Building Software-Enabled Armored Vehicles

Transforming The Land Battlespace

Military armored vehicles have come a long way since their early days. The first tank designs appeared in World War I and were designed to cross trenches, which required very long, large vehicles. You could include good armor, good speed or good firepower but not all three, which led to a proliferation of specialized tank types. During World War II these specialized tanks proved less than useful, and improved technology enabled the widespread adoption of all-purpose tanks.

Today technology such as faster processors, artificial intelligence, compact and energy-efficient computers, and scalable cloud computing enable autonomous and semiautonomous vehicle operation. Currently, the U.S. Army is testing its first autonomous vehicle: The Autonomous Multi-Domain Launcher (AML) modifies a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with hardware and software that lets it be controlled remotely and driven autonomously.

The development of new types of vehicles, especially with a step as transformative as software-enabled vehicles, requires new methodologies. Modern design methodologies such as DevSecOps have automated the consistent development of secure, highly maintainable systems in a cloud-native environment. Simulation software lets suppliers design and test components without the need for expensive hardware.

The term software-enabled armored vehicle encompasses a range of vehicle types, from infantry combat vehicles to armored personnel carriers, to battle tanks and mobile command stations. Vehicles may have weapons or not, be tracked or wheeled, and be manned or optionally manned. Software-enabled means that functions, and in some cases even hardware, can be manipulated, enhanced, created and managed by mechanisms based on software control. Such a vehicle’s capabilities can evolve more easily and affordably over its expected lifetime.

The main differences among light, medium and heavy armored vehicles are the type and amount of armor and the extent of engineering devoted to resisting damage from hostile fire. Otherwise, they all tend to be equipped with essentially similar systems. In a software-enabled vehicle, these systems can be enhanced dynamically to provide new capabilities relevant to the current mission, even as that mission is being executed. This could be through local communications or through a tactical cloud platform.

Wind River’s deep experience with large-scale systems for space exploration, avionics, industrial automation, electrical grid substations and hybrid cloud deployments provides an ideal foundation for building next-generation software-enabled armored vehicles.

Open Standards

Open standards–based architectures simplify platform design by minimizing the need for integration of components, making upgrades easier during the lifetime of a vehicle that may extend 10 to 40 years. This can eliminate or minimize key problems:

  • Crew control and displays can be more uniform, streamlining training and maintenance and making important vehicle functions more accessible to the crew.
  • Power conflicts between platform components can be minimized.
  • Data generated by the system can be analyzed more effectively.

NATO’s Generic Vehicle Architecture (NGVA), for instance, aims to provide interoperability across NATO vehicle fleets. In the U.S., two open standards—Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) and Vehicular Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability (VICTORY)—which provide guidance for weapons system development and procurement are becoming more closely aligned. The U.S. is also pushing for sensor standardization via Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA).

Autonomous Military Vehicles

Autonomous, semiautonomous and optionally manned armored vehicles each have a role in digitally transformed defense. Not far in the future, military armored vehicles may perform missions such as reconnaissance, supply runs and terrain surveys without a crew on board, eliminating risks to personnel. In addition, the increased autonomy of an optionally manned vehicle can reduce the number of crew members necessary to complete a mission.

The recent partnership between Wind River and Aptiv, which supplies electronic parts and safety technology to the auto industry, brings together a wealth of experience around autonomous vehicles that dovetails with Wind River’s experience in software-enabled architectures.

Rethinking Vehicle Design With DevSecOps

The principles of DevSecOps dictate that designers focus on security at the very earliest stages of design to mitigate vulnerabilities and develop systems at each level that protect against hacking threats. Wind River has adopted these underlying principles into toolsets for use by developers. This cloud-native toolset integrates new software releases into the main body of code systematically and with rigorous automated testing available at each stage of the pipeline.

Once vehicles are active in the field, the DevSecOps environment is invaluable in managing security patches and software updates to various mission systems. The status of each vehicle in the fleet can be monitored to ensure security is up to date and systems are functioning well.

While aircraft equipped with an internal cloud server can use containerized applications for updates and maintenance, this same software architecture can also be used in military ground vehicles. Technology developed by Wind River and Aptiv could make it possible to have a central management computer in a mobile cloud configuration that can update, on the fly, other computers on different vehicles.

Optimizing Flexibility

One of the attractions of software-enabled systems is that this approach makes it possible to adapt a system or machine to multiple uses. A single configuration of an armored vehicle can be tailored to one mission, then reconfigured as needed to adapt to changing field conditions, new requirements, shifts in mission priorities or unexpected situations. Rapid field updates are possible through a traditional cloud network or through a mobile tactical cloud in environments where communication is sporadic or nonexistent.

Speeding Up Development And Maximizing Security With Simulation

Wind River Simics allows teams to build and test simulations of systems within a cloud-native environment. By automating the processes for integrating and deploying components in a simulation of the final system, much of the difficult development work can be done without hardware prototypes. Geographically separated developers can work together on a final design, validate components for interoperability, confirm software compatibility, perform regression testing and verify that requirements have been met. This can shorten development cycles by eliminating hardware supply chain delays and detecting design problems before investing in hardware prototypes.

Simics also lets teams put components and systems through multiple forms of security testing. In a simulated environment combined with the latest container technology, the discovery of vulnerabilities—whether new malware, a newly uncovered cybersecurity threat, or weaknesses in applications or operating systems—can lead to quick action. Patches can be made using containers, often without taking the deployed system out of service.

Electric And Hybrid-Electric Vehicles

The U.S. Defense Department, in collaboration with the auto industry, plans to introduce electric and hybrid-electric drive technologies into large segments of the military. Fueling electric vehicles in the field, of course, presents a significant hurdle.

Armored vehicles tend to be very heavy and often need to travel fast, so their engine requirements are quite demanding, even when considering hybrid-electric drives, whose engines can supply much of the needed charging. Yet military planners are beginning to prototype. The potential exists for vehicles that not only have a high-efficiency energy source but also operate with minimal noise and low heat signatures.

Rolling Fast Into The Future

Autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles are within reach, and Wind River is partnering with companies that are focused on realizing this promise. Edge computing and cloud networking have been advancing quickly. The solid benefits and versatility of software-enabled machine technology will likely hasten its adoption by the military as increasing numbers of next-generation armored vehicles based on this technology are built worldwide.


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