Army convenes key parties to discuss software in modern weapons
- By Kris Osborn
- Feb 27, 2017
The Army has established a new “Software Solarium” program to discuss and address the growing dependence of tanks, infantry carriers, radios, artillery and other weapons on software improvements.
“No matter what weapon system -- whether you're talking about a tank and the amount code such as software code that’s now resident in our main battle tank or our newest troop carriers -- they're all very software-defined because of the platforms that we've integrated into their systems,”. said Major General Bruce T. Crawford, Commander of Communications Electronics Command (CECOM).
The Software Solarium II, which took place in early Feb. at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., brought together Army, academic and industry leaders into a single forum to address growing challenges in software governance, policy, sustainment and cyber protections, the Army said in a statement.
Army leaders attending this most recent Solarium, an extension of an initial forum in Sept. of last year, included flag officers and program managers from Army modernization, acquisition, information technology and cyberspace arenas.
Crawford explained that software has increasingly played a central role in the maturation and combat effectiveness of weapon systems over the last 15 years.
“The capability that we have today in our formation, especially at the tactical level, is night and day, to be honest with you, compared to what we had in 2003,” he said.
Emphasizing that there is not really a weapon system of relevance on the modern battlefield that does not heavily draw from software components, Crawford said the evolution of software applications has changed tactics, techniques and procedures in combat.
“The industrial base that supports the Department of Defense has been using software to modernize, instead of focusing on just hardware as the mechanism by which they've been able to increase capability,” Crawford said.
Software modernization in an open-architecture environment allows the Army to quickly upgrade platforms and weapon systems as new threats emerge. Modern radar technologies, for example, are now being designed with common sets of standards so they can accommodate detection upgrades as threats change, Army weapons developers explained.
The C4ISR domain is among the areas most substantially affected by this dependence on software. For example, Crawford cited Army progression from mostly hardware-based SINCGARS radios to software-defined radios able to run multiple waveforms.
A key dimension to the “Software Solarium” involves special meetings of senior Army leaders to help adjust to the rapid and consistent emergence of a software-reliant weapons arsenal.
Crawford explained that the cyber domain, including priorities such as cybersecurity, is inextricably linked to software.
“We brought in Army Cyber on the front side of this to have a conversation about how we can create more collaboration space between the development and sustainment of software and the actual cyber enterprise that's building capacity for the Army down to the tactical level,” he said.
“Our intent is to use software to operationalize readiness down at the tactical level,” Crawford added. “It would probably be easier to identify those that don't have a software contingent to them. If they don't have a software contingent to them, they're probably legacy and on their way out.”
Artillery is another significant way in which software advances have changed combat, Crawford said, pointing to the Army’s “Fires Center” at Fort Sill, Okla.
“We've gone to software-based technologies that provide a lot more capability in a given weapon system platform. That's a shift we're seeing across the Army. It's really software that is enabling our warfighting capability,” Crawford said.
“If you go back to pre-9/11, our systems were designed to fight a force-on-force type of conflict. As we faced a new enemy and new tactics, we had to enhance and adapt our software to fight an urban type of fight,” said Medhat Abuhantash, Director of the Software Engineering Center.
Thermal sights in Abrams tanks and other armored vehicles, digital force-tracking graphical mapping technologies such as Joint Battle Command-Platform and even small arms have growing pertinent software components.
U.S. allies are now collaborating with this effort as well, Crawford said. He said he discussed software in personal visits to Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Korea within the last year.
Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.