USB For Strike WeaponsI like programs that make existing systems more effective. Sometimes relatively small improvements can have a significant impact on how armed forces get the job done. The Universal Armaments Interface (UAI) program, run by the Aging Aircraft Systems Squadron at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, has the goal of developing common software that will allow the Air Force to incorporate new precision-guided munitions onto its aircraft without requiring major changes to each aircraft's operational-flight-program (OFP) software. This capability is expected to enable the integration of weapons independent of the block-upgrade process, cutting as much as five years from a given integration effort.
"The Air Force recognized that most aircraft have an OFP cycle that runs three to five years, and you start the second cycle midway through the first one," said Jerry Duke, deputy director of Aging Aircraft Systems Squadron and manager of the UAI program. "If your weapon comes onboard in the middle of one of those cycles, you have to wait until the beginning of the next cycle before you even start integrating the weapon onto that platform."
Saving time is cited as the major justification for the UAI program. With a standardized interface between the platform and the store, any new weapon that supports this interface could be integrated onto that platform without having to make changes to its OFP. "The dollar savings will be there in the long run," Duke said. "In the short run, it might cost you a little extra to put UAI in. But then the next time you crack that OFP, you won't have to do any weapons integration."
In early December 2004, and the Aging Aircraft System Squadron contracted Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman to develop the UAI. Each OEM has its own individual contract to create the platform stores initial capabilities document (ICD), the mission planning ICD, and perform validation activities. The UAI is an extension of Mil Std 1760, which specifies the number and type of connections between aircraft platforms and a class of precision-guided weapons that includes Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the Paveway family, the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) (see "Hammers of the Gods"). What the UAI standard defines is a message set that 1760-class weapons and compatible platforms use and recognize. It is not much of a stretch to say that the UAI is functionally similar to the Universal Serial Bus (USB) architecture used in the consumer electronics industry in that it enables compatible hardware to be connected and operated without any additional hardware or software changes.
The UAI effort has been proceeding at a brisk pace. A baseline ICD was released on June 30, 2005, for the F-15 System Program Office at Warner Robbins AFB to use for planning purposes. The F-15 Eagle is to be the threshold platform for UAI. August 31 was the deadline for quality-assurance checklists from the OEMs. These checklists are being issued to all appropriate program offices for platforms and stores so that each can certify that the UAI can be used. A final design review for the UAI ocurred on in late September at Wright Patterson. If all goes well, the final UAI specification will be released by the end of December.
Duke said that while the UAI standard currently only addresses 1760-class precision-guided munitions, in the future, his program office will look at expanding it to include air-to-air missiles, training pods, sensors, and other pods and stores. Duke said that he was also looking at getting release authority to give the UAI to some Foreign Military Sale (FMS) partners. Thus, the non-proprietary UAI standard might conceivably be made available to non-US manufacturers of strike weapons and operators of US-source aircraft. This would enable vendors to develop UAI-compatible weapons and air forces to incorporate UAI into their platforms' OFPs.
The US Navy is currently performing a baseline cost analysis to see what the benefit of the UAI is for the F/A-18s in particular. The UAI program office is in talks with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The likelihood that the UAI or some derivative of it will be adopted across the services and even internationally seems quite good.