Open systems seen as future for DoD tactical radio systems

“Faster, better, cheaper” is a phrase commonly heard around the Army’s halls, said Jim Evangelos at the Joint Tactical Networking Center (JTNC). As deputy director for standards, he intends to fulfill that mantra with modular open systems architecture.

JTNC is using open systems to create the next generation of tactical radio systems and Evangelos wants them to be interoperable across the military services. JTNC is managed by the Army but its funding is approved by a board comprised of Army, Air Force and Navy personnel. The organization has a Defense Department waveform information repository to store and document DoD waveform source code.

Jim EvangelosJoint Tactical Networking Center deputy director for standards

Today’s tactical radios contain powerful processing capability used everywhere by service members, “so it’s very appropriate to think of it that way as a software application,” he explained to Federal Monthly Insights: Open Systems Month.

Evangelos deals primarily with the standards, which are one of the three tenants of open systems architecture. The other two being interfaces and components. These tenants originated in computer networking standards organizations of the 1970s.

Interfaces, which are mechanisms that allow the transfer of data, should be generic and ubiquitous, such as a USB port. Components, which are collections of self-contained code, should have an agreed-upon interface port while adhering to a set of standards.

Evangelos said standards should be agreed to by industry, government or a combination of both. The three tenants are concepts applied to designing and developing systems such as open source, he said.

For open systems, standards are written specifically to design components and interfaces but not so specific that it ties DoD to a specific manufacturer or vendor. Evangelos said avoiding this “vendor lock-in” has been challenging because it is hard to convince vendors that open systems architecture will still be profitable for them.

“The DoD business model can’t really be compared easily to a pure commercial market,” he said on Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “Proprietary is not necessarily the enemy of [modular open systems architecture]. The intellectual property can be placed inside of components of MOSA, and furthermore, it can be made opaque to other vendors and even the government.”

Once vendors realize that DoD encourages this, he predicted they will want in. But modular open systems architecture needs to be incorporated into contracting language, which as of now is a goal for one of the working groups on which Evangelos sits for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense.

“And what drives all of this at the end of the day is cost,” he said. “If I can reuse the same component, then there is theoretically less effort involved in software development and I can bring the price down of large complex systems, and in the ultimate simplistic view of the world the idea is to build these LEGO blocks, if you will, that are all interchangeable, interoperable and so simple to put together that takes very minimal effort to get them to work together.”