U.K. team bans suits and ties, scores interoperability hit
All around the world, governments have spent years and billions of dollars just trying to make defense procurement agile, responsive and cost-effective. Yet two British Defense Ministry staffers—working, initially, in their spare time—may have come up with a solution to a problem that continues to vex militaries and industry alike worldwide.
In 2007, Merfyn Lloyd, a mathematician at the ministry's Defense Science and Technology Laboratory, whose role is to provide scientific and technical advice to the Chief of Defense Materiel-Land, was asked to find a way of integrating new devices purchased under urgent operational requirements for use on legacy army vehicles in Afghanistan. Lloyd was joined by Simon Masley, a mechanical engineer and project manager from the ministry's procurement wing, Defense Equipment and Support, and they began a project that may have far-reaching implications for the global defense industry.
Lloyd and Masley established a series of working groups with representatives of the main suppliers of land equipment. The result was the August 2010 publication of Def Stan 23-09, a 54-page document that provides a framework to enable “plug-and-play” interoperability of subsystems across British military vehicles.
The standard, known as Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA), was launched at the official Defense Vehicle Dynamics (DVD) trade show here in the summer of 2010. As well as describing a means of connecting subsystems and peripheral devices across the vehicle platform, the standard provides a single human-machine interface—a ruggedized touchscreen and keypad, with contextual menus, able to monitor and control all integrated systems. GVA now is mandatory on all new British military land vehicles and major upgrades. The Foxhound lightweight patrol vehicle, which began arriving in Afghanistan this June, is the first platform to be fielded with it.
GVA's impact is such that, at this year's DVD, the ministry announced the imminent publication of two new standards; one to cover forward operating bases (GBA—Generic Base Architecture), and the other the individual soldier (Generic Soldier Architecture, or GSA), under the overarching banner LOSA (Land Open Systems Architecture). When fully implemented, these codes will mean new devices can quickly and seamlessly operate across soldiers, vehicles and bases, ensuring that legacy platforms remain capable for longer, and eliminating delays between the creation of potentially life-saving or battle-winning technologies and getting them to the front line.
Lloyd and Masley discussed the history of GVA's development at this summer's show. There was no significant resistance from industry, they said. “If it becomes easier to take everyone's products and put them together, the benefits for both industry and the ministry are clear enough to convince most people,” Masley notes. “Because it's such a sensible thing to do, it was quite easy to get buy-in for it.”
Discussions took place at a technical and engineering level within defense contractors. “We got rid of the business-development people,” said Lloyd. “Nobody was allowed to wear a tie—they had to come along in a T-shirt.”
Non-disclosure agreements were put in place to encourage open interaction between companies. Monthly meetings took place—not at Lloyd's and Masley's office in Abbey Wood, near Bristol, but at each participant's site, to ensure all involved got to see what each other was doing. “We refused to get bogged down in unnecessary process,” Lloyd said. “If there was something to be done, we went ahead and did it.”
GSA is likely to concentrate on power issues—the wide range of different and non-interoperable batteries required by increasingly power-hungry dismounted equipment suggests significant weight-reduction benefits can be achieved—while the base architecture includes standards to permit fast replacement of water, fuel and waste-disposal equipment, as well as power and data-management systems. All three concepts are due to be extensively tested in October, during a three-week experimental exercise in Wales.
Of course, the full benefits of LOSA cannot be achieved by one nation alone. Other militaries are looking at generic architectures, though approaches vary. The U.S. equivalent of GVA is the Vehicular Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability (Victory) standard. Its scope is different and the team there is reportedly seeking to standardize in detail, whereas GVA deliberately avoids specifying the minutia. The Victory and GVA teams are in contact, but cooperation is informal.
Meanwhile, Germany has asked NATO to convene a working group to convert the U.K.'s GVA Def Stan to a NATO standard agreement. Canada, Australia and France are also interested. It is easy to see why: If a series of LOSA-based interoperability standards can be established globally, defense procurement will never be the same again.