B-21 Bombers, F-35s and Blackhawk Helicopters Could Someday Use the Same 'Brain'
Imagine this: Blackhawk helicopters, new B-21 stealth bombers, fighter jets like the F-35 and even armored ground vehicles may one day all be engineered with a shared common technical thread. All of these will share a computing system with increased virtualization and open standards for easy upgrades, leveraged information sharing, and the ability to adapt to new threats and optimize “size, weight and power” variables.
Blackhawk helicopters, new B-21 stealth bombers, fighter jets like the F-35 and even armored ground vehicles may one day all be engineered with a shared common technical thread. All of these will share a computing system with increased virtualization and open standards for easy upgrades, leveraged information sharing, and the ability to adapt to new threats and optimize “size, weight and power” variables.
Raytheon weapons developers are testing an emerging technology called Common Open Secure Mission Computer (COSMC), an integrated series of computer technologies designed to connect and organize otherwise separated datastreams.
Some of the innovations, intended to better enable Army helicopters, parallel cutting edge work now going on with the Air Force B-21, which is making progress with increased virtualization and information containerization, according to Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper. 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.
John Stephens, Product Line Manager, Secure Mission Processing, Raytheon, told The National Interest that COSMC can synthesize “federated systems” onto a single computing platform through the use of virtualization and what’s called enclaves.
The COSMC process 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.
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. Part of this naturally means drawing upon software-enabled virtualization, systems can upgrade faster and better employ automation, AI and machine-learning applications.
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 new 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 quicker than the other side could react.
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 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 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.