US Army’s Mission System Architecture Demonstration (MSAD): The Architect’s Perspective

Even with a strong vision and a robust architecture in place, no architecture plan survives first contact… nor should it.

This single sentence sums up perhaps one of the most important lessons learned from the Architect’s perspective on the U.S. Army’s multi-year Future Vertical Lift (FVL) Mission System Architecture Demonstration (MSAD) effort.

Although the Army’s next-generation FVL Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) initiative may not be as eye-catching as a sleek new aircraft silhouette, it could arguably be one of the most important. MOSA will be required for all FVL aircraft, both manned (e.g., FARA scout and FLRAA transport) and unmanned (e.g., FTUAS and AUAS drones). The framework will enable the Army to upgrade its future air systems quickly, combining the most advanced offerings from various vendors, as technologies, threats, and missions change.

This past year, the Army conducted a series of demonstrations under the FVL MSAD effort to develop, pilot, evaluate and mature MOSA, the Comprehensive Architecture Strategy (CAS), and Architecture Centric Virtual Integration Process (ACVIP) through coordination with several industry contractors. Three Mission System Integrator (MSI) teams were involved in the demonstration: Collins, Raytheon-GE, and Boeing-Sikorsky. The Product Developer role was filled by Honeywell, and Skayl was selected as the Architect.

Skayl was instrumental in deriving the projects Objective Architecture. “An objective architecture allows the government to define an architectural approach based on a reference architecture but sufficiently tailored to define an interoperable family of systems,” said Gordon Hunt, company co-founder and principal systems architect.

Skayl was tasked by the Army, to deliver feedback from the Architect’s standpoint, to consolidate lessons learned, and to gather best practices from all MSAD participants. The multi-year demonstration effort culminated in documented lessons which will ultimately help ensure the success of the FVL family of aircraft. Some of the key lessons from the initiative included the following:

  • Communication: Communicate the vision early, often and plainly. Occasionally, the vision can get lost in the day-to-day technical aspects. Communicating the vision is even more important when the target is invisible and also hard to label “done” (as in the case of architecture).

  • System Architecture / System Design: Emphasize that the system architecture need not necessarily “match” the system design. It is easy to over-constrain the architecture by pushing design-specific decisions into the architecture, making it less reusable for other systems. The system design is constrained by the project’s specific requirements, but the Systems Architecture should be enduring.

  • Data Models: Data Models are commonly developed for one-time use in order to meet a requirement or achieve conformance. Data models built for adaptability and scalability provide value far beyond their immediate use. Semantically enabled models provide greater Return on Investment and usability into the future.

  • Education & Training: Open architectures represent a new way of thinking for many valued and experienced technical experts. Training in these new ways is paramount to buy-in and successful implementation. Education may include training in relevant conformance standards, best practices in data modeling, ACVIP and tooling.

Perhaps the greatest lesson pertains to the importance of the big picture. Despite the pressure of deadlines and the hustle of day-to-day tasking, it is critical to ensure that all roads lead to a successful implementation of the business objectives, mission goals, and requirements. Opening ourselves and our programs to discovery will inevitably lead to change in the quest to meet those goals. Accepting and embracing that change is, in large part, what the future of architecture is all about - adaptability.