Open Architecture Drives U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift Program


Published in Mil Tech Insider

The Army is currently holding a competition to select the winning design for two of the new platforms being developed under FVL: the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) to replace the OH58 Kiowa Warrior and AH64 Apache and the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) replacement for the UH60 Blackhawk. In March 2020, the Army announced that it had short-listed Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky Aircraft and Bell Textron Helicopter’s designs for FARA and prototypes from Bell and a combined offering from Sikorsky and Boeing to compete for FLRAA. These programs represent a true milestone for the Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) approach that is key to both FARA and FLRAA prototype designs.

The Army sees MOSA as the means to developing an objective architecture for both aviation and mission systems electronics that will deliver more control over the system-upgrade process. Moreover, MOSA will help the government achieve its goal of establishing commonality wherever possible between the two winning aircraft designs. This commonality will free the Army from having to rely directly on the prime contractor to upgrade a system. Instead, the subsystem architecture will be defined with sufficient granularity that the government will be able to satisfy upgrade requirements through third-party suppliers, which will help drive competition, interoperability, and cost reductions. Going forward, the MOSA approach will provide the Army with greater flexibility, reduce time to deployment, and deliver long-term savings.

Suppliers of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts are well-positioned to support the FVL programs, leveraging packaging and integration advances to optimize the performance of the next-generation helicopters and realize the true benefits of the MOSA approach. For example, on helicopters, where every additional pound of weight impacts fuel usage and mission distance and duration, the ability to consolidate line-replaceable units (LRU) by integrating multiple functions into the same chassis will deliver huge weight and cost advantages. Instead of having separate subsystems for the aircraft’s pitot-static probes, used to determine airspeed, and its air data computer (ADC), housing both of these functions in a single LRU will enable system designers to reduce both LRU count and overall weight. Similarly, most military helicopters carry a cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder, health and usage monitoring (HUMS), and sometimes a separate video recorder. Using COTS building blocks, all of these functions can be integrated into a single LRU. Even better, integrating voice recording, data recording HUMS, and image recording into a single chassis results in an elegant and efficient solution for military flight operations quality assurance (MFOQA) that provides HUMS capability in a size, weight, and power (SWaP)-optimized box.

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