While big data has been a big issue in the civil sector for some time, it has only come to the surface recently in naval defence. It is already clear, however, that new fighting ships, whether surface combatants or submarines, will soon have to make the step jump to IT architectures designed from the outset to handle more connections and radically larger data flows. The aim is to group together all relevant data and all standalone IT systems — beginning with a ship’s combat and platform management systems (CMS + PMS) and their many subsystems — in fewer ‘boxes’. These boxes will then be duplicated for redundancy and located for resilience.
This is a big challenge if IT architects are to maintain control over the number of IT systems, to say nothing of their size and location, at a time when combat capabilities are expanding exponentially. More sensors requiring more IT power, new weapons, sophisticated drone systems, and spiralling data exchanges for multi-platform operations in joint and allied contexts are all contributing factors.
Regrouped IT systems will make more efficient use of space and resources and, in turn, facilitate integration and maintenance as well as platform and system upgrades throughout the vessel’s lifecycle. IT boxes to be installed in dedicated spaces that are physically secure and protected against cyber attacks will be easier to test ashore prior to their integration with a new-build ship, and easier to maintain and update thereafter. Obsolescence management will be greatly simplified by using virtual systems to apply upgrades or make changes in the background while simultaneously running the original applications and without compromising the ship’s operational capabilities. Systems will not have to be shut down to carry out these tasks and crews will be able to keep working. This will result in a step change in system availability for operations.
In its role as systems integrator, DCNS launched the Access project to precisely these ends. The group is working closely with equipment manufacturers to standardise systems and interfaces so that systems can be grouped together then reconfigured as shared boxes. This approach also calls for the development of standard IT racks and processing units. The ops room of a next-generation warship may thus contain little more than consoles and displays.
Given that DCNS aims to offer client navies operational solutions along these lines from the early 2020s, one of the first steps is to group together the CMS and the PMS (also known at DCNS as a ship management system, or SMS). The plan is then to add other mission-critical systems like communications once the challenges of network security have been overcome.
To develop next-generation shipboard IT architectures, teams at DCNS’s new facility at Ollioules in southern France are working in an R&D lab equipped with state-of-the-art simulators. Various solutions are being tested on simulated frigate and submarine combat systems (i.e. CMS plus weapon systems) to which PMSs will soon be added.