Pentagon's rapid plan for maintaining air superiority

The United States has long maintained military superiority in the air because of distinct advantages in technology and money, allowing for expensive, drawn-out projects that nevertheless produced the best aircraft communications and weapons systems.

But that pattern is changing as technology becomes more easily available and domains such as cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum become more important.

That’s the impetus behind the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program, which seeks to demonstrate rapid, cost-effective integration of new systems into robust open architectures.

In a solicitation for research proposals, DARPA said the program aims to “achieve rapid integration of new U.S. technologies as they are developed, without requiring significant re-engineering of existing capabilities, systems, or systems of systems.” The key is to create a flexible environment that allows U.S. forces to adapt and respond to new technological developments “faster than our near-peers,” and retain air superiority in contested environments, the agency said.

DARPA SoSITE illustration

A DARPA illustration gives one example of changes ahead.

According to the solicitation, SoSITE leaders plan to use advances in algorithmic, software and electronics technology to:

  • Distribute kill chain functions across networks of manned and unmanned platforms offering favorable capability-cost tradeoffs.
  • Rapidly integrate advanced mission systems onto manned and unmanned platforms using open system architectures.
  • Apply warfighter-managed autonomy to coordinate distributed effects.
  • Enable system heterogeneity to reduce common-cause vulnerabilities, and provide system adaptability.

DARPA is looking for innovative developments in two primary technical areas: development and analysis of distributed architectures, and development of tools to build distributed architectures and quickly integrate varied mission systems onto platforms with very different functions.

Ultimately, the SoSITE program wants to be able to operate seamlessly across a variety of manned and unmanned platforms, allowing for quick upgrades and countermeasures. DARPA also wants to achieve “cost leverage,” by which it means a system would cost less for the U.S. to deploy than for an adversary to counter it.

The days of long development times are numbered, the agency said. “The globalization of technology has made this strategy increasingly problematic,” the announcement states. “Potential adversaries are now able to incorporate advanced technologies quickly and can field new military capabilities incorporating these technologies in large numbers, often several times during a U.S. weapon system’s development time.”

DARPA said multiple awards are possible in each of the technical areas. Proposals under the program are due by May 15.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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