DARPA wants modular, specialized, cheaper and drop in upgradable swarm cloud of drones, missiles and mothership airplanes

DARPA’s System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures–combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems–that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms.

The vision is to integrate new technologies and airborne systems with existing systems more quickly and at lower cost than near-peer adversaries can counter them.

DARPA has kicked off the System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program. SoSITE aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures—combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems—that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms. The vision is to integrate new technologies and airborne systems with existing systems faster and at lower cost than near-peer adversaries can counter them.

The computer analogy would be not having a single supercomputer or mainframe but a google server farm in a data center. Google can seamlessly swap out failed servers, or drop in upgraded servers.

DARPA’s System of Systems (SoS) Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program aims to develop and demonstrate concepts for maintaining air superiority through novel SoS architectures—combinations of aircraft, weapons, sensors and mission systems—that distribute air warfare capabilities across a large number of interoperable manned and unmanned platforms. The vision is to integrate new technologies and airborne systems with existing systems faster and at lower cost than near-peer adversaries can counter them.

Screenshot from video of mothership airplane releasing drones and missiles

War is Boring has some coverage.

“The mission truck launches a swarm of small low-cost cruise missiles, or LCCMs, that speed toward the enemy radar target,” the DARPA video narrated. “While each missile has a relatively small warhead, collectively they can have a tremendous impact.”

This makes the tactic — in theory — asymmetrical, like a guerrilla army using a fusillade of cheap rocket-propelled grenades to destroy a big, expensive armored vehicle. The mothership in this scenario is also beyond the range of the missile launchers on the ground — that’s important, too.

The project is still in its conceptual phase. The agency wants to begin experiments in 2017 and scale it up to testing “integrated air-air and precision strike kill chains” in 2019.

DARPA wants the system to rely on modular, “open” software architectures. If the Air Force wants to upgrade any part of the system, engineers could simply upload new “apps” developed separately — rather than rebuilding the entire system from scratch.

But this makes the software easier to hack. For instance, a hacker might be able to “spoof” the software into uploading a piece of malware that it thinks is an upgrade.

“It can take decades and cost billions of dollars to field or upgrade advanced airborne systems today,” said Nils Sandell, director of DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office (STO). “As a result, the modernization of subsystems in these complex platforms has not kept pace with the rapid advances in commercial technology. A system-of-systems approach could help overcome this inherent issue with high-cost, monolithic, multi-function platforms.”

SoSITE focuses on developing concepts and architectures for distributed air warfare, as well as the technical integration tools to make that possible. The program plans to harness existing airborne systems’ capabilities and reduce the cost and development timeline for new systems by using an open-systems architecture approach. Open-systems architectures create common standards and tools for developing interchangeable modules and platforms that can be quickly upgraded and swapped out as needed. This concept enables distribution of key functions, such as electronic warfare; sensors; weapons; battle management; positioning, navigation and timing; and data/communication links, across a variety of manned and unmanned platforms.

“We are working closely with the Services on their open-systems architecture initiatives,” said John Shaw, SoSITE program manager in STO. “We are developing technologies to make those architectures enduring and secure, including building in defenses against cyber attacks, enabling standards to evolve as technology advances while maintaining backward compatibility, and providing tools for more rapid system composition and testing. If we are successful, the Services will be able to add or swap out capabilities across existing manned and unmanned platforms at lower cost and in shorter time. The goal is to plug modules that perform different airborne functions into any type of airborne platform and have them work seamlessly.”

SoSITE will take advantage of advances in miniaturization, increased capability and decreased cost of electronics, new algorithms and software technology, and advanced materials for creating innovative unmanned platforms. Cost savings may be realized by separating payload from platforms, thereby allowing defense planners greater flexibility in choosing cost-vs-capability tradeoffs for each.

“The potential benefit of separating payloads from platforms using open system architectures can be understood using the example of smartphone technology and apps,” Shaw said. “The ecosystem for smartphones invites new and better apps by shifting significant portions of the development burden onto well-defined development tool kits; these allow app developers to create new capabilities and get them quickly into an app store for consumers to use. You don’t need to buy a new smartphone every time an app comes out with a new capability. SoSITE’s technology integration focus area will build the ‘under-the-hood’ verification and cyber-defense capabilities so airborne platforms can host interchangeable ‘app’ functions.”

SoSITE aims to demonstrate that an SoS (system of systems) approach to maintaining air superiority: will be militarily effective; can adapt apace with the emergence of new technologies; and will impose on any adversary seeking to counter these systems a financial cost greater than it costs the United States to field.

SoSITE seeks to develop and deliver systems architecture concepts for rapid integration of new U.S. technologies as they are developed, without requiring significant re-engineering of existing capabilities, systems, or systems of systems. A successful SoSITE program will help U.S. forces maintain their advantage in a fast-changing world by facilitating the integration of new technologies faster than near-peer adversaries can adapt to or counter them.

SoSITE will leverage advances in algorithmic, software and electronics technology to pursue multiple objectives: first, to distribute functions across networks of manned and unmanned platforms offering favorable capability-cost tradeoffs; second, to rapidly integrate advanced mission systems onto manned and unmanned platforms using open system architectures; third, to apply warfighter-managed autonomy to coordinate distributed effects; and fourth, to enable system heterogeneity to reduce common-cause vulnerabilities and provide system adaptability.

SOURCES – DARPA, Youtube, War is Boring

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