In the military, the world of tomorrow is quickly becoming the world of today. Testimony to this is the Australian Air Force’s Plan Jericho vision to transform into a modern, fully integrated combat force. Key to this next generation force is AIR6500, a joint battle management system that maximises sensor capabilities offered by 5th generation platforms. By netting together platforms, sensors and weapons systems with C4ISR operations, AIR6500 will set new standards for “Five-Eyes” coalition operations.
While transformational in its objectives, AIR6500 faces technical, operational and acquisition challenges before implementation. AIR 6500 will be a JOINT integrated system which will incorporate a multitude of Australian Defence Force platforms, programs and capabilities. AIR6500 requires adopting a 5th Gen approach that is capability-centric, not platform centric.
Instrumental to the realisation of AIR6500 will be a focus on ‘evolutionary acquisition.’ Evolutionary acquisition attempts to shorten acquisition cycles and places needed weapon systems in the hands of the military more quickly than in the past. An evolutionary acquisition model suitable for AIR6500 includes open systems architecture, agile development and rapid capability insertion.
Opening the Architecture
The next enabling factor that broadly supports an evolutionary approach to acquisition is agile software development. Agile, unlike other software development approaches, welcomes change. It is important to note that agile is not the same as spiral development. In the spiral model, there is a separate testing phase after a big build phase; the popularity in a spiral development program is that it always supposes a sequential upgrade. In an agile model, testing is completed in the same iteration as integration. This results in a rapid pace of fielding capabilities and functionality.
An excellent example of agile development is the US Navy’s Acoustic-Rapid COTS Insertion Program (ARCI), used on U.S. submarine command and control systems. Approaching 20 years, it provides the flexibility to address emergent or changing threats and the rapid introduction of new capabilities necessary to maintain dominance while staying well ahead of the obsolescence curve. Given its success at this point, Lockheed Martin has standardized the ARCI process into a spiral-based agile development and integration model leading to “continuous integration — continuous delivery.”
Rapid Insertion of Capabilities
These same principals of open and agile, combined in part with spiral development, purposefully managed across a wide stakeholder group, are codified in a business model called rapid capability insertion (RCI). RCI requires published technical standards that set out specifications and procedures to ensure products, services, and systems are safe, reliable, and perform consistently. For AIR6500, the Commonwealth would control the technical standards and interfaces to achieve and sustain sovereign capability.
RCI also requires a Commonwealth / prime systems integrator partnership leading a stakeholder community in assessing requirements, technologies and threats that drive the “capability” selection process into a baseline. This broader community opens the aperture for new entrants into the marketplace; namely small and medium enterprises. The tenets of RCI are rapidly becoming a best practice.
- The US Navy’s Submarine Warfare Federated Tactical System (SWFTS) program – adapted to include the Collins-class submarines uses a common enterprise infrastructure across distributed systems as a way to avoid vendor lock, while enabling rapid system evolution in response to shifting operator needs.
- The US Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground Station adopted a rapid technology insertion model creating a near continuous delivery pipeline, wherein incremental capability insertions have reduced implementation risks and increased accountability among the partners. The prior model had bulk releases taking years to develop and years to field.
Systems of Systems is a Reality
This is not an aspirational blue-sky approach. The aforementioned technical aspects must be addressed and built-in from the beginning and adopted across all stakeholders in government and industry. These technical standards must be adopted and enforced – together – accompanied by a cultural shift.
Seamless integration and interoperability across a resilient and rapidly enhanced network is critical to 5th Gen operations. This synergy is achievable for AIR6500.