The Inside Story – SOSA: Sensor Open Systems Architecture

The following Q&A is a Sponsored Article.

Pentek, Inc. designs embedded computer boards and recording systems for DSP, software radio and data acquisition for both COTS and rugged environments.

What is Open Systems Architecture (OSA)?

Rodger Hosking: In 2013, the U.S. DoD issued a mandate to incorporate Open Systems Architecture principles within procurement requirements for defense hardware and software. OSA requires the use of existing open standards for well-defined, modular hardware and software components that can be sourced from multiple vendors. Once proven, hardware platforms should be reusable for quick reaction mission needs, feature upgrades, and new technology insertion. These advantages reduce development risks and help ensure significantly longer operational life-cycles.

Rodger Hosking, Vice President, Pentek, Inc.

How Did DoD Services Respond to the OSA mandate?

Rodger Hosking: In response, each of the three primary U.S. services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), began developing standards that embraced OSA principles to meet future procurement needs of deployed systems for their respective services. The Army’s CCDC (Combat Capabilities Development Command) in Aberdeen, MD developed CMOSS (C4ISR/EW Modular Open Suite of Standards), which is based on other open standards including OpenVPX, MORA, VICTORY, REDHAWK and SCA.

The Navy’s NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) in Patuxent River, MD created HOST (Hardware Open Systems Technology) for airborne and ground vehicle mission systems. It divides hardware into three tiers: 1) the platform (airframe, vehicle, etc.), 2) the system enclosure, and 3) boards, with the latter two tiers being subsets of OpenVPX.

The Air Force’s OMS (Open Mission Systems) initiative incorporates open standards including SOA, UCI, and FACE, all for standardizing messages, command, and control mission information for avionics systems.

What Led to SOSA?

Rodger Hosking: While each service made significant progress in advancing OSA principles, they did so through different initiatives that often shared many common open standards like OpenVPX, and specific mandates tailored for service-specific platform requirements.

After recognizing this common ground, the DoD and each of the services perceived a strong need to promote a single, common initiative to define acquisition activities across all three armed services. In early 2017, the DoD issued an SBIR solicitation for Sensor Open System Architecture (SOSA) Architectural Research. This resulted in the formation of the SOSA Consortium managed by The Open Group, a large organization with strict and well-defined practices, policies, and procedures for standards development efforts.

What Are the Objectives of SOSA?

Rodger Hosking: Major objectives include development and adoption of open systems architecture standards for C4ISR to provide a common, multi-purpose backbone for radar, EO/IR, SIGINT, EW and countermeasure systems. Additional objectives include platform affordability, rapid fielding, re-configurability, new technology insertion, extended life-cycles, and re-purposing of hardware, firmware, and software.

The major work product of the SOSA Technical Working Group is the SOSA Technical Standard that documents the SOSA Architecture. This is a modular system structure, with tight integration within modules for encapsulating functionality and behaviors, and yet well-defined interfaces. These modules must be based on open, published standards, with consensus-based influence stakeholders directing the evolution, and a strict conformance validation process.

The Technical Standard defines specifications for plug-in cards, backplanes, chassis, electrical components, and mechanical structures largely derived from VITA standards. The SOSA Conformance Policy defines processes for qualifying products against the Technical Standard. Until the award of certification, no product can claim to be SOSA conformant. The SOSA Business Working Group defines business and acquisition practices, and creates guidance for acquisition programs.

Who Participates in SOSA?

Rodger Hosking: A primary mandate of the SOSA Consortium is broad participation, commitment, and contribution from DoD, Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as industry, academia, and other government organizations. As of this writing, SOSA membership is headed by nine Sponsor organizations including seven from the Army, Navy and Air Force, plus two prime contractors. The 14 Principal Members are all prime US defense contractors. The 81 Associate Members include well-known systems integrators, and major hardware and software suppliers to the defense community. Members of each of these organizations play critical roles in working groups to help develop the standards and practices.

Membership in SOSA is restricted to US citizens and organizations so that DoD-sensitive or classified requirements can be presented by representatives from the armed services to promote solution strategies within the SOSA Technical Standard. For this reason, technical details of on-going discussions in SOSA may not be disclosed to the public. However, once the standard is approved and released to the public, it will contain only specifications and rules, free from the underlying, sensitive use drivers.

Is SOSA Here to Stay?

Rodger Hosking: The release of the Technical Standard Snapshot 3 was released in July 2020 and the SOSA Technical Standard 1.0 should be released in the second quarter of 2021. After that release, vendors who collectively have already announced dozens of “SOSA-Aligned” products then may submit them for conformance certification. Interoperability demonstrations during 2020 of these early products were highly-successful and well attended by defense customers.

Ahead of the release of the Technical Standard, the DoD has already issued numerous requests for proposals and information clearly favoring respondents that offer OSA-based solutions. Active participation in SOSA by the DoD, all three armed services, embedded industry vendors, universities, and research facilities gives evidence of their substantial commitments of resources and personnel. These clear signals ensure that SOSA is well on its way to setting the future course for embedded military electronics systems.

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