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 November 2005 Feature
Jon Stoehr is a program manager at Argon ST, Inc., and the chairman of Subcommittee F41.03 on Mission Payload Interface. Prior to joining Argon ST, Inc., Stoehr worked for an international telecommunications firm and is a retired naval officer. Argon ST, Inc., is a leading provider of communications intelligence, electronic intelligence and multi-spectral imaging solutions to the U.S. government.

Chris Devine is the undersea systems business area manager at Argon ST, Inc. He holds a BSEE from the University of Maryland and an MSEE from George Washington University.

The development of unmanned undersea vehicles is a growing activity for the U.S. Navy. As critical technologies mature over the next several years, various UUV initiatives and programs will be making the transition from engineering to production for delivery to the Navy. Given the stated goals of modularity and reconfigurability, an open-architecture approach based on established and approved standards is critical to system delivery. With participation from industry payload providers, work has begun on the development of standards to support the delivery of mission-reconfigurable UUV payload solutions.

UUV Missions

UUVs are untethered vehicles typically launched from submarines or ships that either navigate through pre-planned missions or operate autonomously and return for recovery. Manned submarines have demonstrated the ability to penetrate and operate in denied areas with virtual impunity. UUVs extend this capability by being uniquely suited for covert information collection due to their stealth, autonomy and ability to freely operate in littoral (shallow water) areas. UUVs will support a wide range of mission areas that include mine countermeasures; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; special operations force support; communications relay, and undersea environmental sensing and mapping. The Navy’s goal is to rapidly deliver new UUV capabilities to the fleet, with a strategy for upgrading those capabilities with minimal time and expense.

Much of the focus on previous UUV efforts has been geared toward specific applications for a given vehicle as opposed to a generic platform that can perform a variety of missions. Recent efforts, however, have focused on refining the core technology of the vehicle, including those areas that make it a viable platform for performing any number of underwater missions requiring a high degree of autonomy. This is both understandable and expected in the evolution of the platform since the core UUV capabilities are required to be in place to support a broader array of payload missions.

Next-Generation UUV System Solutions

In general, UUV technology has matured to the point where more effort is going into the integration of a variety of mission-specific payloads on a common vehicle. The Navy’s UUV Master Plan, revised in 2004, has identified and prioritized specific UUV missions for which UUV systems are required. The plan identifies nine capabilities (types of missions) across several classes of UUVs, with the goal of minimizing the number of unique system configurations required to support their missions. The plan goes further when it states, “In order to provide cost-effective and flexible capabilities, programs should strive to maximize commonality and modularity of UUV systems, as a minimum within a given class.”

The motivation for modularity is based in the desire to provide a cost-effective UUV system that supports multiple missions through a configurable vehicle, most notably with respect to the payload. The UUV community of developers, users and resource sponsors will be an active part of this process ensuring that the specific needs and benefits of unmanned systems are addressed within the developing architectures and standards.” This fundamental concept resonates strongly with potential payload providers across industry. The development and application of standards is a key step in an overall strategy to produce and deliver cost-effective, modular UUV payloads that support the larger system architecture.

The Case for Standards

From the perspective of a payload provider, the need for standards to support the successful delivery of the payload as part of a production-quality system is well established. Even if modularity was not a key development mandate, there are clear advantages to working in compliance with jointly developed and vetted standards. However, Navy-sponsored UUV payload work to date has been largely geared toward demonstrating proof-of-concept technologies.

While the main thrust of this work is technology risk reduction, areas for standardization have also become apparent as industry looks to transition the developing payload technology from demonstration to production. Typically, the useful risk reduction outcomes of a demonstration effort manifest themselves as technical constraints that result in some shortfall of the required payload capability. Decisions are then made as to the feasibility of rectifying the shortfalls within the existing technology or investigating alternative technologies.

How can information that goes directly to the issue of standardization be gleaned from these efforts? Payload technology demonstrations generally consist of multiple subsystems — the payload itself, vehicle subsystems and, potentially, additional third-party payloads. System development frequently suffers from integration difficulties between subsystems. Typically, these issues are due to a lack of clear communication with respect to the interface specifications. Often, this is due to the reliance on specifications that are jointly developed, without previously established standards, by the payload provider and system integrator during system development. While undesirable, this is not unexpected for a technology demonstration effort. The good news is that candidate standardization areas emerge from these early payload development efforts through the application of lessons learned. Once established, working to a set of standards for payload development provides for a faster and smoother system integration effort.

So while there is sufficient motivation for standards when considering the benefits to system integration, critical requirements such as modularity and rapid reconfiguration demand standardization. Again from the UUV Master Plan: “The establishment of standards will be critical to the success of future systems, for without them the required modularity will not be achieved.” Another enabling concept for modularity is the adherence to an open architecture based on established standards. Providers can develop payloads largely independently and still provide the systems integrator with high confidence that the payloads will be interchangeable within the UUV system.

UUV Mission Payloads

The UUV system elements consist of the host platform for the UUV (for example, a manned submarine), the UUV itself, support systems onboard the host platform and other remote elements connected via an extended network. The UUV mission payload is another component in the UUV system. Critical to mission success are the interfaces to and from the mission payload; arguably the most critical mission payload interfaces are those onboard the UUV. And as such these are the most obvious candidates for standardization. Among these interfaces, it is important to identify those that will be common to all of the payloads envisioned in support of missions. Typically these include:

• Power — Comprises the power required for the payload. May include the types of specifications to be cited (standby, average, maximum, and in-rush consumption, and tolerances), the units of measurement (watts, volts/amps), and physical connection types.
• Mechanical — The main “physical” interface that may include the types of specifications to be cited (volume, height/width/ depth, weight) and units of measurement (SI). May also include guidelines for environmental specifications (shock, vibration, temperature, humidity, electromagnetic compliance and susceptibility).
• Data — Describes formats for various (miscellaneous) types of data that will be exchanged between the payload and other subsystems.
• Communications — Describes the standards for off-vehicle communications; typically an interface to a communications subsystem.
• Navigation — May include the guidelines for specifying the types and formats of the navigation data required by the payload, including accuracy and precision.
• Timing — May include guidelines for specifying the required timing signals for the payload, including waveforms, levels, accuracy, and tolerances.

While this is not necessarily an exhaustive list, it is representative of the areas that will need to be considered. Equally important is recognizing and excluding those items that should not be standardized. Over-standardization could result in unnecessary constraints on the developer, leading to a non-optimal payload implementation.

Clearly, standards are necessary to support the development of multiple types of mission payloads that will allow rapid reconfiguration of the UUV and which are fully interoperable with all of the other system components. As such, the U.S. Navy has established a framework for the development of a set of UUV standards that will be used for upcoming systems procurement.

The Standardization Process

ASTM Committee F41 on Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Systems was formed in 2005 and addresses issues related to standards development for UUV systems to facilitate an interoperable, modular, and multifunctional family of platforms. Stakeholders include manufacturers of UUVs and their components, federal agencies, design professionals, professional societies, maintenance professionals, trade associations, financial organizations, and academia.

Since UUVs will carry payloads for sonar, signals intelligence, imagery, communications, chemical sensing, and other sensing and collection devices, the challenge will be to write standards that define component commonality, simplify platform integration, support reuse, facilitate participation by new vendors, facilitate performance modeling and broadly communicate lessons learned while also supporting technology evolution and incorporation of new missions and capabilities. Subcommittee F41.03 on Mission Payload Interface will develop standards and guidance materials to facilitate an interoperable, modular, and multifunctional family of payload packages. The subcommittee has a broad cross-section of government and industry representatives. The key will be to develop standards that support mission reconfigurable platforms. The work of this subcommittee will be coordinated with other F41 subcommittees and organizations having mutual interest.

Summary

As critical technologies mature over the next several years, various UUV initiatives and programs will make the transition from demonstration to production for delivery to the U.S. Navy. Now is the time to develop the standards that will guide the successful procurement and delivery of these systems. Given the goals of modularity and reconfigurability, an open architecture based on established and approved standards is critical. ASTM Committee F41 has the charter to ensure the right standards are developed. With participation from industry payload providers, Subcommittee F41.03 has begun the task of ensuring the right standards are developed to support the delivery of mission reconfigurable payloads. //

 
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