MOSA/SOSA: a new dawn for military computing

12 June 2019

The history of the computing industry has been marked by the progressive adoption of industry standards. Back in the day, if you had an IBM mainframe, the time, cost and difficulty of migrating to another manufacturer’s offering was generally sufficiently prohibitive to make it a very rare occurrence. IBM were far from the only manufacturer able to ‘lock in’ users in this way.

And then: along came Unix, and things started to change – with (broadly) the same operating system capable of running on numerous hardware platforms. Probably even more significant, however, was the launch of the IBM PC in 1981. Not only would MS-DOS run on PCs from multiple manufacturers – but it used an architecture that created a new world of industry standard hardware. VME did very much the same thing for embedded computing.


Open architectures – with the freedom they deliver to users to cast off the shackles of vendor dependence; the opportunity to choose exactly the right hardware for the application; and the cost benefits of a more competitive market - have long been the holy grail of computing.

The notion of an open architecture approach within military systems is not a new subject - but the reality of this happening across various branches of the military has been slow to catch on. VICTORY (Vehicular Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability) was an attempt by the US Army to develop an open standard that would deliver superior interoperability. The FACE (Future Airborne Capability Environment) technical standard looked to define an open avionics environment for all military airborne platform types.

With the benefit of hindsight, these laudable initiatives were, perhaps, a little fragmented – addressing parts of the growing problem, but not taking an all-embracing view of the needs of all platforms in a military environment in which the Army, Air Force and Navy are becoming increasingly interdependent.

Turning point

January of this year proved to be a turning point. The three branches of the US military came together and formulated a memorandum that will have significant influence going forward. The memorandum essentially endorses a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) as a go-forward plan for future acquisitions such that there will be assurance that information can be communicated and shared across domains.

Falling within the MOSA umbrella is the Sensor Open Systems Architecture: SOSA. The SOSA Consortium – a member consortium of The Open Group (as was the FACE consortium) - endorses the planned tri-service memorandum and is fully committed to fulfilling its objective. SOSA is a collaborative effort with the goal of developing an open systems architecture that can be applied to radar, EO/IR, SIGINT, EW and communications applications. SOSA also includes CMOSS – the US Army’s C4ISR/EW Modular Open Suite of Standards. As such, products aligned with SOSA are also aligned with CMOSS.

By leveraging and adopting an open architecture model, the intent of SOSA is to drive reconfigurability, upgradability and reuse. Over time, this is expected to result in a significant cost savings and a means of mitigating technical obsolescence.

Major initiatives

There can be little doubt that MOSA/SOSA are major initiatives that will help define military embedded computing for years to come. FACE and VICTORY haven’t gone away: now, like CMOSS, they fall under the umbrella of MOSA.

That’s why the recent announcement by Abaco of the SBC3511, with its 40 GigE data plane, is significant: it is aligned with the SOSA 3U I/O-intensive SBC plug-in card profile. OpenVPX profiles aligned to SOSA, and thus to CMOSS, can use the same payload modules. Featuring the 9th generation i7 6-core Intel Xeon E-2276ME processor (‘Coffee Lake Refresh’) operating at 2.8GHz (with turbo mode up to 4.4GHz), the SBC3511is distinguished by its extensive provision for secure computing with a security hub based on the Xilinx Ultrascale+ FPGA.

However: the SBC3511 may not provide the straightforward upgrade path that our existing customers have become used to, as we look to minimize their lifetime cost of ownership. For them, we will shortly officially launch the SBC3211. Using the same embedded use case Intel processor and with the same security functionality, the SBC3211 is aligned with the pin-out standards of previous SBC32x boards – offering a seamless technology insertion path for programs not aligning to SOSA.

The computing industry has come a long way since the days of the IBM 360 and the DEC VAX. With the introduction of the MOSA/SOSA initiative – which Abaco is wholly committed to supporting - it has taken another substantial step forward.



Richard Kirk

Richard graduated from the University of Manchester in 1984 with a BSc degree in Physics, and followed that in 1998 with an MBA from the Open Business School. In the interim, he’d joined Plessey Optoelectronics, part of one of the UK’s most venerable technology companies. He joined Radstone, located in Towcester, UK—subsequently acquired by GE—in 1999, and now has worldwide responsibility within Abaco's business as Director, Core Computing.