WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army plans to field its “cloud in the sky” for the current aviation fleet by the end of fiscal 2024, according to the service’s Program Executive Office Aviation.
Other transaction authority contracts through the Army Contracting Command’s New Jersey center were awarded to three vendors in July, and they will hit the ground running to conduct analysis for an Aviation Mission Common Server, or AMCS, Army spokesman David Hylton said in a statement sent to Defense News on Aug. 24.
Those vendors are Elbit Systems of America, Mercury Systems, and Physical Optics Corp. The OTA contracts totaled roughly $3.3 million. An OTA is a contracting mechanism used for rapidly prototyping.
Defense News first reported the Army’s plans to develop and field AMCS last year.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Todd, then-program executive officer for Army aviation, told Defense News that since the current fleet will most definitely fly alongside future aircraft as they are fielded, a common server on board every aircraft will be important to store, process and then quickly transport data.
The Army aims to field a future attack reconnaissance aircraft and a future long-range assault aircraft by 2030.
The server will be a stack of storage, data processing and transport capability that is “very much a flying cloud,” Todd said. The AMCS “will reside inside every aircraft. It has to reside in every aircraft because there has to be onboard processing and storage power,” he added, noting that it will be the engine that drives the associated user interface and apps as well as provide connectivity to the network.
The Army plans to take about 13 months to conduct analysis and move through the design phase. Once the service is through the design phase, it will conduct a demonstration and qualification of the capability delivered over roughly nine months, Hylton said.
The three vendors had contract kickoff meetings at the end of July, according to Hylton.
The contracts cover only the analysis phase of the effort. The next stage will cover a preliminary design followed by a critical design stage. A demonstration will be held as the fourth stage of the plan. In the final stage, the Army will conduct qualification testing.
At the end of the final stage, the Army will receive production-representative AMCS prototype hardware line-replaceable units, components and software, Hylton said.
“The government reserves the right to perform a downselect at the end of each stage,” he said, but the Army was not clear if only one vendor would make it all the way to the end or if multiple vendors could end up supplying production-ready prototypes.
The user interface will be built upon technology developed by Northrop Grumman for the Victor-model Black Hawk, Todd said last year. The “V” model is an L-model UH-60 with a digital, modern cockpit like the “M” model, the latest Black Hawk variant, but not with a M model’s price tag.
Additionally, the interface in a V model can take on new capability through apps, like a smartphone. The Army is integrating the same user interface into the M-model Black Hawks, Todd said at the time.
The effort to build the server is part of a larger project to ensure the current fleet is ready to fight in multidomain operations. The Army wants to obtain multidomain dominance by 2035.
“We took a look at Army Futures Command’s guidance on exactly what those combat aviation brigades would have in them and what would be enduring. For example, the Apache would be there indefinitely,” Todd said. “We also found that the requirements for data, the transport of and use of was exponential. So ultimately it’s a problem that exists for the entire fleet, so we need to get after, at a minimum, making the enduring fleet compatible with future vertical lift, if not more capable.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.