Untried management structure to bridge critical gap between Boeing X-45 and Northrop Grumman X-47 design teams

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has unveiled a unique, "consortium-like" management structure to lead the design of a core element of the Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) programme.

Following a 1 July contract decision, a contractor to be designated the "integrator/broker" will attempt to bridge a critical gap between the two J-UCAS platforms - Boeing's X-45 and Northrop Grumman's X-47. The bridge is called the Common Operating System (COS), and involves the architecture, algorithms and software used to manage systems that include weapons, sensors, guidance and communications. DARPA's goal is to keep the underlying technical designs as common as possible to reduce costs.

"I think we have the technologies to make this work. The key is how well? And the key to how well is the [COS]," says J-UCAS programme manager Michael Francis.

Yet, DARPA has chosen to experiment with an untested management structure for the COS effort. To start, the COS contractor is expected to function strictly as an "honest broker" between Boeing and Northrop Grumman, opening a process to allow the platform designers to collaborate on the COS architecture. If co-operation breaks down on certain projects, however, the "honest broker" will be converted into an integrator that is responsible for developing, testing and delivering the end product.

Ultimately, decisions on design changes or common standards would be made by a consortium-like body that includes the integrator/broker, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and the J-UCAS programme office. DARPA has not set final guidelines on procedures, leaving that to be decided by the selected integrator/broker.

Details of the flexible arrangement, which emerged during a DARPA industry day on 20 April, provoked a backlash from roughly 200 attendees. Several participants questioned whether the integrator/broker would have enough authority to impose common systems on the platform designers, which could be reluctant to adopt new architecture models after working on separate designs.

COS programme manager Marc Pitarys says both contractors support the integrator/broker concept and are expected to modify their existing development agreements.

J-UCAS represents a $4 billion effort over the next five years to develop the X-45C and X-47B and perform an operational assessment. The US Air Force and US Navy are expected to use the data to make a judgment on launching production.




Source: Flight International