Open Architecture fosters lower-cost, interoperable systems that
provide sailors with better capabilities in an era of scarce funding
By CAPT. JIM SHANNON
Imagine standing on the flight deck of the USS
Ronald Reagan on a clear sunny day, off the coast of
San Diego, when all of a sudden a Type-093 Chinese
nuclear-attack submarine emerges on the horizon.
In the mid-1990s, this was the scenario the U.S.
Navy found itself facing when new classes of Russian
submarines emerged with acoustic superiority after a
period of decreased U.S. funding for undersea warfare.
However, the Navy has substantially improved its performance. How did the Navy do it? Through the adoption of Open Architecture (OA) — a multifaceted business and technical strategy for acquiring and maintaining weapon systems and other hardware that is standardized, transferable to other platforms and able to accommodate a variety of software applications. This led to the
creation of interoperable systems that adopt and exploit
open-system design principles and architectures, a sharp
departure from the Navy’s former practice of purchasing
stove-piped systems built for single uses that were not
designed to work in a networked environment.
To deliver improved capabilities to Navy sailors when
funding was scarce, new acquisition strategies were
implemented that rapidly increased performance while
decreasing costs. Consequently, the submarine force
sonar program increased performance seven-fold, cut real processing
costs 60-fold and fielded four major
improvements within five years.
Today’s environment presents the
same challenges. Navy leadership is
faced with building future combat
systems and a fleet capable of meeting emerging threats and evolving
national security requirements while
controlling the rising costs of weapon
systems and aging platforms.
In most cases, the technologies
needed to counter emerging threats
already exist, but their introduction
to the fleet is still stymied by outdated acquisition models that lock the Navy into a limited vendor base, despite the prior acquisition improvements. Further changing the way the Navy does business today is imperative if we are to gain the added
flexibility required to capitalize on these technologies.
The OA principles that will help us foster this
change include increasing competition and collaboration, modularizing systems and disclosing designs to
all players, fielding interoperable joint warfighting
applications and securing information exchange,
reusing software and hardware assets, and ensuring
Modular combat systems are an especially important
element of OA. Individual components of a modular system can be taken out and rapidly replaced with upgraded versions. The modular approach fosters increased
competition, reduced cycle times and rapid upgrades.
The days of end-to-end upgrades of an entire combat system to achieve improved performance are rapidly coming to a close.
For example, the Naval Air Systems Command office
responsible for the E-2C Hawkeye command-and-control
aircraft faced delays in enhancing capabilities for its mission computing system and obsolescence by the time it
The introduction of needed technologies often is stymied by old
acquisition models that lock the Navy into a limited base of vendors.
■ Open Architecture nurtures competition and modularized systems.
■ Keys to success: the disclosure of designs to all players and the
reuse of software and hardware across the naval enterprise.
■ Needed: a repository for enterprise assets to cultivate the sharing of products and ideas.
■ But genuine sharing will be possible only if the Navy insists on contracts to acquire the most flexible intellectual property rights available.