Modular Open Radio Frequency Architecture boot camp

2Designers creating the next generation of embedded defense systems face several challenges getting their solutions off the ground. The newly launched Modular Open Radio Frequency Architecture (MORA) aims to enable the development of true open standards-based radio frequency and microwave modules and small form factor subsystem designs to reduce costs, foster commonality, and enable new communications capabilities.

Electronics are a key part of many defense platforms and are becoming more important as the content percentage is growing. However, the purchasing influence of defense programs has become a smaller percentage of the overall worldwide electronics industry. Complicating the issue is the demand to get new solutions to deployment in much shorter time frames to take advantage of the latest technology. This increase in reliance on electronics, reduction in purchasing power, and rapid shortening of time to deployment have created a challenging dynamic for system architects responsible for the design of next-generation defense platforms.

Over the years, many initiatives have emerged to drive standards for open, flexible platforms, with the most recent example being the U.S. Army’s VICTORY program. Recently, the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) launched a new initiative, the Modular Open Radio Frequency Architecture (), which will enable the development of true open standards-based and microwave modules and small form factor subsystem designs that address the size, weight, and power consumption () constraints of today’s ground vehicles. MORA is intended to leverage the work done under the VICTORY initiative by adding consideration for and subsystems.

About the MORA architecture

Current command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance () and electronic warfare () systems use single-purpose hardware and software that aren’t shared beyond their defined functions and compete for limited resources on the platform. MORA decomposes radio systems into high-level components that enable sharing of hardware such as amplifiers and antennas. Low power distribution of RF signals improves overall system performance and efficiency through reduced cable loss. Use of software-defined radio technologies allows the same hardware to run different waveform application to support a multitude of missions, including EW and communications.

CERDEC is defining a converged open architecture that will provide open interfaces to enable rapid insertion of new capabilities, interoperability, and a reduced SWaP footprint.

The MORA architecture, which extends the U.S. Army’s VICTORY architecture, will:

  • Enable sharing of hardware and software components among C4ISR/EW capabilities.
  • Allow technology refresh to keep pace with threats while improving reliability and robustness.
  • Support current and future interoperability requirements and facilitate transition planning.
  • Permit capabilities that are innovative but unplanned to be rapidly implemented for “future-proofing.”
  • Reduce developmental and acquisition costs through greater commercial competition.

Wide embedded industry support of the modular and scalable MORA architecture will help drive the network-based connectivity of sensors and peripherals on ground vehicles and help speed the deployment of new C4ISR/EW capabilities.

MORA is based on the popular module and backplane open-standard framework managed by VITA members. MORA-based hardware and software solutions developed by VITA member companies will enable enhanced C4ISR/EW capabilities to exist within the SWaP constraints of platforms and provide subsystem commonality across the vehicle fleet to reduce life-cycle costs.

“One thing we know about the future is that we don’t know what the future holds,” said Ben Peddicord, chief of CERDEC Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate’s Intel Technology and Architecture Branch. “The interfaces that have been exposed to MORA were chosen based on an analysis of the capabilities we’ve wanted to field over the past 15 years.”

Compared to a traditional radio solution, MORA provides the system integrator with greater flexibility when addressing technical challenges and the ability to insert third-party capabilities.

According to Peddicord, nearly all military platforms – to include soldiers – have RF devices on them, making MORA an important element of hardware and software convergence because of its ability to share hardware assets across the platform. “It’s hard to get meaningful improvements, flexibility, and SWaP reduction if you don’t include RF components,” Peddicord said.

With a continued emphasis on open systems architecture, CERDEC became a sponsor member of VITA, an international non-profit organization that has championed open system architectures since 1982.

Using common standards ultimately saves money and time, both of which are key components from the Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative, Peddicord said. The challenge, however, is that in order to define common standards, a clear picture of which interfaces are desired must be established across the board.

“We’ve never been able to tell industry partners exactly what we want because we never understood standards well enough to steer their efforts toward our benefit,” Peddicord said. “Now we have built up enough expertise to actively contribute to standards.” Peddicord presented on overview of MORA to the audience at Embedded Tech Trends 2015 (www.embeddedtechtrends.com). Figure 1 illustrates how MORA extends the VICTORY architecture.

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Figure 1: VICTORY/MORA relationship

MORA payoffs include hardware reuse and pooling, rapid third-party technology insertion, reduced dependence on proprietary hardware and software, and the ability to improve compatibility and/or interoperability. The real catch, however, has been ensuring that industry would build to MORA standards, said Peddicord.

“Without industry support, it won’t work. If government programs ask for it, then industry will support, but government is cautious to put out requirements for a standard not supported by industry,” he said.

To define these standards, CERDEC has worked closely with industry through VITA, conferences, and third-party vendors, as well as collaborated with companies that build according to MORA specifications. CERDEC is being assisted by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and other strategic research partners that are familiar with OpenVPX.

“It’s important to have a third party build against the spec because it always makes sense to the person who wrote it, so it’s important that someone who didn’t write it builds it to ensure it’s working,” Peddicord said.

“We believe that MORA provides a path for using true industry open standards to develop rugged COTS solutions to meet [defense] critical requirements,” said Lynn Bamford, senior VP and general manager of the Defense Solutions Division at Curtiss-Wright. Several other technology suppliers stand ready to develop products in support of MORA.

The future of RF distribution

The ANSI/VITA 49 VITA Radio Transport (VRT) standard defines a transport-layer protocol designed to promote interoperability between RF receivers and equipment in a wide range of applications. The VRT protocol provides a variety of formatting options allowing the transport layer to be optimized for each application. CERDEC is also evaluating VITA 49 as an alternate form of RF distribution within MORA.

VRT potentially eliminates the need for an RF distribution device and RF cables, minimizes power loss due to coaxial cables, improves resistance to EMI, and simplifies cabling in chassis and platforms, all key advantages to MORA. Work continues on investigating the performance of VITA 49.

Toward the end of 2016, CERDEC is planning a vehicle demonstration of hardware/software convergence using MORA. Specifications for MORA can only be released to U.S. government agencies and their contractors. The current version of the specification is available through the VICTORY portal at http://victory-standards.org.