Home » News & Analysis » Sea Combat in High-End Environments Necessitates Open Architecture Technologies

Sea Combat in High-End Environments Necessitates Open Architecture Technologies

Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Taylor Monroe, left, and Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Marcus Benavides conduct maintenance on the aft vertical launching system aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) on Jan. 5, 2017. Open and modular systems, like the Vertical Launching System and the Aegis Combat System, will become even more important as technology rapidly advances and the Navy is tasked with operating in high-end environments, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, test and evaluation said. US Navy photo.

A renewed focus on sea combat and rapidly advancing technologies mean the Navy will have to leverage open architecture in its future ships, weapons and other systems, the Navy’s new deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, test and evaluation said today.

On the job for about 45 days, William Bray detailed his vision for his new post in the Pentagon at the Defense Daily Open Architecture Summit on Thursday. The Navy is becoming more of a sea combat navy, Bray said – something he said hadn’t been the case for more than a decade – which means bringing ships and sailors into harm’s way in places such as the South China Sea.

During the past several years, Bray said, the surface Navy’s offensive strike capabilities languished. In trying to regain advanced strike capabilities, Bray said there’s “a strong recognition a single system no longer can do the job by itself.”

Responding to a threat today means using unmanned systems to collect data and then delivering that information to surface ships, submarines, and aircraft, Bray said. The challenge is delivering this data quickly and in formats allowing for quick action.

“I don’t know how you do that unless you have open systems,” he said.

Using his history with the Aegis Combat System and the Ship Self Defense System development as an example, Bray described the importance of open architecture. In 2006, he worked on upgrading these programs as the director of Integrated Combat Systems for the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems.

At the time, the Navy was sinking ships that were too costly to upgrade. After just 17 years in service, the $1-billion Aegis cruiser ex-Valley Forge (CG-50) was used for target practice. When built, Valley Forge was a technological marvel, but the ship wasn’t designed to change, retired Rear Adm. Nevin Carr wrote in a 2016 Naval Institute Blog post. Carr introduced Bray to summit audience Thursday.

The first five Ticonderoga-class cruisers were decommissioned early, “an expensive lesson in adaptability,” Carr wrote.

Bray’s team worked to open what it could with the both Aegis and SSDS. They separated the hardware and software. The end result wasn’t a completely open system, he said, but they were able to drive down costs because of changes to space and weight and through using common source software, thus passing on savings to shipbuilders.

The key to incorporating open architecture, Bray said, is remembering “open architecture, in my mind, is an art, not a science.”

The Navy has to get away from creating lists of requirements when developing new designs, Bray said. If there’s a set list, then designers will deliver something matching the list, but without considering how to adapt the end product to changing mission needs. Instead, he wants the Navy to provide designers with ranges of options. This way, once a system is developed, designers can evaluate a system’s overall capability with warfighters, and quickly make adjustments when needed.

“Open system architecture is the foundation of where we go forward,” Bray said.

  • Centaurus

    So we spent $1B on a cruser we had to sink after only 17 years of service ? What am I missing ?

    • Rob C.

      The hull isn’t high endurance one. It also would been cost preventative to remove those Mk 29 missile launchers and to put Mk41 VLS launcher on her. Which is sad.

      Navy has been complacent in coming up and executing completely new large combatant design. Zumwalt was suppose to herald new age of those larger ships. But 2013 was year of chocking on costs that depended serial production to keep those productions down and keep it’s unique new weapons feed with ammunition., Now the Zumwalk now has no smart ammo to guide it’s signature hideaway 155mm guns.

      Now I think its most likely they will have to wait 20 more years until the Navy can convince the Congress serial production of the DDG-51s obsolete like the CG-47s and DD-963s. Which DDG-51 shares most it’s design features with those near sister Classes and the service needs new sea frame design to make new family ships out of.

  • Ed L

    Shame they didn’t keep the Spruance DDG Hulls. The could have recycle the superstructure and repurpose the Hulls. Samething could have been done with the OHP Hulls. Like the Airforce did with the B-52, U-2/TR-1, C-135. The Navy did it with the USS Belknap CG-26 using her as a test platform for the Aegis class cruiser electronics and with updated weapons systems. Until the Aegis class cruisers came along. the Belknap was the Queen of the Battle Fleet until the Aegis Cruisers showed up.

  • Western

    Somehow the Air Force seems to be able to keep the B-52 modernized and serviceable. Are we making technology fit in the box, or making the box fit the technology?

    • John Locke

      Sure, it can be done…………if you stick with one vendor for a particular system. I’m not familiar with the logistics behind the B-52 but like with most legacy DoD platforms it’s likely comprised of a myriad of systems supported by as many vendors that have been costly and a headache to integrate and only realize varying levels of that within the whole platform.

      The proprietary nature of defense contractors drives up cost, reduces competition. and hog-ties DoD with accepting blossoming configuration variances on multiple platforms to accommodate the latest and greatest widget. This was addressed by Admiral Gortney (ret) in a letter in 2013.

      The direction now is for DoD to be specific about the box, the connections between the boxes and the backbone. The vendor has to accommodate their capability to those specifications. Think plug-n-play. This enables more competition and less painful upgrades outside of the OEM.

  • RoundTurn

    Perhaps Mr. Bray should review how this “don’t give the developer a list of requirements” has turned out for the Independence variant LCS. They have major issues and can hide behind “it’s not a requirement” so the Navy can shell out more $$$.
    The problem with the OA argument is that, due to the extended lead time from the time the contract is let to the time when the ship goes in the water, the systems/computing infrastructure installed are already years out of date and frequently no longer supported by the OEM. Swapping out core switches, blades, circuit cards, etc. takes a long time, creating a configuration management (and cyber) nightmare.
    Powerpoint engineering meets the cruel reality of logistics/contractual lag time.

  • PolicyWonk

    “The Navy is becoming more of a sea combat navy…”
    As opposed to what, exactly? The littorals?

    It certainly cannot be the littorals, because we’ve got the only navy on the planet that builds two classes of something called the “littoral combat ship”, despite the fact that both were “never intended to venture into the littorals to engage in combat”, according to then CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert.

    The above said, our acquisition system garners a good deal of the blame (probably 60% – which includes the MIC), while the rest goes to the service branches (the Navy, in this case). There is no coordinated strategy to purchasing weapons or determining force structure. There are few “common” requirements (outside of a ship being able to reliably propel itself from one port to another – which oddly turns out to be a challenge for these “littoral combat ships”), when interoperability (between service branches, and gear), ease of upgrading, etc., should be part of the baseline requirements.

    The current requirements “lists”, such as they are, remain moving targets, allowing changes to weapons from inception to manufacture (or construction), sometimes with new, unobtanium-plated gizmos that haven’t been invented yet, that now mean engineers have to figure out how to defy the laws of physics, science, and time. Then we wonder why they cost so much!

    For example – should the USAF and Navy both have drones built of the same type (and built by the same vendor) that cannot leverage each others sensor packages, or provide each service branch with the intel they collect? Probably not…

    Should we be building “littoral combat ships” that were never designed to fight (or take a punch) at horrendous cost to the taxpayers? Definitely not.

    Should we be capitalizing on successful sea-frames to expand our fleet and follow the mantra “if it floats it fights?”. Yes. For example: the San Antonio-class (LPD17) design is now being modified to build the LX(R). They should be further modified to carry Aegis/VLS as either shooters in concert with Burkes or Ticos, or otherwise easily upgradable to accept full-blown Aegis, in addition to other missiles such as those used by MLRS for shore bombardment (etc). The Virginia’s are also being modified, and significant improvements, such as the addition of the VPM add considerable firepower to an excellent platform.

    The above said, this nation doesn’t buy weapons or determine necessary force structure based on a comprehensive analysis of the threats to our national security. If we did, we would know what weapons we need, and what the force structure should be to defeat those threats. This would reduce the redundancy, waste, and unnecessary gold-plating of everything whether it needs it or not – while giving defense companies a far more consistent requirement set.

    The author is referencing one part of the problem – granted a sizable one. But that is merely a symptom to the real mess that is acquisition.

  • Leatherstocking

    Wow, “(t)he Navy has to get away from creating lists of requirements when developing new designs”. So how does one build without a comprehensive set of requirements? How do I as an engineer measure and weigh the myriad of trade-offs (size, weight, power, survivability, temp, shock, vibe, EMI/EMC, low-smoke, fire-resistance, security, reliability, maintainability, and interoperability to name a few) in my design of each item and subsystem in something as complex as an aircraft, carrier or sub or surface combatant where other items on the platform are built by others without knowledge of my design choices? I’m asked to design systems for sixty years of support (production duration + life of last ship/boat) using parts that are available for less than 10 years. I have to reverse engineer obsolete electronics from out-of-business suppliers because someone sprinkles fairy dust over a ship and extends its life for another 10-20 years.

  • john

    Sounds like the F-35 program. I approve.

  • Ed L

    Why can a Navy when a ship is not mission capable anymore and if the HULL is in good shape. It be gutted and rebuilt. Those Spurance and OHP hulls could be pretty useful by now. In the days of sail Navies would change the firepower and sail configurations of there Ships. This was done by replacing the guns. Example going from Long 18 pounders to 32 pound Carronade which weight almost the same as an long 18 pounder and by removing the Ships Masts or adjusting them putting other size masts in there place. That way Navies could sail a wooden Ship for decades in different configurations. Back then every thing was done by manpower and Block and Tackle.