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Evolutionary Standards
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 November 2005 Feature
John F. Lademan is a program manager for Northrop Grumman Corporation Oceanic and Naval Systems Division in Annapolis, Md. He is a retired submarine officer with over 20 years of experience in unmanned vehicle system development including research projects in the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

In preparation for the U.S. Navy’s next large unmanned underwater vehicle acquisition (the mission-reconfigurable UUV system), the Program Executive Office for Littoral Mine Warfare approached the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International to engage industry and government in jointly constructing selected standards to help guide UUV system development and encourage synergies with other unmanned system developments in the future. The Navy’s UUV office, PMS 403, and new ASTM Committee F41 on Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Systems, which is made up of government, industry, laboratory, and academic representatives, are undertaking this important task.

Need for Standards

Unmanned vehicle technology’s coming of age occurred primarily after the U.S. government’s wholesale retreat from MIL-standards, which began in the late 1980s. The evolution of unmanned technology has occurred largely in the context of the standardless vacuum of the “COTS” era (that’s “commercial off-the-shelf”).

As unmanned air, surface, underwater, and ground vehicles, known collectively as UxVs, enter into their civilian and military general acceptance phase, there is a greater need for some level of standardization so that cross-vehicle utility, synergy and interplay is nurtured and facilitated. The strains of open-architecture systems that are modular and reconfigurable require significant agility to incorporate a large variety of payloads that utilize COTS-based technologies. These technologies are rapidly evolving, driven by market forces and economic factors that are no longer dominated by the needs of military systems.

The efforts to standardize will balance the need for true openness (as defined by the ability to accept significantly different subsystems, in order to benefit from rapidly changing technology), with the stark reality that nothing is truly universal (and therefore must conform to some defining interface that will exclude, to some extent, sectors of rapidly evolving technology not accommodated by the standard). The key in this balance will be to develop the standard in an evolutionary way.

Evolutionary Standards

An “evolutionary standard” would balance the need for uniformity with adaptability in an era of rapidly advancing technology. Developing this kind of standard requires a design approach that mirrors the development of an open system.

The process should start by carefully examining and defining system interfaces by identifying the most extreme architectural volatility or distribution of competing technologies. An assessment must be undertaken of the expected change in technology over the course of 10 to 15 years, to identify where the standard must reflect long-term applicability and the least current exclusivity.

Those components that are dominated by a technology that has wide acceptance and stability should be standardized with specificity and clarity. Those with less clear pedigrees need to be dealt with in a way that helps drive industry toward a common solution but with flexibility until stability is achieved. Some components susceptible to short cycles of obsolescence may be jettisoned in favor of some other market driven/dominant answer without upsetting the standard in general.

These more flexible interfaces need to be highlighted so that designers do not embed a key technology employing that interface so intimately in the design that, when change occurs, the baseline design must be scrapped rather than the interface jettisoned so that a new (and probably better) interface can be embraced in the design. An evolutionary standard is adaptable and has a stable half-life to allow for design, development, and employment with best-case retrofitting updates occurring at periods driven by changing technology. This is not the typical lifecycle of many standards today; some innovation will be required to make this a reality.

Four Primary Standard Initiatives

What standards are necessary to facilitate common UxV development? Identifying areas that are too volatile or in which the risk of obviating important potential technology outweighs the desire for commonality are just two of the many issues that often militate against standards in favor of letting technology develop and adapting system designs to changing interfaces (where the benefits outweigh the costs).

On the other hand, the need for sensor commonality across UxVs to improve data fusion and increase total environmental and situational awareness by driving sensor information along common formats, and the need to decrease total program logistics requirements by enhancing cross-heterogeneous vehicle platform utility and interchangeability are becoming more and more important because of imploding military budgets.

In an effort to standardize vehicle and payload development around modular sizes, the Navy settled on four classes or vehicle sizes (primarily diameter for cylindrical vehicles): man-portable (3 to 9 inches diameter), lightweight (12.75 inches), heavyweight (21 inches) and large (greater than 36 inches) in its master plan for UUVs. Additionally, in “Naval Power 21 ...A Naval Vision,” the Navy’s three warfighting concepts (dubbed “pillars” — Sea Strike, Sea Shield, and Sea Basing, enabled by FORCEnet) were then parsed, assigning mission requirements to the four UUV classes in a further effort to focus industry development and maximize UUV acquisition dollars.

By embarking on an effort to create standards, the hope is to achieve cross-class utilization of innovations and encourage logistical synergies. This vision is being broadened to encompass the various types of UxVs. By being able to share payloads and data it is hoped that better synergy will be achieved in the execution of joint-heterogeneous unmanned vehicle operations, that the information fusion and common operating picture will be more easily conveyed, and the impact of multiple data sensors, sources, and data to command-and-control structures will be minimized.

The utilization of industry and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) standards will facilitate interoperability with other cooperating nations as much as possible. Most of the current standardization effort is focused on UUVs, the intent of the Program Executive Office for Littoral Mine Warfare being to broaden applicability to other UxVs as these systems are acquired by the military. The four primary areas being pursued by PMS 403 for standardization are:

1) Unmanned systems command-and-control/interoperability standards;
2) Unmanned systems command, control, communications, and computer systems — intelligence (C4I) communications standards;
3) Unmanned vehicle size/hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E)/ payload modularity standards; and
4) Open architecture standards.

Command and Control

In the area of command and control, it is hoped that sufficient architectural openness can be achieved so that various vehicles will be seamlessly integrated with existing systems as they come online or spiral into military-ready systems. This will be achieved by utilizing common control systems, open interface standards and reliance on two fairly mature existing frameworks — joint autonomous unmanned systems and NATO standard STANAG 4586 (joint coalition interoperability standard).

There are currently two efforts, with differing implementations, aimed at meeting these requirements. The first is an advanced concept technology demonstration headed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City called Joint Unmanned Systems Common Control.

The second command-and-control initiative is a funded effort to develop a next-generation heterogeneous command-and-control capability funded through the Office of Naval Research’s Autonomous Operations Future Naval Capabilities that will mature around the time of the launching of the Flight 1 Littoral Combat Ship in 2007.

C4I Communications

Unmanned systems C4I communications standards are being coordinated with the Navy’s C4I roadmap. The intention is for all unmanned vehicles to seamlessly incorporate into universal communications networks for the transmission of pertinent data, to update more complete operational pictures and understanding, and allow for mission re-tasking. This will be assured through FORCEnet, global interface grid communications interfaces, and compliant radio, antenna and Internet protocol-based networking subsystems.

Vehicle Size/HM&E/Payload Modularity

The area of unmanned vehicles size/HM&E/payload modularity has some straightforward and some more complex aspects for standardization. In the size and HM&E areas, the Navy has settled on previously well-established standards that are driven by current naval platform infrastructure such as torpedo tubes and various sub-sea launchers and weapon sizes. For HM&E components such as power distribution systems, underwater connectors, computer platforms and the like, industry and economic market forces have resulted in only a handful of more or less compatible design standards that are readily adaptable to the militarized system and which will form the basis of the UUV standards.

In payload modularity, which is key to the easy incorporation of emerging technologies for short spirals that will keep vehicles equipped to meet rapidly changing military mission requirements, standards come less easily and with potentially greater positive and negative impact. Payloads not only have physical interfaces that must be somewhat standardized to ensure compatibility with the space and design of the vehicle-truck, but they also connect intimately with the vehicle’s autopilot, mission controller, and external interfaces with which the system interacts in a network-centric military environment. The interfaces through autonomy, command and control, and data exchange are best left simplified for ease of payload change-out at the expense of more complex payload controllers and burdening the mission and vehicle controller.

Since payloads are largely driven by new technology that is constantly evolving and causing short half-life obsolescence of old industry standards (as occurred with Beta vs. VHS, for example), defining the payload interface sufficiently removed from the payload essence — the sensor — will be a wise decision while trying to homogenize the data streams and data message formats emanating from the payload. This will burden the payload developer, but defining the interfaces too easily can wreak havoc with the mission and vehicle controllers, which must remain stable to ensure that the baseline truck functions, and hence the certification of the vehicle and its autonomy, is not invalidated.

Open Architecture

Open architecture standards will be used to ensure that UUV, and eventually UxV, systems will be amenable to spiral developments and emerging technology insertion. The aim is to establish a delicate balance between the developer’s ability to retain proprietary interests in processes, algorithm development, and technical innovation without locking out future capabilities that may have been conceived elsewhere. This will also ensure that the vehicle system can be modified with only a modicum of effort and without requiring substantial redesign or rework.

AUVSI-ASTM International-Government-Industry Effort

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International was approached in February 2005 by the Program Executive Office for Littoral Mine Warfare to facilitate the development of these standards. ASTM International was asked to provide the infrastructure to guide and direct standards development in the areas of autonomy and control architecture, communications, and mission payload interfaces. The result is new Committee F41 on Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Systems. Participation on the committee is open to all interested parties. It is hoped that initial drafts of these standards will be available by the end of 2005. The Navy’s mission-reconfigurable UUV acquisition, expected sometime in 2006, should be the first beneficiary of this collaborative industry government effort to formalize UUV standards.

Standards: friend or foe to modular open systems? Certainly history has borne out that standardization reduces costs, allows broader free- market participation and in the long run can benefit innovation by creating a greater need for new capabilities by creating a larger basis for demand. Modular open systems that are trying to be all things to all customers will benefit from the stability, however tenuous, that conformity to consensus standards ultimately will bring. The effort to define and regulate “open systems” may be a difficult task at present, but it is worth the effort and will pay dividends for the Navy in the future. //

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