The European Union (EU) is facing an unprecedented paradigm change regarding Defence Capabilities and Technology Research to be produced in collaboration between a variate set of Ministries of Defence (MoD), industries and universities. All these actors now work along with EU institutions which have the role to steer, fund, implement, monitor and support EU Member States in the Research and Capability fields. Because of this new context, numerous initiatives like the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) or the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) are being launched. The most prominent one is the continuation of the EU Defence Fund for 2021-2027, with a proposed total amount of €13 billion from the EU budget apart from the national contributions, covering the Research and Capability windows.1

These new initiatives are going to impact all the European Defence Capability and Technology Research areas including, by and large, the community addressed by the microwave industry. This article will highlight the challenges related to collaborative Research and Development (R&D), describe the existing frameworks and the lack of a common Overarching Technical Framework (OTF) under which an efficient and effective cooperation can occur.

To solve many of the issues connected to R&D cooperation for complex systems, the use of Interoperable Modular and Scalable Architectures (IMOSA) is proposed. IMOSA requires the establishment of Cooperation Frameworks covering Systems Engineering and Architectural views embracing Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) methodologies to decrease risks in design, development, validation and verification, avoiding in summary the Tower of Babel effect. The project Electro Optic and RF (EORF) sensors will be used to illustrate the IMOSA concept and related requirements.

EU Investment in Defence Capabilities and Technology Research Cooperation

One of the most prevalent challenges that cooperative projects face at international level is maintaining reliable and accurate communication between different parties. That communication issue can affect very complex systems projects formed by disparate teams from different countries and cultures, implying a high risk of failure. 

A good metaphor to refer to this challenge is the Tower of Babel myth. In Genesis 11:1-9 of the Bible, it is explained how God scattered people from Babylonia over all the earth by confusing their language. In order to diminish the Tower of Babel effect, it is important to adopt and use common frameworks. MBSE can significantly de-risk cooperation projects. To establish it, a common Systems Engineering and Architectural Framework (SE/AF) is required, including technology and capability taxonomies together with agreed ontologies.

Some of the challenges faced by international cooperation are:

a) Exploitation: The bridge from research results to exploitation required to increase the impact of the investment made in Research Programmes is one of the main issues to solve. The need to link the end-users to the projects for further uptake is not new. Even if operational users can be consulted and involved in the process, several points remain open as procurement is rarely linked to research projects. This is the well-known “Valley of Death”2 issue occurring to the research results which cannot follow the path to exploitation.

b) Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): IPR sharing rules of Research Programmes sometimes preclude achieving cooperative results close to the exploitation path.3 Involved companies or entities are sceptical to share their core IPR requested to develop complex systems within consortia. This is needed to allow working together and to facilitate the integration of the different components of the System. Consequently, meaningful cooperation is preferred not to be faced under these kind of schemes.

c) Complexity: With regard to the System’s needs, the ever-increasing complexity of battlefield scenarios results in requirements for disparate interoperable systems from different manufactures to be integrated into coalition operations where modifications and updates have to be quickly implemented, with verification and acceptance tests being planned as part of a fast V-cycle. In such a complex development environment, information degradation is likely to happen as it circulates between very different partner companies used in different procedures, cultures, languages, expertise, insufficient requirements and results understanding, rounding errors, etc.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Traditional systems exemplification.

d) Status Quo: Some characteristics of the currently used system architectures are (see Figure 1):

  • Duration from months to years of the certification of new integrated capabilities.
  • High vulnerability to cyber threats because of too slow implementation of updates. 
  • Long time to update and test causing systems rigidity.
  • High cost of upgrade due to increasing licensing fees provoking sustainment challenges.
  • Software duplication with more than 80 percent communality estimation. 
  • Hardware duplication like redundancy of servers and clients. 

The IMOSA Concept

The concept of IMOSA is proposed to solve the issues mentioned above being based on the following aspects:

a) Modularity defines the way to design a system based on elements named Building Blocks (BB) which are described by their functionality and interfaces with other BB, the system as a whole and with other systems as well. The great advantage in research programmes is the possibility to isolate the work on BBs that can be easily integrated later if compliant with the specifications.

b) Scalability implies that different amounts of the same hardware or software items—BBs—are used to create systems with increased performance or additional capabilities. Both architecture and BBs should have the scalability character from their definition and design. The character of scalability would suit very well to a research programme as the system can be validated at a reduced size and later escalated for an operational system. The degree of granularity of BB is a fundamental issue in the design.

c) Interoperability is ensured through the definition of these architectures under a defined SE/AF considering the Life Cycle of the Systems and a defined verification and validation scheme. The description of the different architectural views needed by the several actors and stakeholders in the process can support in a much better way the understanding and collaboration of all communities.

The advantages of using IMOSA in a Cooperative Research Programme can be summarized in the following:

  • It allows for collaboration projects facilitating the development of complex systems while protecting the IPR of the partners.
  • It could be a solution to ensure participation of smaller parties without a strong Defence Technological and Industrial base. 
  • It would create a level playing field for all suppliers and partners independent of their size and influence.
  • The prime contractors from different countries could benefit from the investment in developing IMOSA and then have the possibility to national implementations integrating specific BBs when demanded by a certain procurement programme.
  • It allows for more cost-effective procurement based on a truly competitive landscape in possible follow-on projects.
  • Through-life maintenance and upgrades can be open to competition as the future integration can be realized without any constraints.
  • Systems can be redesigned and upgraded in a dynamic way, keeping up with the commercial world and the innovation enabled by new technologies.

The challenges to introduce IMOSA are mainly:

  • The architecture has to be robust and sound as there is a trade-off amongst characteristics given that flexibility, modularity and scalability could come at the cost of reduced performance.  
  • Lack of conviction from primes of the need to open participation to all partners including SMEs and international collaboration. Most of the benefits seem to be for governments rather than industry but, the need to work in cooperation and the possibility to integrate innovative and cost-effective solutions for BBs has to be considered by primes.
  • Ownership, definition and evaluation of the desired architectures should come from collaboration between industries and governments in an integrated approach.
  • Once the degree of openness and availability of the architectures is agreed, the rules and agreements embracing the use of IMOSA for subsequent contracts must be established.