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SOSA Standard: Revolutionizing Defense Electronics and Electronic Warfare Design


The battlefield of the future is digital, interconnected, and increasingly complex. To maintain dominance in this rapidly evolving landscape, the U.S. military needs cutting-edge technology that is modular, adaptable, and capable of operating seamlessly in a congested electromagnetic spectrum. Enter the SOSA (Sensor Open Systems Architecture) Standard, a revolutionary approach to designing and integrating defense electronics and electronic warfare (EW) systems.

The Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) Technical Standard is reshaping the landscape of defense electronics design, particularly within the realm of electronic warfare (EW). Since the ratification of SOSA Technical Standard revision 1.0 two years ago, the impact has been revolutionary, ushering in a new era of open architecture approaches. This paradigm shift is propelled by the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) wave sweeping through the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). This article delves into the transformative journey of SOSA within EW systems, exploring how it accelerates innovation, streamlines integration, and meets the dynamic demands of modern defense applications.

The Evolution of EW Systems and SOSA:

Traditionally, EW systems operated within closed architectures, a paradigm influenced by both operational needs and integrator business models. While earlier systems incorporated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products based on open standards like OpenVPX, true interoperability remained a challenge.

The Challenge of Proprietary Systems:

For decades, military electronics have been dominated by proprietary systems, each with its own unique hardware and software configurations. This approach, while initially effective, has led to several challenges:

  • High cost and long development cycles: Proprietary systems require significant investment in research, development, and integration, driving up costs and delaying deployment.
  • Limited interoperability: Different systems cannot easily communicate or share information, hindering collaboration and situational awareness.
  • Lack of flexibility and adaptability: Upgrading or adapting these systems is often cumbersome and expensive, making them ill-suited for the ever-changing battlefield.

However, a broader push towards open architecture designs in various military applications sparked a shift towards modular open systems. This culminated in the formation of the SOSA Consortium, driven by the U.S. DoD’s directive for open architectures in new programs and upgrades.

SOSA’s Role in EW Designs:

EW systems, characterized by their dynamic sensor environments and evolving threats, have witnessed a rapid adoption of SOSA-aligned designs. The SOSA Technical Standard’s early inclusion of key considerations for EW, such as port and signal definitions, VPX, and VNX+ slot profiles, has positioned it as a pivotal player in decision-making since its inception. As Mark Littlefield, Sr. Manager at Elma Electronic, notes, “Having a common architecture that supports all of these functions means that integration of different functions is much easier, and common functional modules can be shared among the functions.”

Addressing Size Constraints:

Size, a critical factor in EW designs, was initially considered a barrier to adopting open architectures. However, SOSA’s incorporation of VNX+ as a fully-aligned small-form-factor plug-in card has dispelled these concerns. The inclusion of compact, fully SOSA-aligned options ensures that even in physically constrained environments, integrators have viable commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions, as highlighted by Littlefield.

Benefits Beyond Size:

The advantages of embracing SOSA-aligned designs extend beyond size considerations. The commonality facilitated by Plug-In Card Profiles enables rapid insertion of new capabilities into existing infrastructure. Jake Braegelmann, Vice President of Business Development at New Wave Design and Verification, emphasizes how this standardization allows for innovation in specific areas without tying innovators to the entire system. This flexibility fosters a robust ecosystem and benefits the end user, the warfighter.

The SOSA Solution:

The SOSA Standard is a game-changer for defense electronics and EW design. It promotes a modular, open-systems approach that uses standardized interfaces and protocols to enable the development of interoperable, high-performance systems. This approach offers several key benefits:

  • Reduced cost and faster development: By leveraging standardized components and interfaces, the SOSA Standard reduces development time and costs, allowing for faster deployment of new capabilities.
  • Enhanced interoperability: SOSA-compliant systems can seamlessly communicate and share information, leading to better situational awareness and improved collaboration between different units.
  • Increased flexibility and adaptability: The modular design of SOSA systems allows for easy upgrades and replacements, making them highly adaptable to changing mission requirements and emerging threats.

Accelerating Technology Deployment:

Dinesh Jain, FPGA Product Manager at Abaco Systems, underscores SOSA’s role in accelerating technology insertion, a critical requirement in response to evolving threats and next-generation silicon advancements. The modular system design approach allows different parts of the sensor processing chain to be upgraded independently, streamlining field deployment. The well-defined slot profiles reduce lead times for integrators, enabling them to implement technology upgrades swiftly.

Enabling Sensor Fusion:

One of SOSA’s notable contributions is the creation of sensor fusion through its sensor processing chain. By providing a high-performance heterogeneous sensor processing system, SOSA allows for the integration of diverse data sources and mediums. Braegelmann highlights that this design flexibility results in the rapid upgrading of processing capabilities and leverages standards-based interfaces for various data sources and syncs.

SOSA Requirements in EW Programs:

A clear indicator of SOSA’s growing impact is its inclusion in requirements for new DoD EW programs and upgrades. Emil Kheyfets, Director of Mil-Aero Business Development at Aitech Systems, notes the shift from SOSA requirements being a “good-to-have” option to becoming a mandated element in many programs. Elma’s Littlefield observes a noticeable increase in demand for SOSA-based products within the dynamic EW space, reflecting the broader acceptance and integration of this standard.

By standardizing EW components and interfaces, SOSA enables the development of more efficient and effective jamming and signal intelligence systems. This allows for:

  • Faster response times: SOSA-compliant EW systems can rapidly detect and respond to threats, improving the effectiveness of countermeasures.
  • Increased jamming capabilities: Standardized interfaces allow for the integration of multiple jamming modules, enabling more powerful and effective jamming operations.
  • Improved signal intelligence gathering: SOSA-compliant systems can collect and analyze data from a wider range of sources, providing greater situational awareness and intelligence gathering capabilities.

Key Technical Concepts:

  • Open Interfaces: SOSA defines standardized interface specifications for hardware (electrical, mechanical) and software (data exchange, control) to ensure interoperability between different modules.
  • Modular Architecture: The SOSA architecture is modular, consisting of pluggable modules with defined functions and behaviors. This allows for flexible system configuration and easy integration of new capabilities.
  • Open Standards: SOSA leverages and complements existing open standards in government and industry, promoting interoperability and reducing development costs.
  • Software Portability: SOSA encourages the development of portable software that can run on different SOSA-compliant hardware platforms.
  • Reference Architectures: SOSA defines reference architectures that provide guidance on system design and implementation.

Technical Components:

  • SOSA Sensor Profile (SSP): Defines the functional and performance requirements for a SOSA sensor module.
  • SOSA Hardware Profile (SHP): Specifies the mechanical and electrical characteristics of a SOSA module.
  • SOSA Software Profile (SSP): Defines the software architecture and interfaces for a SOSA module.
  • OpenVPX Standard: Provides the physical and electrical specifications for the SOSA modules.
  • CMOSS (Common Modular Open System Standards): Defines common data models and interfaces for sensor data exchange.

Dispelling Misconceptions:

Despite its positive trajectory, there are lingering misconceptions about SOSA. Kheyfets emphasizes the importance of understanding that SOSA-aligned modules can be effectively used in smaller, application-specific systems to reduce cost and complexity. Littlefield dispels common industry myths such as standards being too bulky, contributing minimally to time-to-deployment, and SOSA being exclusive to the U.S. These misconceptions are gradually giving way to a broader acknowledgment of SOSA’s efficacy.

The Future of Defense Electronics and EW:

The SOSA Standard is rapidly gaining traction within the defense industry, with major players like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon developing SOSA-compliant systems. As the standard matures, it is expected to revolutionize the way defense electronics and EW systems are designed, developed, and deployed. This will lead to:

  • More capable and efficient defense systems: SOSA will enable the development of systems that are more effective against evolving threats and better able to meet the needs of the future battlefield.
  • Reduced costs and faster deployment: The standardized approach will lead to a more streamlined development process, reducing costs and allowing for faster deployment of new technologies.
  • Increased innovation: The open-systems approach of SOSA will foster collaboration and innovation within the defense industry, leading to the development of even more advanced and groundbreaking technologies.


The SOSA Technical Standard has emerged as a transformative force in defense electronics and EW design. Its open architecture approach, aligned with the broader MOSA strategy, has accelerated innovation, streamlined integration, and addressed the dynamic demands of modern defense applications. As SOSA requirements become commonplace in EW programs, the industry is witnessing a paradigm shift towards interoperability, flexibility, and rapid technology deployment.

By promoting interoperability, flexibility, and adaptability, SOSA paves the way for a new generation of systems that are better equipped to meet the challenges of the digital battlefield  The journey of SOSA continues to shape the future of defense electronics, marking a significant leap forward in fostering collaboration, innovation, and responsiveness within the defense sector. As the standard continues to mature, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we fight and win wars, ensuring the continued dominance of the U.S. military in the years to come.


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