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Apache Attack Helos & B-21 Stealth Bombers Could Share Raytheon Common Computing

by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Built to absorb some small arms fire, Apache attack helicopters can swoop into enemy fire to provide life-critical air support to ground infantry caught in lethal combat. As part of this mission, perhaps the Army AH-64 platforms draws upon its long-range high-fidelity sensors to detect new pockets of enemy forces closing in on the area, merges targeting and navigational data with nearby drones and Blackhawks, processes, analyzes and organize otherwise disparate pools of crucial information and therefore offers ground commanders an integrated picture….in a matter of seconds.

Otherwise disconnected variables such as force location, terrain, navigational detail and enemy activity can be analyzed in relation to one another, massively easing the decision-making burden upon soldiers swarmed by enemy attack.

Should this transpire, Brigade Combat Team commanders could make faster, safer, more combat-effective decisions while facing fast-changing combat circumstances. The execution of this, however, of course relies heavily on high-speed integrated computing technology intended to expedite information gathering, analysis and dissemination.

With these kinds of dynamics in mind, Raytheon weapons developers are testing an emerging technology called Common Open Secure Mission Computer (COSMC).

“The concept is to replace federated functional computer systems with a data-fusion architecture to handle multi-function needs, by bringing them together,” Stephanie Edmisten, Director, Trusted Mission Processing, Raytheon, told Warrior in an interview.

The execution of these kinds of applications can be brought to life through the engineering of common technical standards, IP protocols architected to easily integrate and upgrade data analysis, information sharing and cost-effective modernization, Raytheon developers explained.

“What we can do with COSMC is provide an open computing environment. We pulled a the capabilities of legacy federated systems together to create a single consolidated computing platforms to host algorithms and information centrally and allow for post processing application data correlation,” John Stephens Product Line Manager, Secure Mission Processing, Raytheon, told Warrior in an interview.

There are also substantial combat networking implications, as an ability to more quickly share time-sensitive warfare information better enables “platform-to-platform sensor integration, and “take advantage of common software standards. If you are running IP packets in some kind of baseline standard you can expedite platform to platform sensor integration,” as Stephens put it.

“Data can be containerized in a smart way so that when you build a mission computer you minimize the effort required to requalify or recertify,” he added.

Containerized software, among other things, refers to an ability to program computer operating systems to streamline and compartmentalize different functions simultaneously, yet without launching an entire machine for each app, according to “Kubernetes’” website.

Kubernetes, a technical process referred to by Stephens, is a computer system for “automating application deployment, scaling and management.” Much of this is made possible through what’s called application containerization; it is defined as an operating system-level “virtualization method used to deploy and run distributed applications,” according to Containerization enables multiple “isolated applications or services to run on a single host and access the same operating system.”

These technical phenomena closely mirror the intent and execution of COSMC, which, as Stephens articulated, “converges federated computing products into one box.”

Applications such as these also, by design, lessen developmental costs and reduce the hardware footprint.

Smaller form factors, capable of performing a wider range of computer processing and data organization functions, save on money as well as “size, weight and power” considerations, Stephens and Edmisten explained.

Part of this naturally means drawing upon software-enabled virtualization, systems can upgrade faster and better employ automation, AI and machine-learning applications. This performs what might be called a bit of a paradox, as emerging “enclaved,” openly-architected computing can both separate needed data-driven functions and also enable interoperability and data pooling for analysis and organization as needed as well.

An enclaved, yet integrated technical infrastructure can not only improve security but also facilitate rapid and seamless data-sharing for analysis by “running multiple enclaves and sessions within a given box so you can do those things you gain with virtualization,” Stephens explained.

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In this respect, enclaved, yet integrated sets of data can be better secured and upgraded through new software virtualization, because the use of common standards and integrated cross-platform virtualized computing enables more ubiquitous, multi-faceted upgrades.

Fundamentally, computing, sensing and mission systems for Apaches and Blackhawks can become quickly “scalable” through this kind of architecture.

“As the volume of on-board and off-board sensor data increases, you need a system that is agile enough to scale with the increased data processing needs” Stephens said.

In all-out warfare terms, this means helicopter pilots, or even ground vehicles can share information and find and destroy targets… much faster. This is something which can expedite precision weapons attack and identify approaching air and ground threats and, perhaps of greatest importance, keep pilot crews alive in combat.

In fact, Stephens also explained that Raytheon is in the early stages of evaluating COSMC to maximize AI and Machine Learning applications. Increased automation and AI-enabled computing can ease the “cognitive” burden upon helicopter crews by performing time and energy consuming procedural functions autonomously… all while leaving human decision makers in the irreplaceable role of command and control. This way, dynamic, capable human problem solving can be more fully and effectively leveraged in combat. In summary, pilots will be able to make faster and better decisions.

AI-applications, optimized by new algorithms, can absorb new war-sensitive information, bounce it off a seemingly limitless database and quickly perform comparative analyses to make decisions, prioritize information and streamline the organization and presentation of data for humans operating in the role of command and control.

Interestingly, some of these Raytheon innovations, at least in concept, parallel cutting edge work now going on with the Air Force B-21, which is making progress with increased virtualization and Kubernetes-oriented containerization, according to Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper. In this respect, COSMC could be ahead of the curve in terms of its computer engineering, as it could integrate into emerging systems now-in-development for the future.

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These innovations, based upon the idea of leveraging the best new technologies to optimize combat computing, could be understood to a degree in the context of the famous OODA-loop decision-making process. OODA Loop, made famous years ago by Air Force fighter pilot John Boyd, stands for Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. Roper referred to the acceleration of the OODA-Loop process in relation to the B-21, a mysterious, yet promising platform believed to contain never-before-seen dimensions of new technology.

The OODA-loop process originated as an Air Force fighter-jet concept, it certainly has what could be called “direct applications” for Army helicopters and ground warrior; it refers to the importance of getting inside an enemies’ decision-making process by completing the OODA loop faster and more accurately, therefore taking key life and death actions to destroy an enemy… faster.

Also, yet another Air Force parallel can be found with the F-35s well-known, computer enabled “sensor-fusion” process wherein otherwise disaggregated feeds of time-sensitive sensor data are organized into a single, integrated screen for pilots. Navigational, sensor and targeting data can be analyzed in relation to one another to offer pilots more-complete, well structured information.

Not only will integrated next-generation software, such as that now being developed with COSMC, exponentially speed-up war-sensitive decision making, but it will also increase performance for weapons systems. Things like weapons guidance systems, weapons network security, processing speeds and major war platform functionality. Long range sensors for an airplane’s command and control systems and of course procedures to aggregate otherwise stovepiped data systems, can all be optimized through software upgrades.

COSMC is not yet integrated into a platform, however it is fast-approaching operational status through ongoing testing, evaluations and technical upgrades. By simply looking at COSMC in what could be called a cursory fashion, there does not seem to be any reason why it could not be applied to Army ground combat vehicles … or perhaps even Navy ships?

"COSMC does work to service all the branches," Stephens said.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is defense editor for the National Interest*. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.*