Currently, the average U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters is 23 years old with on-board systems that operate independently of one another. The U.S. Army is looking to upgrade its fleet of UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters, and Northrop Grumman wants to fulfill that need with an open architecture driven avionics design based on Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) standards.
Open architecture standards support software portability and interoperability across avionics systems. Northrop Grumman was a founding principal member of the FACE Consortium, a government-industry team working towards creating an open modular avionics environment for military platforms consisting of 39 different member organizations including Rockwell Collins, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems in addition to Northrop Grumman.
Northrop Grumman's solution for the upgrade offers complete systems integration, according to Ike Song, vice president of situational awareness systems at Northrop Grumman.
"Our solution will put all the avionics into a single mission computer," said Song. "It replaces multiple processor and multiple LRUs with a single Line Replacement Unit, so the centralized processor would enable software-only solution[s] rather than adding more hardware to enhance system capabilities."
The centralized processor allows the Army to use software-only solutions rather than hardware to advance the capability of the overall system.
According to Song, this centralized approach has also been used on the U.S. Marine Corps Bell UH-1Y and AH-1Z aircraft, with software that can be used on either aircraft and can automatically reconfigure itself based on the mission.
The open architecture approach to developing avionics systems will solve the "vendor lock" problem that often occurs with military platforms, Song said. In the past, companies have developed solutions that limit certain hardware or software integration based on the platform the solution is developed for.
"This open architecture approach minimizes or eliminates vendor lock and we actually embrace that business model," said Song. "We want to demand and mandate from our partners and third party hardware and software providers that we want to have software-only solutions, mainly because it minimizes the number of LRUs and also minimizes obsolescence issues in the future.
"I think that's the way we need to [move] forward in the defense environment so we can add capability quickly, efficiently and at a very low cost," Song added.
The Army is expected to make a decision on the new UH-60L modernized digital cockpit in early 2014.