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2021: The Year of SOSA Conformance

Lorin Sandler

10/13/21

SOSA blog graphic

 

In 2020, The Open Group published the Technical Standard for SOSA Reference Architecture, Edition 1.0, Version 3 — referred to as Snapshot 3 — which was the final interim iteration before the first official standard for Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) was adopted officially across the major branches of the DoD and their vendors in September. The Open Group’s SOSA Consortium focuses on developing open architecture for Communications, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR), Electronic Warfare (EW), Radar, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). The goal is to develop systems that allow interoperability, reuse, easier technology insertions, and quicker delivery to market than is capable in today’s closed development systems. This approach covers software, hardware, and electrical-mechanical interfaces. 

 

Following the release of SOSA version 1.0 will be a SOSA conformance certification program. This will establish a defined process involving conformance testing and verification to the standard. A SOSA test suite will be available, but to prove conformance, the product must be assessed by an independent verification authority. Once a product is verified to conform, it can be registered through the SOSA certification authority and allowed to be marketed as a certified product to that version of the SOSA spec.

 

Even before 1.0 was officially adopted, a lot was known about where the standard was heading and the advantages it offers. In this blog we take a look at the benefits SOSA-conformance promises and how taking the initiative to work toward conformance has helped vendors make sure their products are ready now that the standard is operational. 

 

Interoperability

It’s not new for defense and aerospace solutions developers to employ open standards to improve interoperability. Under Version 1.0, these standards will be mandatory. After much time using proprietary solutions, these defense organizations find themselves facing size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) challenges. Discrete, closed solutions based on proprietary technologies are designed to operate in isolation, which presents challenges for deployment, maintenance, and repair—especially if the proprietary technology is no longer supported by the vendor. 

 

SOSA guidelines address these challenges by creating a framework for transitioning sensor systems to an open systems architecture. This approach seeks to “allow flexibility in the selection and acquisition of sensors and subsystems that provide sensor data collection, processing, exploitation, communication, and related functions over the full life cycle of the C4ISR system.” In short, this open solution approach improves communication and ensures all systems across all platforms can be quickly and easily upgraded or replaced. SOSA has been developed with the unique challenges of defense markets in mind. From system management to the chassis and cards, providing multifunction support and field upgradeability have taken priority. For example, in anticipation of SOSA guidelines, SDR cards are built with rear RF and without front connectors so that second-level servicing can be done quickly. If a card needs to be replaced, either because it malfunctions or needs to be upgraded, it can be swapped out in virtually any environment relatively fast.

 

This open market approach means that organizations will now have much greater freedom and flexibility when choosing solutions or vendors. Systems, cards, and components can be easily swapped for new versions, and those versions do not have to be provided by the original vendor. A common chassis is installed, containing replaceable modules that allow quick upgrades without the need for an entirely new unit—swaps can be performed in a matter of minutes in any environment.

 

The interoperability delivered by SOSA provides defense and aerospace organizations the flexibility to choose the most effective solutions for the challenges at hand to create products for government and defense-oriented applications faster. 

 

New Opportunities

The adoption of non-proprietary standards is critical to opening up more opportunities in the market. Smaller companies can now specialize in targeted solutions that integrate quickly and easily into existing units. These vendors can be more flexible, responding to procurement needs without having to develop entire proprietary systems from the ground up. Development cycle time and total lifecycle cost are reduced, and buyers have better access to cutting-edge technologies and products from multiple vendors. From the DoD’s perspective, the ability to choose multiple vendors means they will be able to reduce the risks associated with technological obsolescence, being locked into proprietary or vendor-unique technology, and reliance on a single source of supply over the life of the system. Not being vendor-locked means that a feature upgrade (technology insertion) can come from any company producing a compatible card. This is good news for newer or smaller players looking to make an impact in the market, as the DoD will have the ability to pick and choose as many vendors as necessary to meet their needs.

 

At Epiq Solutions, our focus has been on small form-factor SDRs that are often based on standard form-factors. The benefit of using a standards-based approach is the flexibility it affords system designers to adjust all other aspects of the system, and the standard approach SOSA is striving for will simplify development of mission-critical RF systems like electronic warfare and signal intelligence in a way that keeps these systems future proof and gets them into the field as quickly as possible. By getting an early start on SOSA requirements, DoD vendors have been able to get ahead in an increasingly competitive market. This open-market approach presents a wide range of opportunities for many vendors who may have been excluded from competition in the past, and it rewards ingenuity by leveling the playing field.

 

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