OSA: Blog Articles

What Does Open System Architecture Mean?

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Acronyms in this blog:

OSA – Open System Architecture

DoD – Department of Defense

What is an Open System Architecture (OSA) and why do they matter to the Department of Defense? An open System Architecture is designed to be highly cohesive, loosely coupled, and severable modules that are completed and acquired from independent vendors. The DoD outlined this new approach here. In other words, the DoD is seeking technology solutions that are not bound into one proprietary package. This new approach is called a ‘modular open systems approach’ by the DoD. The explicit goal is to redefine the business and technical relationship between the DoD and defense contractors.

This shift in the DoD’s systems strategy is intended to spark competition and innovation among defense contractors. It also represents a significantly cheaper way to do business for the DoD. Currently, a defense contractor can own the intellectual property of a key system. This means if they change one small component, the entire system may need replacement at cost to the DoD. Open System Architecture means the DoD owns the designs themselves. This means contractors have to find and pitch the most efficient, effective, and budget-friendly approach to system design. One contractor can improve on one component of a system, and that single component can be easily replaced at a fair price to the DoD across the entire family of systems.

To understand Open System Architecture in depth, there are certain terms that you should be familiar with at least at a basic level.

Open System Architecture Key Terms

  1. Modularity: the ability for a component of a system to be removed and replaced without negatively impacting the rest of the system as a whole.

  2. Interoperability: the ability for components and interfaces to perform properly within a system even though they may have been designed and manufactured by different defense contractors.

  3. Vendor lock: when a defense contractor controls a system in design and also potentially in production, enabling the contractor to control pricing for modification, development, and distribution to the DoD.

  4. Second sourcing: when a defense contractor manufactures the components and systems of another contractor’s design, but without modifying or improving the components or systems.

  5. Standards: specific requirements for components and interfaces, but without being so specific as to draw the DoD into vendor lock with a defense contractor.

  6. Interfaces: mechanisms for the transfer of data.

  7. Components: self-contained code with a standard interface port.

  8. Proprietary systems: systems with design and intellectual property owned by a single entity, be it a defense contractor or the DoD.

Open System Architecture and American UAS

One of the key tenets of Open System Architecture is to boost competition. The United States has long been the leader in unmanned aerial systems. This is especially true in the defense sector. Yet, during the last decade the commercial market has become dominated by foreign drone companies such as DJI, SenseFly, and Parrot. Commercial interest has spurred the development of drones abroad and even led to government subsidies. Foreign governments are recognizing drones as a key technology and investing heavily. This investment, not matched within the United States, has caused commercial-off-the-shelf products from foreign manufacturers to thrive and develop.

An Open System Architecture represents a way to return to U.S. overmatch for Group I UAS. The DoD’s ban of commercial-off-the-shelf systems from foreign manufacturers signals a renewed emphasis on domestic products. Open competition and innovation is an investment in developing domestic UAS that can once again achieve overmatch in the field over their foreign rivals.