Historically, the United States has built its military capabilities on highly capable, multi-function platforms. These platforms have been expensive and have had long development times, but have incorporated sophisticated military technologies that potential adversaries have not had the ability to access or counter. This strategy has been highly successful, leading to a long period of U.S. air dominance.
However, the globalization of technology has made this strategy increasingly unsustainable. Potential adversaries are now able to access advanced technologies with relative ease and incorporate them quickly into military systems—sometimes accomplishing multiple upgrades during a U.S. weapon system’s development and acquisition period.
The adversary through “anti-access / area denial” capabilities is able to employ ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, air defenses and counter-maritime forces against American forces and keep it away from thousands of miles of coastline. “To operate against adversaries with precision-guided weapons, the U.S. needs to disperse its forces, disaggregate its capabilities, confuse enemy sensors through decoys and deception, and swarm enemy defenses with large numbers of expendable assets,” says Paul Scharre, Senior Fellow and Director 20YY Future of Warfare
DARPA has initiated System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program whose goals are to: develop SoS architectures to maintain U.S. air superiority in contested environments; demonstrate rapid integration of mission systems into existing and new architectures; and demonstrate the combat effectiveness and robustness of those architectures.
“It can take decades and cost billions of dollars to field or upgrade advanced airborne systems today,” said Nils Sandell, director of DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO). “As a result, the modernization of subsystems in these complex platforms has not kept pace with the rapid advances in commercial technology. A system-of-systems approach could help overcome this inherent issue with high-cost, monolithic, multi-function platforms.”
“Autonomy, manned-unmanned teaming, the ability of dissimilar systems to connect together in a larger self-forming, self-healing network is going to be critical,” said John Hobday, Raytheon’s business development lead for advanced naval systems concept development and missile systems
DARPA’s System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE)
SoSITE aims to demonstrate that an SoS approach to maintaining air superiority: will be militarily effective and will impose on any adversary seeking to counter these systems a financial cost greater than it costs the United States to field.
SoSITE will pursue multiple objectives: first, to distribute functions across networks of manned and unmanned platforms offering favorable capability-cost tradeoffs; second, to rapidly integrate advanced mission systems onto manned and unmanned platforms using open system architectures; third, to apply warfighter-managed autonomy to coordinate distributed effects; and fourth, to enable system heterogeneity to reduce common-cause vulnerabilities and provide system adaptability.
Distribute functions across networks of manned and unmanned platforms
It aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures—combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems—that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms.
“What we would like to enable is a future scenario in which a smaller number of manned aircraft would combine with unmanned aircraft to do [a] total job,” says Sandell, according to a Defense Department News article. “They would be networked together … and the unmanned aircraft could venture into the more dangerous territory, providing some degree of risk avoidance for the pilots. The unmanned platforms would be simpler and could do individual jobs like carry weapons, electronic warfare systems or sensors — the last allowing the manned aircraft to be silent and harder to detect.”
SoSITE focuses on developing concepts and architectures for distributed air warfare, as well as the technical integration tools to make that possible. The program plans to harness existing airborne systems’ capabilities and reduce the cost and development timeline for new systems by using an open-systems architecture approach.
Rapidly integrate advanced mission systems onto manned and unmanned platforms using open system architectures
SoSITE seeks to develop and deliver systems architecture concepts for rapid integration of new U.S. technologies as they are developed, without requiring significant re-engineering of existing capabilities, systems, or systems of systems. Open-systems architectures create common standards and tools for developing interchangeable modules and platforms that can be quickly upgraded and swapped out as needed. This concept enables distribution of key functions, such as electronic warfare; sensors; weapons; battle management; positioning, navigation and timing; and data/communication links, across a variety of manned and unmanned platforms.
The SoSITE project encompasses the integration of aircraft, weapons, sensors, and mission systems via the SoSITE open-systems architecture (OSA). The SoSITE OSA is based on the open mission systems (OMS) — an Air Force effort to develop interfaces between mission systems and services connected through an avionics service bus (ASB). These interfaces use open and standardized interface definitions.
“We are working closely with the Services on their open-systems architecture initiatives,” said John Shaw, SoSITE program manager in STO. “We are developing technologies to make those architectures enduring and secure, including building in defenses against cyber-attacks, enabling standards to evolve as technology advances while maintaining backward compatibility, and providing tools for more rapid system composition and testing.
If we are successful, the Services will be able to add or swap out capabilities across existing manned and unmanned platforms at lower cost and in shorter time. The goal is to plug modules that perform different airborne functions into any type of airborne platform and have them work seamlessly.”
SoSITE will take advantage of advances in miniaturization, increased capability and decreased cost of electronics, new algorithms and software technology, and advanced materials for creating innovative unmanned platforms. Cost savings may be realized by separating payload from platforms, thereby allowing defense planners greater flexibility in choosing cost-vs-capability tradeoffs for each.
A successful SoSITE program will help U.S. forces maintain their advantage in a fast-changing world by facilitating the integration of new technologies faster than near-peer adversaries can adapt to or counter them.
DARPA awards contracts under Phase 1 and 2 of SOSITE program
DARPA has awarded contracts to develop concepts for system-of-systems architectures and tools to facilitate their more rapid integration and testing. Under Phase 1 of the SoSITE programme, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had awarded contracts to Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to develop and analyse promising architectures, and to design plans for flight experimentation with these architectures. Apogee Research, BAE Systems and Rockwell Collins are developing tools and technologies to enhance current open-system architecture approaches.
Lockheed Martin has been awarded a USD36.4 million contract for Phase 2 of the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) programme. The company will develop system-of-systems (SoS) architectures to maintain US air superiority in contested environments; demonstrate the rapid integration of the mission system into architectures; and demonstrate the combat effectiveness and robustness of those architectures. The Air Force Research Laboratory is the contracting authority, and work will completed by 30 October 2019.