Skip to main content

The modular future of military aircraft

Over the past two decades, dramatic advancements in connectivity and computing have led to parallel innovations in the technologies underpinning military aircraft. This rapid development enables military aircrews to fly more safely and effectively, facilitating seamless communication between aircraft and providing pilots with a previously unattainable level of situational awareness. But while these innovations deliver substantial performance improvements, the increasing complexity and technological requirements of these solutions come at substantial cost to both military planners and avionics manufacturers. Each new generation of technology is harder to upgrade, and more resource-intensive with regard to bandwidth and connectivity.

The traditional approach to manufacturing and maintenance for military aircraft involved a single vendor providing a comprehensive, platform-specific solution. This approach results in limited lifecycle competition and duplicates vendor developments for cross platform capability enhancements. Additionally, as manufacturers develop individual proprietary solutions and unique areas of expertise on a platform-by-platform basis, it creates a lock that slows warfighter access to the most capable solutions. For warfighters, this means capability enhancements take more time to deliver. In a constant battle for combat supremacy, military leaders cannot compromise on the timely incorporation of the latest and most effective technologies across platforms. For the next generation of military technologies to be able to keep pace with the speed of advancement, open architectures and modular solutions are a must.

Recognizing the long-term challenges and costs associated with maintaining their existing aircraft, the United States Army launched an initiative in 2009 known as Future Vertical Lift (FVL). A key aspect of FVL is the adoption of a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA), a common approach with standards for how contractors and manufacturers should develop new solutions for the U.S. military. In the long term, MOSA will allow the U.S. military to incorporate new, proprietary innovations while maintaining other technologies that still offer peak performance.

The shift to open architectures

Open architectures, implementing MOSA, provide a new level of flexibility for military planners, while simultaneously reducing the time, effort and expense associated with platform lifecycle costs. An emphasis on modularity increases agility while ensuring that military units are always able to take advantage of the cutting edge in aerial technology. This approach represents a significant shift in mindset, and it requires trusted partners and contractors to deliver reliable solutions while potentially accepting a more limited scope of opportunity. 

Having developed avionics, defense and combat solutions for military units throughout the world, including the United States Army, Thales has substantial experience in building integrated modular avionics as well as solutions for open architectures. Thales’ FlytX Tactile Large Display Flight Deck is designed for high reliability and design assurance to fit the cockpit of any civil or military airplane or rotorcraft. The solution’s tactile screen was built in consultation with pilots, resulting in an ergonomic, intuitive and task-oriented user experience. FlytX’s innovative timeline display connects flight phases directly to the tasks which need to be completed, helping pilots to focus on their mission while increasing operational flexibility. 

Thales’s Flight Management Systems (FMS) provide pilots with a broad range of advanced capabilities, for both civil and military applications, that improve situational awareness and decision-making while remaining open to the rapid implementation of new standards. Thales’s FMS offers selectable optimized descent approaches; multiple options for precision approaches including Instrument Landing System (ILS), GNSS (LPV) Landing System, and Microwave Landing System; and several additional non-precision approaches.  The Thales FMS is certified to provide full compliance with the latest stringent GATM requirements for operation in all civil airspaces worldwide. 

Modular solutions for modern combat

Today’s combat environment is increasingly complex and dynamic. The Thales Tactical Mission Management System (TMSS) supports military aviators operating in multi-domain environments, bringing together an advanced modular portfolio of software and hardware to ensure decision dominance in competitive combat situations. The TMSS provides tactical navigation, situational awareness, decision aiding capabilities and mission management within its Mission Executive Software. TMSS’ suite of high-performance software adheres MOSA principles, allowing it to integrate seamlessly with a broad range of avionics systems, sensors, and communications systems. Thales’ TMSS provides operational crews with advanced decision-making capabilities and increased situational awareness while simultaneously reducing cockpit workload, helping pilots and aircrews to compete more safely and effectively in multi-domain combat environments.

Having completed successful projects with military partners in the United States and throughout the world, Thales has demonstrated its ability to work together with partner manufacturers to provide a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts. For more information about modular avionics solutions from Thales, visit the Thales solutions page for air forces.