Dave Schreck, Vice President and General Manager for Military Avionics and Helicopters
The arrival of the Modular Open System Approach (MOSA) is welcomed with great ardor by the defense community thanks to the better adaptability and affordability it offers in military applications. Execution of MOSA (formerly known as open systems architecture) strategy promotes open competition, cost control, innovation, and the rapid replacement, integration, and upgradation of capabilities to address warfighter needs. The strategy also offers a level of openness, allowing the defense community a new sense of autonomy.
This is where Collins Aerospace—a leading designer and manufacturer of aerospace systems for commercial, regional, corporate, and military aircraft—takes center stage. By bringing together UTC Aerospace Systems and Rockwell Collins, Collins Aerospace has proven capabilities in Open Systems Architecture that will help reduce the overall lifecycle costs and risks associated with the next-generation fleet of vertical lift platforms in addition to reducing pilot workload while delivering enhanced situational awareness and safety. The company is applying new standards and technologies to what is required of the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) to build the FVL ecosystem. Collins is also updating and maturing open software capabilities to meet the requirements of future verticals.
“Our affinity with the existing rotary wing fleet of the US Army, along with its special operations (Ops) aviation, is the springboard for all the work we are doing now. We are making use of this collaboration to create more open solutions than the enduring fleet in place today,” says Dave Schreck, Vice President and General Manager for Military Avionics and Helicopters, Collins Aerospace.
Leading toward the Next Generation of Vehicle Control
As a leader in flight control technology, Collins Aerospace has designed a novel and powerful vehicle management computer (VMC) with open-source software. It uses up to three high-integrity, multicore processors to provide advanced fly-by-wire control, autonomous support, and unmanned operation. The VMC provides the capabilities for safer operation for high-redundancy flight critical applications and supports operation in degraded visual environments (DVE) and optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) capabilities.
“We have developed a VMC to better serve a growing number of capabilities on the platforms. There is often a piece of hardware that accompanies each new app. In the case of a helicopter, it becomes prohibitive in terms of the volume and the weight added to the aircraft,” says Schreck.
“One of the best ways to solve this volume and weight problem is to increase the processing power footprint on the platform. This, coupled with an open systems approach, allows you to save space and weight of the aircraft platforms for enhanced FVL performance.”
More importantly, VMC can address clients’ specific integration needs. Its MOSA, robust software partitioning, and reconfigurable I/O make updates simple and affordable and allows clients to seamlessly host third-party functions, such as mission management and utility management. Also, the company is currently pioneering a transition from single-core processor architectures to multiple-core (multicore) processors. This transition enables the overall reduction in size, weight, and power (SWaP) as well as the use of common processing platforms. Multicore processors also allow greater autonomy with a higher level of reliability. “With more customers trying to convert a pilot at some point in the flight profile into mission commanders instead of just flying the aircraft, we are working hard to design the systems that will enable their concept of operations,” Schreck adds.
Paving the Way for Rapid Third-Party Integration
He goes on to mention that there are different layers within the flight management system. This includes the flight-critical layers that only certified folks can touch as well as top layers dealing with mission system applications, which restricts frequent changes. The ability to have multiple layers in the open architecture allows Collins Aerospace to give a toolset to customers, enabling them to make mission changes frequently while still preserving the certification of the package for flight-critical processing. For instance, using the open toolkit, the Army can re-program the changes that the company made to their special ops aviation fleet without breaking a sweat. “If they so desired, they could have brought in any number of other companies and still do that work in the open environment we created,” mentions Schreck.
Usually, many aircraft have an OFP (operational flight program) cycle rate of one year, which can extend up to two years or come down to six months. This might be workable for less frequent operations like flight-critical changes and safety-critical operations. But, for mission changes, there’s a growing need in the current threat environment to provide updates much more frequently. So the idea is to create an open solution with an ability to update much more frequently, thereby providing much-improved adaptability and survivability in the operational environment — an ability to make mission-critical changes on a much more frequent basis. This solution would further push the envelope to a point in the future where there could be a monthly or even a daily update without compromising on safety.
To put things into perspective, Collins Aerospace has worked in liaison with the US Army’s Special Ops Aviation to help them with a variety of systems integration efforts. They have been involved in integrating capabilities ranging from radars to digital maps to additional processors for holistic integration in an open environment. It allows for greater mission flexibility and enables easier and faster advancements over time as new capabilities are integrated into the aircraft platforms.
An Enabling Culture at the Core
What contributes to the success of Collins Aerospace is the organizational culture that they have built over the years. “Our company’s work culture is a core ingredient to the difference we’re making in the lives and missions of our customers,” says Schreck. Employees understand the gravity of partnering with the warfighter to bring more effective solutions forward, which allows the company to have a laser focus on customers’ needs. “Long ago, I grew up in the US Air Force with a focus on mission success, and that’s essentially the same spirit I see at Collins. Our team feels a bond with the warfighters and gets jazzed up seeing the difference we can make for them in their operational battlespace,” Schreck prides.
Backed by such a capable team, the company is focused on creating a product solution line-up that is future-proof and scales to customers’ needs. Schreck believes that accurate assessment of clients’ future demands has always been a key ingredient for the company’s success. Next in line, they have a significant amount of clean sheet designs looking at a generational change in the future vertical lift platforms and sixth-generation fighters, both US and international. “It will be a continuation of sensing and filling the requirements and iterating it with our customers as we continue to move forward with state-of-the-art solutions,” he concludes.