Battlespace Tech

Air Force, Northrop demo an open system for manned, unmanned aircraft

B-2 Spirit stealth bomber

Northrop’s recent tests of OMS included the B-2 Spirit.


Northrop Grumman recently demonstrated a capability the Air Force and military researchers have been working on, using the Air Force’s Open Mission Systems architecture to integrate multiple systems and platforms, in this case involving the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

In one test in June, Northrop integrated subsystems aboard a B-2 Spirit and a Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. More recently, it combined a B-2, Northrop’s Gulfstream G550 test bed and a battle management command and control (BMC2) ground node.

In that most recent test, for instance, the Gulfstream, configured for ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), detected a ground threat and broadcast the threat’s location via a (joint forces-compliant) Link-16 data link, the company said. The ground node picked up the broadcast and contacted the B-2, which used its Open Mission Systems (OMS) auto-routing function to adjust its mission plans and destroy the target. It was a simulated attack, but the Air Force said it demonstrated the feasibility of the OMS architecture.

"This demonstration paves the way for the B-2 weapon system to provide new operational capability well into the future at an affordable cost," Brig. Gen. Eric Fick, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Bombers for the Air Force Materiel Command’s Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, said in a news release.

The work on OMS, which uses a common messaging interface for subsystems such as radar, communications, auto-routing and battle management, is an example of the military’s stated preference for collaborating with industry on developing new systems.

Northrop defined and integrated the OMS infrastructure for the B-2 in six weeks, drawing on technology it had already developed, the company said. The tests were also supported by the Air Force’s B-2 System Program Office.

And developing a standardized platform will allow OMS-compliant systems to be integrated more quickly and affordably on multiple types of aircraft, Northrop said.

"The team's ability to rapidly demonstrate OMS has been nothing short of amazing and shows the speed at which capabilities can be developed when the Air Force and industry partner together," said Col. Rob Strasser, the Air Force’s B-2 System Program Manager. "The collaboration and innovation required by the team to rapidly plan, integrate and demonstrate OMS on the B-2 has illustrated the ability to reduce cost while significantly increasing mission effectiveness."

The tests also reflect the kind of “system of systems” approach military researchers have been working toward. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for example, is working on rapid integration of new systems into an open architecture through its System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation program.

About the Author

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

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