Will it be better by design?18 December 2018
Open architecture is something we hear a lot about within the technology sphere, but what impact is it having on our military and how close are we to the so-called holy grail? Andrew Tunnicliffe looks at the UK for answers.
“The character of warfare is changing, and that is going to drive how we deliver, operate, sustain future combat capabilities, particularly in the combat vehicle fleet,” a senior US Army official told me not so long ago. “What we’re understanding is that the Bradley, specifically, is not at all optimised for the future environment. We’re running out of engineering margins,” he added. Clearly he was talking of the M2 Bradley troop carrier; arguably one of the most successful fighting vehicles of the US Army over it’s almost 30 years of service.
However, that problem is not unique to the Bradley, nor unique to the entire US Army land fleet, and certainly not unique to the US Army itself. Forces the world over face the same predicament, ensuring they spend wisely, procuring the best equipment of its time, but are able to use and upgrade it as easily and as inexpensively as possible in the future. It’s an unenviable task, fraught with risk professionally for those making the decisions, and force-wide. However, when it’s done right it can be the cornerstone of future programmes.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has, for many years, considered such challenges as fundamental to its future land forces evolution. In the 1980s, the MoD embarked on a mission to future-proof its land fleet, starting with the experimental battle tank, the FV4601 MBT-80, at the end of the decade. The tank itself was not exactly the beginning of the mission, however, it was simply the unintended catalyst.
Frame it correctly
The piece of hardware led to the creation of what became the Systematic Approach to Vehicle Electronics (SAVE) programme. SAVE was arguably a revolution, albeit it a slow one, in the field of battle-ready microprocessors and electronics that resulted in Modular Assembled Vehicle Installation System (MAVIS) and later Vehicle Electronics Research Defence Initiative (VERDI), led by the Defence Evaluation and Research Establishment (DERA).
In the 20 or so years since, military vehicles, like the technology that supports them, have advanced dramatically. In 2010 the MoD said it had agreed Defence Standard 23-09 (Def Stan 20-09) and that it would be applied to all future land vehicle designs, orders and, wherever possible, retrospectively to existing procurement contracts. It was a significant step for the future development of the Army’s land fleet. “This Def Stan is applicable to the full spectrum of land platforms, ranging from simple to complex implementations. The requirements for these implementations are determined by the functionality required of the platform as a whole system that includes all subsystems, and not the automotive or power elements alone,” the army said.
In a published whitepaper, US-based Real-Time Innovations (RTI) said, “The adoption of an Interoperable Open Architecture (IOA) by the UK MoD will have a profound impact on defence procurement. With its new [at the time of publication] Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) and Def Stan 23-09, the MoD has arguably been one of the most innovative and impactful defence procurement agencies of any democratic nation.” It was clear upon this announcement that the Standard was the new vision for the land fleet, with the MoD adding it would “be considered the foundation standard for platform integration, and should any conflict arise between this and other extant documentation, this document shall take precedence”.
GVA and the Def Stan 23-09, together is a complex framework for the future of land vehicles, involving industry and defence forces, as well as researchers and developers. Among the benefits it is said to offer are enhanced equipment compatibility and reduced costs. Cost savings, it was said, would be made through reduced integration, a greater ease of technological adaptation, greater commercial competition, ultimately raising competitiveness and lowering procurement costs, and less maintenance pressures. Much of this would be achieved by improved subsystem data integration and interoperability, and better means to scale-up.
Part of a wider intelligence
GVA is ultimately part of what is known today as Land Open Systems Architecture (LOSA), an intelligent domain bringing together it and the Generic Base Architecture (GBA) and Generic Soldier Architecture (GSA). It means anyone looking to supply to the army has to comply with open systems requirements. GVA itself is a critical part of the UK MoD’s and British Army’s Future Force 2020 programme which is, the army says, a “transformation of the British Army for the 2020s and beyond, in response to the strategic challenges it is likely to face in the future”.
Future Force 2020 came about as a result of the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2015. Before then, defence policy required an army designed for an enduring operation at the brigade level. The new policy “demands that we are able to field a modernised division, capable of fighting as the principal output of the army. From this structure the army must routinely be able to reorganise for a range of other tasks and operations, at increased readiness,” says the force.
As part of that, much work is going into the modernisation of the land fleet. This initiative includes the Specialist Vehicle (SV) programme, of which GVA requirements are a major element. One example of that is the replacement of the CVR(T) fleet with what was originally known as the SCOUT programme, now the AJAX. Made up of six variants – AJAX, ARES, APOLLO, ATHENA, ATLAS and ARGUS – the family of vehicles were the first to feature fully open electronic architecture, compliant with GVA. Manufacturer General Dynamics says, “Each AJAX variant will be a highly agile, tracked, medium-weight armoured fighting vehicle, providing British troops with stateof- the-art best-in-class protection.”
Speaking to Defence Contracts Online back in 2013, the company’s then senior media relations manager, Andrew Boyle, said, “Two key technological developments set SV apart. Firstly, a common base platform (CBP) underpins the entire SV family of vehicles. The CBP delivers common components for every SV variant, which delivers savings to the British Army through fewer spares and less costly training of support staff. Secondly, growth enablers have been engineered into the platform to ensure through-life exploitation. These improve payload, power and open electronic architecture.”
What lies ahead
Boyle went on to say GVA enables incremental acquisition as it allows new technologies to be introduced into platforms at any time in their life cycle, without the need to wait for a major platform upgrade programme. “The incremental acquisition approach should mean current capabilities now rather than much later for the user.”
According to the latest MoD released figures, in April 2018, the current land vehicle fleet comprises 4,094 key platforms across Combat Forces, Combat Support Forces, and Combat Service Support. That total was down by four on the previous year with a small reduction in the number of operational Bulldog Armoured Personnel Carriers. However, it has remained stable.
It’s clear the intention of GVA will hugely benefit the fleet in years to come, meaning the force can respond more quickly and develop capabilities with far great ease. The first raft of AJAX vehicles remain on track to be operation by 2020; the first round of army testing began towards the end of 2017.
However, issues remain with the whole GVA project, not least interoperability with dismounted units and command centres. LOSA and GBA are vital in the success of GVA, but likewise GVA is to them too. The ability of the service to equipped to respond at pace to change – either in the battlespace or to advances in technology – is vital for Future Force 2020, but very dependent on the success of open architecture.