UAV Avionics: It’s All In The OS
The September 2005 issue of Avionics Magazine has an excellent and informative article covering the $4-5 billion X-45/47 J-UCAS program, and the evolution of American UAVs. DID has covered the overall direction of that evolution, and noted DARPA’s Common Operating System (COS) project in conjunction with ongoing UCAS testing and the US military’s recent UAV reorganization. Now that COS software is moving to an Air Force/Navy joint program office, and the full set of requirements and implications is emerging. So, too, is a trend toward UAVs and their software as systems-of-systems efforts, rather than individual projects and aircraft.
This DID article looks at the COS project in the context of the J-UCAS program and the missions it’s designed for, as well as leading practices re: disruptive technological innovations, in order to examine where the ambitious J-UCAS UAV program might be headed.
Avionics Magazine notes that COS would touch practically everything on the J-UCAS platform: command and control (C2), mission planning, human scontrol, route and stores management, and sensor, track and mission management. Not to mention the UAVs’ ability to communicate with one another to decide on targets, select which UAVs should take part, and react to situations. COS will also link to the USA’s Global Information Grid network, connecting with the command structure and culling data and applications as required.
Key missions for these UAVs would include the destruction of networked air defense systems, deep strike, penetrating electronic attack, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The Avionics Magazine article also reveals a general consensus that these X-systems must be competitive with manned fighters for critical missions, in order to survive as a procurement program.
There’s a lot of good material in this article. Readers will find insights from the veteran Israeli UAV manufacturers at Elbit concerning certifiable partitioning operating systems and layered software, and key program objectives like separating the software from the airframe and refining the use of simulations to testing the UAVs’ software. Or details regarding the program’s unusual arrangement, whereby the prime contractors – who are building different parts of COS and must share data with each other – are refereed by an “integrator broker” third party (Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Lab) rather than a lead contractor with final responsibility. Not to mention in-depth looks at Boeing and Northrop-Grumman platforms, and overall program challenges. Read the full article here.
In this editor’s opinion, the J-UCAS efforts are impressive on the one hand, and cause for serious concern and probing questions on the other.
The huge scope of different, individually complex missions for J-UCAS bears all the signs or significant mission/ requirements creep, which is often deadly to software projects. Furthermore, UAVs are a classic example of an “Innovator’s Dilemma” technology: offering marked benefits in areas under-served by present incumbents, increasing their performance level quickly, but not nearly mature enough to challenge those incumbents on performance yet. Unless J-UCAS’ software scope can be restricted to specific missions that give the platform an advantage, attempting to compete with high-end fighter jets at this point in time may replicate a common strategic mistake, therefore, rather than the proven path to success under these circumstances.
DID will continue to cover the J-UCAS contenders and the COS operating system as other news and reviews roll in.