to CERDEC.
Another key aspect of CMOSS enables functional decomposition of communication technologies, which breaks down their radio-frequency (RF) capabilities into high-level functions with well-defined interfaces, Dirner suggests. To achieve the decomposition, CERDEC created a modular open RF architecture called MORA. It standardizes access and control of the RF chain and how RF functions are discovered and controlled so that the end-to-end RF chain can be reconstituted dynamically based on mission objectives or to mitigate hardware failures, he says.
“For example, current systems may have dedicated antennas,” Dirner notes. “One might be for a jammer and another for communications. If one of those antennas is damaged, you have no choice or no control over which capability is lost. Whichever capability that antenna is connected to [would be out]. With MORA establishing shared RF resources, warfighters are able to select which capability is more important at a given point in time.”
In addition, MORA allows warfighters to upgrade subsystems independently—whether they are processing subsystems, front-end antennas or amplifiers. This will greatly reduce costs and decrease the time it takes to field new capabilities, he continues.
MORA is especially important for airborne platforms, where in podded installations, integrating and calibrating large antenna arrays can take a substantial effort. “Although the front-end elements of an airborne platform are different than ground, sea and subsurface platforms, by standardizing how you communicate with those resources, you can now share the same back-end processing across platforms,” Dirner says. “You can take the same RF application or the same transceiver or processing cards and plug into a chassis either on the ground or in the air. And then having used those standardized interfaces to discover the front-end resources that are available, warfighters can adjust accordingly. So we have seen the ability to use the same cards, the same chassis across platforms.”
For Army ground vehicles, CMOSS has enabled vehicular integration for C4ISR/EW interoperability, also known as the VICTORY initiative. With the VICTORY approach, a data bus is added to a vehicle, providing shared services, including time synchronization and information such as position, orientation and direction of travel, to all installed CMOSS-based technologies. It also supplies threat reports, audio alarms, video display, EW interface and a platform to host other components.
Originally, CMOSS grew out of a 2013 CERDEC effort called the Hardware Software Convergence (HSC) Initiative, in which the initial objective was to reduce size, weight and power (SWAP) requirements on tactical vehicles, Dirner shares. “So to accomplish that, we looked at how to share hardware and services,” he says. “We moved to fielding capabilities as cards in a common chassis, sharing antennas and amplifiers.”
CERDEC researchers quickly found that the SWAP achievements were not the only benefit. “Once we started getting into it, we realized that as important to the size, weight, power reduction was the flexibility [the common chassis] provides,” Dirner says. “Being able to rapidly field and integrate new technology and capabilities in order to meet emerging needs—that flexibility is as important, if not more important, than the SWAP savings.”
As programs do, the HSC was slated to end, which caused concern for Army users, Dirner admits. “When that effort was ending, people kept coming up and saying, ‘We hear this initiative is going away,’” he notes. “But that wasn’t the message we wanted to make. Really, the architecture and standards we’ve created are enduring, and even though the dedicated effort to create it has ended, we have internalized the architecture standards and are using them for our science and technology base going forward. So to convey that message, that’s when we coined the term CMOSS to differentiate the product, the architecture and the suite of standards from the effort that created it.”
In the meantime, the U.S. Air Force had kicked off a similar effort called the Sensory Systems Architecture, geared toward airborne applications rather than ground vehicles, Dirner observes. “We got involved with them from the beginning to make sure that the solution that we each created was aligned,” he says. The joint effort allowed for a coordinated hardware and software initiative, transferring CMOSS to the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) consortium. “SOSA is the standards body that we’re using to maintain CMOSS moving forward,” he confirms. “So whether you hear SOSA or CMOSS, the terms can be used interchangeably because we use the same architecture and the same standards.”
Through five SOSA working groups, the Army is working closely with the Air Force and the U.S. Navy to widen use of the standards, Dirner says. “The collaboration across the Air Force, Army and Navy has been really tremendous,” he emphasizes. “I think that collaboration is really what’s allowed us to steer the community, have a greater voice to drive where industry is going to go and also to get as much feedback to make the architecture as robust as possible.”
To internalize the CMOSS and SOSA standards, however, CERDEC still has to make sure that standards-based language is incorporated into contract and acquisition efforts as well as requirements development. “One of the advantages of how we get the SWAP reduction that the architecture provides is by allowing sharing of hardware and services on the platform,” Dirner states. “And in doing so, that introduces dependencies between Army programs where they may not have existed before. We’ve been working with the acquisition community to make them aware of those dependencies and make them aware of where efficiencies can be had.”
CERDEC officials are beginning to see that systems, even if built in isolation, comply with the CMOSS architecture, Dirner reports. “For example, if a system still fields a box, but under the hood it has parts that are compliant with the CMOSS and SOSA profiles, when we get to the point where there is a common chassis on the platform, the Army program manager does not need to re-engineer that system,” he says. “They can just take parts out of their box and plug them into the standard box on the platform. So we’ve seen the acquisition community definitely starting to embrace it, evidenced by the fact that the CMOSS and SOSA requirements are being included in programs, with many more in the queue for the future.”
Also, Dirner says he is pleased with the industry response so far. Companies are offering products that fall in line with the standards, essentially growing the CMOSS ecosystem. Through SOSA, CERDEC is working with “numerous industry partners to educate them on the architecture,” Dirner states.
By ensuring there is a commonality across multiple platforms to share hardware and software components, the military will avoid “costly, complex proprietary solutions,” according to Ashburn, Virginia-based Curtiss-Wright Corp. The company offers rugged single-board computers, Ethernet switches, radio clock modules, data storage systems, power supplies and other products designed in compliance with CMOSS standards.
“The widespread adoption of CMOSS by system integrators in the United States as well as ‘Five Eyes’ and other NATO nations will help move the implementation of C4ISR capabilities away from the use of costly and complex stovepiped separate boxes on individual platforms,” company officials state.