The problem is called vendor lock, and, for customers, it’s bad news.
It works like this: A company puts out a product and builds it in such a way that no one else can modify, update or improve it. If the customer wants any of those things, the original manufacturer has the market cornered.
So it’s easy to see, then, why the U.S. Department of Defense is requiring many of its new programs use non-proprietary software to make sure its technology works across the military services and the domains of land, sea, air, space and cyber.
To meet that need, Raytheon Intelligence & Space is taking that approach in many of its programs, using open-systems architecture that will give its customers options throughout the product’s service life.
“Open systems architecture is the enabler for multi-domain operations,” said Paul Meyer, vice president for Space & C2 Systems for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “The market is changing, and we’re at the front of it. Across domains, we’re designing systems with open systems architectures and interoperability in mind. That’s going to allow systems to talk to one another.”
Open systems architecture uses common standards and parts so that customers can choose from many vendors, without having to rebuild the technology from the ground up.
“The adoption of open-architecture standards is really a principle we see in our everyday lives,” said Conn Doherty, senior director of Future Aircraft Systems & Technology & Assured Systems at RI&S. “Take a commercial product. Whether it be a cell phone, a front door or just about any electronic or physical item. There are standard form factors and interfaces so that multiple companies can provide options that a consumer desires, and you’re not locked into one company after you’ve purchased it.”
In the defense industry, vendor lock has traditionally been the way: if a contractor wins a bid to provide a certain component, the customer is under contract to work continually with that vendor on that product.
But that’s changing.
“Frankly, the government is tired of vendor lock,” said Dave Fittz, technical director for RI&S Engineering and chief technologist. “They don’t want to always go back to the same people who originally provided a system to make advancements.”
The open systems architecture approach directs interested vendors to design and build systems with a set of established standards in mind that are co-developed by industry and government.
The shift makes space for third-party vendors to vie for a piece of the pie, facilitating competition and spurring innovation, agility and affordability. It gives the customer more flexibility and options to choose and pick the price point and functionality of the system based on their needs.
“The whole premise of open architecture is that elements within your franchises are going to be re-competed on a much more frequent basis,” Doherty said. “And that competition is broad. So it’s going to happen. We need to evolve and organize with OSA core teams to make it a competitive discriminator versus being slow to adopt and making it a disadvantage.”
RI&S is involved in the development of many architectures and standards that are paving the way toward more open systems architecture in defense and aerospace.
They include the Common Open Architecture Radar Program Specifications for multi-function, multi-spectral, multi-domain subsystems; Open Mission Systems for multi-domain platform mission systems; Sensor Open Systems Architecture on hardware modular architecture; Future Airborne Capability Environment on software modular architecture; and Weapon Open Systems Architecture on the modularity of everything within the skin of a missile, among others.
“One thing we’re doing is making sure we have a strong voice as to what the standards are,” Fittz said. “In addition, the design process is shifting to ensure an asset is designed with the standards, processes and characteristics in mind.”
Additionally, RI&S offers expertise and technical leadership for programs across the company to be successful adopters of the standards so that they can maintain or increase their competitive position.
“We need to be the leaders to wave the flag and say ‘We’re all in on this,’” said Fittz. “We’re going to do this hand in hand with our competitors to create the standards of those systems that are going to save taxpayer money in the future.”