Open Architecture Management Office lays foundation for streamlined software integration

Four teams from across industry and government demonstrated how Department of Defense Open Mission Systems (OMS) platforms can effectively employ best-of-breed commercial technology on Aug. 27.

Organized under the Open Architecture Management Office’s (OAMO) OpenAirKube Project, the four teams—including software engineers from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and a combined Air Force Research Laboratory and 76th Software Engineering Group team—executed a 60-day agile effort to prototype new OMS mission packages.

The OAMO, with support from Air Force program management offices, challenged the teams to enhance the OMS standard by integrating cloud-native technology—i.e., technology that is purpose-built to fully leverage a modern digital infrastructure. This technology includes containers, orchestration management and service meshes to provide the modularity, mobility, scalability and security needed to deploy robust systems in a modern battlespace. On top of these benefits, the baseline OMS standard provides an architecture that avoids vendor lock-in, enhances interoperability and streamlines software integration to substantially reduce weapon system development and modernization timelines.

Although Department of the Air Force software factories such as Kessel Run and Kobayashi Maru have adopted cloud-native tech along with industry, the integration with embedded systems such as aircraft proved challenging due to stringent real-time computation constraints. The additional surety constraints on these platforms—above and beyond those required for typical mission-critical business “apps”—ensure the system meets stringent mission, safety and flight critical standards. Standards like OMS provide an architecture to rapidly and frequently update mission critical components with little-to-no impact to the platform’s safety posture. Cloud-native technology builds upon this strength to make weapon systems more adaptable in future threat environments, providing a competitive advantage by delivering high-quality capability for an ever-increasing ops tempo.

In the 60-day challenge, each team incorporated cloud-native technology into mission-representative hardware, with tools such as Docker containers, Kubernetes orchestration and an Istio service mesh—all cutting-edge, open-source technologies employed by leaders in the digital commercial sector. The teams demonstrated benefits of integrating cloud native technology including using Kubernetes to elastically scale to meet additional processing demands, automatically recover from cyber-attacks with minimal performance degradation and seamlessly field updated capabilities with zero system downtime.

Nicolas Chaillan, Department of the Air Force’s Chief Software Officer, attended the demonstrations and commented, “Weapon systems need a modular open systems architecture to rapidly respond to the evolving threats. Combining proven standards like OMS with cloud native technology is going to accelerate innovation and fielding.” Chaillan stated the need more demonstrations like the OpenAirKube project to ensure the ability to field the latest technology faster.

“This was a resounding technical success,” said Maj. Hayden Poe, an OpenAirKube’s sponsor. “The teams proved resilient, overcoming the challenges from the travel restrictions and concerns posed by COVID-19.”

Poe said the virtual demos went smoothly and permitted hosting a larger audience, which is essential to garner broad adoption by the OMS community.

“This was Phase 0 in an incremental approach to build an OMS ecosystem with an expansive community of industry partners,” Poe said.

Based on these promising Phase 0 results, the government and industry teams are keen to further develop OpenAirKube for DoD weapon systems. The ability to significantly reduce development and modernization timelines ensures the best technology reaches warfighters at the speed of relevance.