Northrop Grumman Corporation has been awarded a contract to develop and demonstrate a Software Programmable Open Mission Systems (OMS) Compliant (SPOC) radio terminal for the U.S. Air Force.
Northrop Grumman’s SPOC solution will provide the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) with an air-to-ground and air-to-air communications capability across four radio frequency waveforms: Link-16 Concurrent Multi-Net-4 (CMN-4), Common Data Link (CDL), Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) and Multi User Objective System (MUOS).
This development defines the Air Force’s next generation radio approach.
«Our solution for SPOC provides a mature hardware and software development kit that allows the Air Force to rapidly develop and prototype innovative communications solutions from any provider on an open architecture networking terminal that can be quickly taken into flight test and production», said Roshan Roeder, vice president, communications, airborne sensors and networks division, Northrop Grumman. «With the Air Force taking responsibility for developing the airborne communications network infrastructure for the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), SPOC radio will allow the Air Force to rapidly develop, test, fly and iterate».
Northrop Grumman’s SPOC open architecture networking terminal offers numerous benefits to the Air Force customer, including opening the F-35 Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) system to third-party developers, ownership of Link-16 development, sharing of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information over a common data link, and Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) beyond line of sight capability.
The U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) and a consortium of tech firms led by Raytheon are modernizing and simplifying the legacy Space Defense Operations Center (SPADOC), a 1990s-era system that tracks and monitors space debris.
Dave Fuino, program director for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, said: «Within just a few months we brought together a team, developed the technology to modernize it, got it on contract and held a series of demos to prove it worked. We went from concept to proving the solution in less than a year, which is really remarkable».
The SPADOC system reached the end of its planned service life. The U.S. Air Force is planning to replace it with modern systems that will simplify operations and provide greater space situational awareness and collision avoidance capabilities. However, the new system won’t come online for several years.
«SPADOC provides critical space-tracking capabilities that we must sustain and maintain while we wait for new systems to come online», said Bob Taylor, U.S. Air Force Legacy Space Branch chief. «At the same time, it’s critical that we address the obsolescence risk of an aging SPADOC system. So, we came up with a really innovative, modern solution to this problem».
Raytheon and AFLCMC decided to emulate SPADOC’s capabilities with modern computer hardware. The new emulated environment, SPADOC Emulation Analysis Risk Reduction, known as SPEARR, is designed to provide a more sustainable system that requires less maintenance. The new hardware will provide the same functionality as today’s system, making it easy to learn and operate.
Additional benefits are significant reductions in power and cooling consumption. Most of these reductions are because all of SPADOC’s capabilities are now integrated into two small server racks instead of spread over 1,000 square feet/93 square meters of an aging, analog computer system.
«We used proven emulation technology to help solve our challenge, significantly reducing obsolescence risk», said Taylor. «Innovations in programmatic and technical approaches drove a smarter, better and faster solution. The next step is to evaluate options for fielding SPEARR».
«Between the experience of our North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) teammates, a.i. solutions, Zivaro and E&M Technologies, and leading emulation companies Fundamental Software and M2 Technologies, we addressed the aging SPADOC system. It’s a game changer», said Fuino.
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Human Systems Division working with members of the Advanced Tactical Acquisition Corps or ATAC, one of the center’s premier leadership development programs, are in the early stages of acquiring the next generation helmet for aircrews in fixed-wing aircraft with the exception of the F-35 Lightning II.
Recently, with recommendations from ATAC, the Human Systems Division awarded $600,000 in grants via AFWERX Vegas to three companies to develop and present prototypes for the helmet by the end of May 2019.
The team worked closely with AFWERX Vegas, an Air Force innovation hub specializing in engaging entrepreneurs and private sector vendors, to identify the pool of companies that could potentially develop the new helmet faster, more efficiently and with cutting edge technology.
Replacing legacy helmets on fixed-wing aircraft has become a priority in part because over time new requirements have added sub-systems, and devices, that the helmets were not originally designed for.
«It (legacy helmet) is a 1980’s designed helmet that was not made to withstand and balance everything – technology – that we are putting on them», said 1st Lieutenant Naomi Harper, a program manager with the Human Systems Division. «If the weight is off, the center of gravity is completely off, which can cause neck issues and pain. Our goal is to find a helmet that is lighter, has more stability and is compatible fixed-winged aircraft and equipment».
Michael DeRespinis, program manager with the Human Systems Division said that working with AFWERX has been beneficial in that it has helped increase competition to replace the helmet and is facilitating the rapid delivery of prototypes.
DeRespinis also said that the division would like to select one of the prototypes and put that company on contract by September 2019 for further development activity and future production.
Because of AFWERX Vegas, a process that in the past would have taken years to complete, will now only take months, which in turn will allow the Human Systems Division to field the helmets to aircrews faster.
The ATAC team comprised of a group of competitively selected mid-level military and civilian acquisition professionals from across AFLCMC, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Space and Missile Systems Center, are focused not only on supporting the Human Systems Division during this process, but also on figuring out the best way to transition technology.
«Innovation hubs like AFWERX are starting to spin up around the Air Force», said Adam Vencill, a member of ATAC and a program manager by trade. «A challenge the Air Force has is getting products on contract that comes out of these hubs. We (ATAC members) were tasked to create a business model that helps that transition process».
Nicole Barnes, ATAC contract specialist and member said that working with AFWERX, the Human Systems Division and being part of a rapid acquisition process has been rewarding. She added that the ATAC program is an example of leadership’s commitment to the workforce and to positive change.
In March 2018, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Sensors Program Office, working jointly with the AFLCMC Medium Altitude Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Office, sponsored three demonstration flights of an MQ-9 Reaper with AgilePod.
The flights were a first for AgilePod on an Air Force major weapon system and were the result of collaboration between AFLCMC and the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL).
«These flights mark the culmination of more than two years of cutting-edge technology development led by our colleagues within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate ManTech team, and Sensors Directorate Blue Guardian team», said Lieutenant Colonel Elwood Waddell, the advanced technologies branch chief within the Sensors Program Office.
The AgilePod program will offer a family of non-proprietary, government-owned pods of several sizes that can accommodate various missions, quickly change payloads and fit on multiple platforms.
The program uses open adaptable architecture and standards-based design to ensure maximum flexibility without proprietary constraints.
«The AgilePod program began with a desire to bring agile manufacturing practices to the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) enterprise, culminating in a wholly government-owned, open architecture ISR capability that was both payload and platform agnostic», said Andrew Soine, a program manager with AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. «The program is really taking off, with proposed ISR and non-ISR applications that we couldn’t have foreseen only a few years ago. By owning the technical baseline, we’ve shown what can be done in relatively little time and cost when faced with emergent user needs».
«Blue Guardian’s mission is to rapidly demonstrate emerging sensor technology», added Captain Juliana Nine, a program manager with AFRL’s Sensors Directorate. «These MQ-9 flights did exactly that. The open adaptable architecture based on Open Mission Systems and common electrical/mechanical interfaces developed by the Blue Guardian team enabled the rapid re-configurability of the sensors inside the AgilePod. This capability will help the warfighter adapt their sensor payloads as the mission dictates».
U.S. Air Force ownership of the registered trademark for AgilePod is key to the program, giving the Air Force the authority to designate a given pod as an AgilePod. This cultivates a highly collaborative relationship with industry partners as the Air Force shares existing technical data under the protection of an Information Transfer Agreement.
The agreement enables the sharing of all government technical data on AgilePod while protecting government ownership and enabling industry innovation. For the demonstration, the Air Force partnered with Leidos (facilitated the open architecture sensor integration), the University of Dayton Research Institute (implemented the open software for sensor command and control), AdamWorks (built the AgilePod) and General Atomics (integrated the podded system onto the MQ-9 aircraft).
«We believe this program has the potential to both increase the velocity at which future sensor technology is made available to the warfighter, as well as to improve agility in employing various sensor modalities to fit any given scenario», said Waddell.
The Sensors Program Office continues to collaborate with AFRL and industry partners on the design and upgrade of several AgilePod variants and has plans to test various sensor modalities within AgilePod on operational platforms in the near future.