Popping signals intelligence vendor lock

Open-systems architecture critical in meeting military’s demands

Composite image of satellites and signals intelligence

While military collection networks process petabytes of intelligence daily, these systems might find it difficult keeping pace in the future because of vendor lock and closed systems. An open-systems architecture approach could improve the military’s ability to meet future signals intelligence data needs. 

Each day military collection networks process petabytes of intelligence data from global sensors. While they’re fulfilling today’s demand, these critical systems may struggle to keep pace with expected future collection growth because of the limitations driven through vendor lock and closed systems.

An open-systems architecture approach could significantly improve the U.S. military’s ability to overcome its data processing challenges when it comes to signals intelligence, commonly known as SIGINT.

“Staying one step ahead of adversaries requires these collection networks to adapt rapidly for enhanced capabilities,” said David Appel, vice president of Command & Control Data Solutions at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “Moving to an open-systems architecture creates an environment where systems owners can work with any vendor at any time. With this approach, we can take existing hardware and increase its capacity and processing speeds significantly.”

Unlocking the system opens the door for rapid, agile development-based innovation, allowing for new capabilities to plug easily into the architecture as operational needs dictate. These changes will deliver capabilities service members need to stay ahead of adversaries.

“Legacy SIGINT systems are a patchwork of tightly coupled applications in monolithic architectures that are interdependent and cannot be decoupled without significant investment in both cost and schedule,” said Colin Whelan, director, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems, RI&S. “They are largely built on a vendor’s proprietary standards and carry dozens of features no longer operationally relevant, making minor bug fixes that take much more time and are resource intensive.”

Monolithic software is designed to be self-contained; components of the program are interconnected and interdependent rather than loosely coupled as is the case with modular software programs. In a tightly coupled architecture, each component and its associated elements must be present in order for code to be executed or compiled.

“This vendor-lock scenario generates hurdles and complexity for operational commanders seeking rapid change and the ability to introduce the latest technology from across the commercial landscape,” Whelan said.

Open-systems architectures change this paradigm. They enable a data-centric approach critical to modernization of the SIGINT mission. Characterized by a modular architecture, a data-centric model shifts the focus from the systems’ architecture as the main driver of the solution to making data the primary and permanent asset around which everything else is built. Applications can be added and removed, regardless of the vendor that developed them, as mission needs and system implementations evolve.

“Because we’ve shifted focus from the way the architecture is structured, we can focus on what’s important – the data,” said Christopher Worley, acting director, Tactical Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance for Space & C2 Systems, RI&S. “Without accurate and timely data and adaptive capabilities and systems able to analyze and assess what the collection provides, commanders in the field lack the ability to stay one step ahead of the adversary.”

Data collection is growing exponentially every day. To respond quickly, integrating and fusing these new data sources is critical to ongoing ISR missions. As the world generates more data than ever, it strains the infrastructure needed to process, transfer and store the intelligence gathered. Applications processing the intelligence must therefore adapt to the demands of the data framework. The foundation for this is an open architecture that is vendor agnostic.

“The Department of Defense can solve the ever-growing data challenge through the rapid adoption of open-systems architecture,” Appel said. “The emphasis of the DOD’s modernization efforts on enabling technologies that improve responsiveness and facilitate rapid delivery of capabilities to the warfighter relies on the flexibility that this approach provides.”

Published On: 05/27/2021