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Op-ed: Integration and interoperability through generic architectures – A benefit to Defence, and paving the way for AIC

David Abel and Phil Stancliff

Generic architectures can increase capability and performance for Defence. It can lower through-life costs and cost of ownership. Defence is investing in it as a part of the push towards an interoperable force.

Generic architectures can increase capability and performance for Defence. It can lower through-life costs and cost of ownership. Defence is investing in it as a part of the push towards an interoperable force.

Baked into the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan, there are multiple initiatives requiring greater levels of interoperability. These include the Joint Force and One Defence down to the C4 initiatives across each domain. The DSTG Strategy 2030, “More, Together”, also outlines areas requiring innovation in integration and interoperability. In short, integration and interoperability are slated as a key aspect of ongoing and future research. 

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To summarise – integration and interoperability, and the generic, open architectures enabling this, are important. 

But like all new technology, there is the adoption rate, among other challenges, to overcome. 

We know from direct experience within, and now looking outside-in to Defence, that the move to the Australian Generic Systems Architectures within the Land Combat System have many potential benefits not only for Defence, but also Australian providers and SMEs. We hope that our insights can assist in the development, innovation and adoption of generic architectures and thus improve integration and interoperability across the Joint Force.

 

Defining integration and interoperability

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To fully grasp the positive benefits of strong end-to-end integration and interoperability has for Defence, it’s important to understand the meaning of the terms. For those without an engineering background, we start with a definition of the key terms and a quick overview of the technical challenge.

Integration is the bringing together of systems or subsystems such that they work together and we reap benefits greater than the sum of the parts. This can include designing or building a subsystem, or application, and integrating it with new or existing systems, or subsystems, potentially comprising hardware, software, whole of platform or individual elements. 

The traditional model for building a system, integrating disparate systems, is to integrate each subsystem with point-to-point interfaces, each interface having the potential to be different and each subsystem having its own display.

This presents two main issues: a) a costly, risky and time-consuming activity and b) significant space, weight and power (SWaP) requirements on the platform design.  Adding significant SWaP requirements on a soldier is especially problematic.

Interoperability is what occurs when the multiple interfaces of a system are completely understood by internal subsystems and able to work with other external systems presently or in the future and do so without restriction.

Enter the generic architectures, which directly addresses these main issues and moves us to interoperability.

 

Explaining generic architecture

A generic architecture is defined to be modular and open. It utilises a common data infrastructure and a common data model. By using a common data infrastructure and data model, a subsystem can be integrated into the platform with lower through life costs, lower risk and better integration, better meeting the need of the user. 

Current generic architectures define a common display bringing all the subsystem human machine interfaces (HMIs) onto a single display with a common look and feel reducing the number of displays required to be installed on the platform. Among other benefits, this reduces training burden on the operators who would now be trained once on the one common HMI.

Where a vehicle may have had three communication data models and three data screens, now only one screen is required, and all data can be displayed on that screen. The genericism means that upgrades can be conducted at reduced cost or reliance on external providers. The time saved is also cost saved, while effectiveness increases. 

The principle can be applied across all the generic architectures offering benefits to each architecture but, provided some forward planning is applied, offering benefits to cross domain integration across multiple platforms, e.g. between a soldier (AS GSA), a vehicle (AS GVA) and an unmanned aerial system (AS GRASA). Think of the strategic implications, and the Joint Force.

 

Challenges

For all its foreseen benefit, challenges exist to getting generic architectures stood up and adopted. 

For one, it is a significant engineering challenge. Interoperability, at its best, sets about exploiting all the elements of one system, and another system, and making them work together to maximise capability through a system of systems. That requires a broad expertise.

On a market level, some industry players believe that their advantage is eroded or the standard deviates from their proprietary implementation, even if the IP is transferred to Defence. For example, the potential shift whereon sustainment becomes more internal, rather than externally handled by an OEM.

Once it is stood up and the advantages are seen however, and participation grows, and the number of available compliant systems and subsystems grows, we can start to see more choice, effect and benefit. A big one that we are excited for is the benefit to AIC and SMEs.

 

Benefits to Australian industry/AIC 

Industry stands to gain from the introduction of generic architectures. These benefits include accessibility to open standard interfaces and a reduction in vendor lock-in.  

The smallest organisations, including SMEs and start-ups, are then able to break into the large projects through being able to demonstrate the same level of compatibility with a system through open interfaces rather than interfaces that are beyond their resources.

Maintaining IP of individual OEMs, through generic architectures, we are able to integrate to a greater system of systems capability. We believe this will bring greater capability to Defence. 

 

David Abel, director and co-founder, Luminact, and Phil Stancliff, engineering manager, Luminact

Op-ed: Integration and interoperability through generic architectures – A benefit to Defence, and paving the way for AIC
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