SOSA: the new paradigm for military procurement

12 January 2022



As the US military ramps up its efforts to bring new technologies to the battlefield faster and more cost-efficiently, the Open Group Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) is taking shape. Its implications for the military and for its component manufacturers are enormous, so we spoke to Matt Van Steen and Errol Reid of Aegis Power Systems about its effects on the design and procurement processes.


The acceptance and integration of standards developed by SOSA will be a defining moment in the US military’s evolution to combat new and emerging threats and to update its warfighting equipment faster than ever before. By establishing a common framework for transitioning sensor systems to an open systems architecture, based on key interfaces and open standards established by industry-government consensus, it represents a dramatic shift from the monolithic procurement process that has prevailed for decades.

Driven by the SOSA consortia members, it will allow governments and industry to collaboratively develop open standards and best practices to enable, enhance, and accelerate the deployment of affordable, capable, interoperable sensor systems. Through a forum in which government, industry and academia work collaboratively to develop open standards to accelerate the deployment of affordable, capable, interoperable sensor systems, SOSA is building a new model in which component manufacturers will design to clearly defined parameters, bringing in a new era of competition.

“SOSA brings multiple layers of benefit, and the end result for military systems is to get new technology out into the field as soon as possible,” says Matt Van Steen, senior design engineer at Aegis Power Systems. “Our adversaries are enabling commercial products with armaments, so they are effectively using technology that is ahead of us due to the speed of acquisition. The US military has not historically moved quickly, so we need to improve methods to keep up.”

In the current paradigm, procurement is slow, while system design is time-consuming and expensive, and can result in highly-customised components that make the military highly-dependent on a single supplier for critical systems.

Aegis, which has a range of VPX power supply systems that can provide variable output voltages, per VITA 62 specs, providing high efficiency, low weight, and high output power for a variety of embedded systems and applications by employing the VPX backplane, has also developed systems in alignment with the evolving SOSA Technical Standard. It embraces the shift from the old procurement paradigm, which hampered both manufacturers and end users.

“Cost goes up and there is no guarantee of interoperability with other systems,” says Van Steen. “A more standardised system benefits everyone. We know what everything will be from the form factor to the control signals, so we can focus on optimising the power and performance of our components.”

Even down to the chassis level, where complex sensor systems operate, equipment suppliers know up front what is required in terms of power supply and component design and are, therefore, able to innovate within those parameters.

“You also have to consider that every branch of the military has its own support branch with its own depots,” notes Van Steen. “Using increasingly interoperable components could make it possible to rationalise storage requirements, as well as making it easier to upgrade equipment faster. SOSA limits the options, but not too much. Its limited scope makes decisions easier for everyone.”

Compete on level terrain

Efficiency is just one important element in what SOSA will deliver. Beyond that, the appeal of interoperable, modular components is that – despite shorter integration times and shorter design times – they can be trusted to work. The result is the faster deployment of new systems without the need to rely on heavily customised components from a small number of suppliers, with a guarantee that they will meet clearly defined parameters.

“There is an advantage of commonality from a cost perspective,” says Errol Reid, sales manager at Aegis. “Whether cards require 115Vac, 28vdc  or 270vdc input, there is a lot of commonality and, as production volumes increase, there is a decrease in costs across the product line. Also, from the lead time perspective, it is easier to keep common components in stock.”

The high degree of commonality also means that suppliers will have to compete on cost. No longer can they drive dependency on a particular supply relationship by increasing the level of customisation. Instead, they have to compete on a level playing field, which fuels the process of innovation.

“Customers don’t want to pay for non-recurring engineering,” says Reid. “We are not designing a power supply for one unique use case. The same card could be used for aircraft, naval vessels, ground vehicles and a host of other applications. It can be disabling to be locked into a single vendor, from the perspective of both cost and risk. So, SOSA is future-proofing the military’s requirements.”

The cost advantages of a well-defined, common system for component design are not only felt at procurement stage, but also ripple outwards down the entire lifespan of the equipment. In particular, preventative maintenance becomes a key factor in both reducing repair costs and minimising downtime for any military vehicle system.

“We have incorporated a number of smart features into our power systems, which in the past used to just sit and do their job,” says Van Steen. “They had typically only provided two signals – ‘good’ or ‘failure’ – so were able to provide only limited information to the user. Now, input and output voltage current can be monitored, along with temperature and a range of other factors.”

“The power supply provides instant answers to the chassis manager system, which talks to all of the equipment in a vehicle,” he adds. “It constantly monitors what is going on, so if it sees a warning signal it can adjust how a component is being used.”

For instance, if the chassis manager sees the temperature of the power supply rising faster than expected, it could shut down non-critical functions to prevent it from shutting off, or it could increase the fan speed to cool it down. It can also see whether a component is drawing more power than usual and adjust the vehicle’s operation to boost reliability before a sudden failure occurs.

“The result is more uptime and, when a repair is required, it happens quicker because the engineer already knows what the problem is,” Van Steen continues.

“The I2C functionality allows users to monitor sensor data, temperature, voltage, current, obtain device ID, and retrieve self-test results per VITA 46.11 and SOSA Technical Standards,” adds Reid. “Also, all of the features are redundant. The dual IPMB bus that we use improves reliability because it eliminates a single point of failure. If a communication parameter is out on one bus, then the system can switch to the other.”

Forge the future

Aegis has steadily supported new product development to align with the evolving SOSA standards, providing the ruggedness, reliability and high performance for which the company is well known.

An example is the VPX1PH3UC310-SA power supply unit, which features built-in EMI filtering, I2C Sensor monitoring, IPMC Redundancy and .99 Power Factor Correction capability. As a rugged, slide-in, single phase AC/DC supply, it provides 85-264Vac input to dual output with 310 watts of power, and is ready for use in modular open systems architectures for sensor management.

The VPX2703UC500-SA is a DC-DC power supply designed in alignment to the SOSA Technical Standard, and it provides 270Vdc Input per MIL-STD-704F, 500W power output, high efficiency (92%) and has the ability to operate in temperatures ranging from -40°C to +85°C.

Aegis is designing power supply units to meet stringent military standards, including the MIL-STD-810F vibration and shock standard, and the MIL-STD-461G standard on electromagnetic interference. These will remain key parameters, even after the SOSA framework is finalised.

For now, all components are designed to be ‘aligned’ with the SOSA Technical Standard, as the final parameters of the framework are still evolving. At some point, however, conformance will be required, allowing end-users to quickly identify hardware components for simplistic interoperability and design..

Aegis, as a member of the SOSA consortium, is participating in the development of that technical standard. Currently, that involves defining a verification matrix to determine the parameters of conformance.

“It is about setting up an audit to test the claims that suppliers make about their components compliance to the standard,” explains Van Steen. “The conformance standards are yet to be released, but our involvement in the consortium means we can be sure of how they are developing.”

As government, industry and academia work together to define the US military’s pathway into an interoperable, streamlined and innovative future for battlefield systems, it is companies like Aegis that will play a key role in defining the effectiveness of one the world’s elite fighting forces.

To access the Aegis white paper of ‘Enabling Hardware for Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA): Focus on Power Supplies’, please click here.



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