Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief, COTS Journal

Earlier this month I trekked down to Washington D.C. to attend the annual Association of the United Systems Army (AUSA) show. There’s certainly been a shift happening in the past couple years to where AUSA has become the stand-out event that nearly every significant technology vendor in COTS Journal’s industry is an exhibitor. That trend reached a point this year whereby it was easier to name which companies where not at the show than to list the many that were there. At the same time, AUSA is one of those rare events where there’s a nice representation of the company’s where COTS Journal’s readers work-the defense primes-exhibiting alongside the embedded computing, power supply and other technology vendors that make up the industry we cover.

For me, as always, the show was an excellent opportunity to meet with all those companies, but also to attend the many keynotes, panels and sessions where key Army and DoD leaders shared their visions and concerns. Several key DoD and Army leaders weighed in during an Institute of Land Warfare contemporary military forum at AUSA on the topic of how technology must enable the shift to a multi-domain future of warfare. During this forum, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work explained that enemies will challenge the U.S. in all of the domains of warfare, including space and cyberspace. U.S. troops will confront enemies with better weapons, more accurate munitions, and electromagnetic and cyber capabilities that will threaten U.S. communications and may jam global positioning systems, imaging radars and other electronic capabilities that U.S. forces have come to rely upon.

To maintain superiority, Work and other senior military leaders are advocating “multidomain battle.” That means pushing each of the services to expand its capabilities well beyond the traditional spheres of operations. The Army, for example, might use rocket artillery based ashore to attack enemy ships at sea. Submarines might be used to conduct anti-air warfare, and all of the services will have to become adept at using cyberspace, Work said. Just as U.S. forces learned to use night vision to own the hours of darkness, now they must learn how to own the electromagnetic night,

The panel of senior U.S. commanders in the forum described multidomain operations as a way to overwhelm adversaries who have become proficient in one or two domains. Multidomain warfare promises to transform the military much as the emphasis on jointness did 30 years ago. Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said all of the services will have to learn to operate on all of the domains: land, sea, under sea, air, space and cyberspace. As an example, he said he would like to see the Army sink a ship, shoot down a missile, and shoot down the aircraft that launched it-and do it all nearly simultaneously.

Another favorite talk for me at this year’s AUSA was a panel of defense and private sector officials entitled “Modernization: Addressing Today’s Threat & Ensuring Tomorrow’s Readiness; Perspectives from Government and Industry.” The main theme was addressing how technology and potential adversaries are changing rapidly while the defense procurement process is historically slow. Lead speaker on the panel Katrina McFarland, the acting assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the Army is “looking at where we can create more agile technology”. She said that the majority of contracts don’t have the flexibility to meet the current security environment needed. “We need to find ways we can keep up with technology.”

McFarland appealed to industry representatives in the audience to help the Army work through this challenge and providing ideas of capabilities they can procure. But my ears definitely perked up when she also called upon the industry to produce systems with “open architecture” that allows for quicker and cheaper updating of the technology. Open architecture computing technology and standards are of course the lifeblood of COTS Journal’s community of vendors. So I was pleased to hear the call for open architectures at such a high level in front of that large forum.

Hitting another theme that intrigued me, panelist Lt. Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the deputy chief of staff G-4, said soldiers in the field must be able to maintain all the Army’s equipment and not have to depend on contractor support. “We need to be able to sustain the things you give us,” he said. “If it can’t be sustained by a soldier, it’s probably not something we should have.” That to me speaks to importance of military gear that hides the computing and networking complexity from the user, and enables the warfighter user to focus on his or her mission. That again is a place where well design embedded systems and concepts like second-level maintenance-both deep within our embedded industry’s wheelhouse-can make a real difference.

It’s fair to say that for the U.S. DoD Open architecture approaches enjoyed a generous amount of lip service for many years. But over the past year in particular open standards that have been long in the works have broken down the last vestiges of resistance. System standards like FACE and computing architectures like OpenVPX are finding acceptance among airborne programs. The reduction of costs and complexity of the open approach are just too attractive to ignore. It pleases me to see open architecture touted by high level Army leaders and others.