Qioptiq logo LINCAD logo

MFoCS Win Cements Leonardo DRS as a World Leader in Rugged Computer and Display Systems By Julian Nettlefold

BATTLESPACE Editor, Julian Nettlefold met up with Bill Guyan, senior vice president and general manager of the Leonardo DRS Land Electronics business.

There is little doubt that most major corporations have defining moments in their history, which map the future of the company and its ability to capture key market sectors.

The 2002 acquisition of Paravant, albeit small in dollar terms in comparison with other DRS acquisitions, was key as it provided Leonardo DRS with a focused and agile engineering-led business that has grown to become a major provider of tactical computing, mission systems and networking solutions to the world’s militaries. The Editor was privileged to visit Paravant in 2001 at its Palm Bay, Florida facility, when it was a small to medium size enterprise making rugged computers. This business has grown into a world leader for the design, development and manufacture of rugged military computer and display systems and integrated mission systems for the world’s armed forces. The sheer numbers are impressive, as the facility has already produced over 300,000 computers for the U.S. Army and over 40,000 for the British Army. The company has also established strong positions with many other international customers including the Dutch Marines, Australia Land Forces, UAE GHQ and the Indonesian Army. The latest Mounted Family of Computer Systems II (MFoCS II) award last May signals the potential for another 10 years of high volume production, as the U.S. Army moves to “pure fleet” its more than 130,000 already fielded, and battle-proven systems.

On April 3rd 2019 Leonardo DRS received its first production MFoCS II delivery order for the next-generation of U.S. Army mission command computing systems. This modular, scalable system supports the Army’s new Network Modernization Strategy for ground combat vehicles, combat service support vehicles, and command posts.

The initial delivery order, worth $132.1m, was placed with the Leonardo DRS Land Electronics business unit by the Defense Information Technology Contracting Office of the Defense Information Systems Agency on behalf of U.S. Army Program Manager, Mission Command and US Army Program Executive Office – Command, Control and Communications – Tactical.  The original contract award for the program was awarded to Leonardo DRS on May 25, 2018. 

50 Year History of Leonardo DRS

It’s worth looking at the history of Leonardo DRS to understand the Company’s vision in creating a world leader in military computing technology in the face of fierce competition from already established prime contractors such as Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

DRS began operations in 1969 when engineers Leonard Newman and David Gross opened Diagnostic/Retrieval Systems. While they began only with a handful of Pentagon study contracts, the new firm quickly became a leader in passive submarine detection. Within a few years, the company was providing the U.S. Navy with the most advanced signal processing and display equipment of the time.

In 1997, the company changed its name to DRS Technologies, befitting its technology-rich portfolio and culture. In 2002, the company began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DRS. Battlefield or tactical computing was added to the core technologies after the acquisition of Paravant Computer Systems, Inc.

The rest, as they say, is history and on October 22nd 2008 Finmeccanica purchased all outstanding shares of DRS. The enterprise value of the transaction was US$5.2 billion, including the assumption of approximately US$1.6 billion in outstanding debt (including the convertible notes). DRS was then known as DRS Technologies, a Finmeccanica Company, with the retention of a proxy board in the U.S.A which enabled DRS to perform, and continue pursuit of lucrative sensitive and classified programs for the U.S. Government. In 2017, Finmeccanica changed its name to “Leonardo” for the famed Italian artist and engineer Leonardo Da Vinci. DRS Technologies changed its name as well, to Leonardo DRS, better reflecting the breadth of its still evolving heritage.

FBCB2 thru Bowman to MFoCS

 

 

 

 

 

Once Paravant merged into the DRS structure, the company embarked on a plan to establish DRS as the sole supplier for the U.S. Army’s Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) Program. Installed on M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks and M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, these blue force tracking systems supported U.S. Army and Marine Corps operations.  Supporting the Army’s overall battlefield visualization efforts, FBCB2 was developed as a digital battle command information system designed to provide commanders, leaders and soldiers, from brigade to individual soldier and across all the battlefield functional areas, with improved information for command and control and enhanced situational awareness. 

This was achieved in the face of strong competition from the likes of Raytheon and Northrop Grumman and in October 2004, DRS Technologies received $39.5 million in new orders to provide rugged Appliqué Computer Systems for the U.S. Army’s FBCB2 program. Then, DRS was competitively awarded a five-year U.S. Army indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) full-rate production contract to provide FBCB2 systems, which  exceeded  $100 million in value. 

The new orders were received from the U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Work for these orders, including the design and manufacture of rugged computer hard disk drives and processor, display, and keyboard units, were performed by the company’s DRS Tactical Systems unit in Palm Bay, Florida. Delivery of more than 4,000 Appliqué systems commenced in early 2005 and continued throughout the year. 

Incorporating the latest developments in digital information processing and networking, the FBCB2 system provided improved combat support, real-time command and control capabilities, enhanced interoperability and situational awareness throughout the force structure at the soldier, weapons and platform levels, assuring that U.S. armed forces keep pace with advanced technology developments of the 21st century. Interoperability with external command and control and sensor systems provided a seamless flow of battle command information. 

The system supported lower-echelon battle command tactical mission requirements, such as real-time situational awareness, target identification and graphical combat area displays. The situational awareness component collectively displayed the geographical location of all weapons, platforms, soldiers, command posts and other facilities and was used in conjunction with the Army’s Tactical Internet (TI), a seamless Internet connection, for ease in communication. The TI interfaced with the Army Tactical Command and Controls System (ATCCS), collected information from both the operation center and the individual units and then disseminated it through FBCB2 computer and display systems for improved situational awareness. 

UK Bowman Computers

The FBCB2 success was preceded in 2003 with a contract from General Dynamics (UK) Ltd worth over US$70M to provide processor and computer products for digital battlefield applications supporting British armed forces under the United Kingdom’s Bowman program. For this award, DRS provided Platform Battlefield Information System Applications (BISA) processor units, various tactical computers built around a common, modular design, Commander’s Crew Stations (CCSs) and associated computer accessories, including hard disk drives, keyboards and batteries. Work for this contract was carried out by the company’s DRS Tactical Systems units in Palm Bay, Florida, and supported by DRS’s UK facility (now an integral part of Leonardo MW Ltd) located in Farnham, Surrey, U.K.

“You are now established as the primary supplier of rugged computer and display systems for the British Army’s Bowman programme. Now that the momentum is building to develop and field the next generation of capability in the form of  Morpheus, what do you see as your winning differentiator to position Leonardo DRS for the next generation of tactical computing that Morpheus will require,?” The Editor asked.

 

 

 

“The British Army seek best-value solutions to equip their forces.  We expect to see requirements that encourage the innovative use of latest COTS technologies, while ensuring delivery of full-spectrum systems reliability and mission-critical performance. Advanced technology is key to Morpheus and to that end we are in the unique position to leverage U.S. commercial technology used in support of the MFoCS II program to serve as the source of not only the ongoing Bowman technology upgrades, but also in support of Morpheus. The result will represent the latest in ultra-rugged commercial-off-the-shelf technology in the form of Intel® Xeon multi-core processing units, solid-state hard drives, rechargeable battery technology and rugged multi-touch sunlight-readable GVA display systems. The other key factor in winning Morpheus is the ability of DRS to not only manufacture but also support these products throughout their lifecycle in the U.K.,” said Bill Guyan.

“What is the timescale for the Morpheus bid?”

“Having won the original Bowman contract in 2003, DRS has since won several competitive contracts to provide technology insertions and upgrades to the Bowman data terminal fleet.  DRS won an additional contract to provide rugged tactical displays, rugged computing technology upgrades, and associated services for Bowman’s Legacy Systems Upgrade (LSU) now known as Bowman 5.6. The contract, awarded by General Dynamics U.K. to DRS Technologies U.K. Limited (DRS UK), valued at $51 million, reinforced Leonardo DRS as the major supplier of platform tactical computing to military forces in the United Kingdom through the Bowman program.  We are following U.K. Army plans for potential refresh of data terminals in the 2021 to 2023 timeframe.”

“What are the key MFoCS technologies available for Morpheus?”

“It is probably safe to say that the primary technology for Morpheus has not yet been produced, given the continued rapid cycles of COTS technology development. Ideally, we strive to rapidly adapt the latest and most promising technologies for delivery as mission-critical capabilities for use by our military customers. We are proud of our demonstrated ability to limit the time lag between commercial availability and readiness for delivery as a qualified military product.  We have been able to successfully leverage the same technologies used in the U.S. Army’s MFoCS program to support Bowman technology upgrades, with the supply of computer mainboards as a key enabler. That seems to be a model that provides the latest technology as good value for money and ensures a desired level of interoperability, security, and supportability. In addition, interoperability between allies is key to today’s combat operations and the common technology will enable not only seamless communications between allies but also worldwide logistic support in any war theatre.”

MFoCS I & II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the U.S., FBCB2 developed into the Mounted Family of Computer Systems (MFoCS) where, once again, DRS won competitions to secure and refresh its position as sole supplier to the U.S. Army for MFoCS I in 2013 and MFoCS II in 2018.

The MFoCS II family of systems supports the continued fielding and upgrades of the Army’s Joint Battle Command – Platform (JBC-P) and features critical system capability upgrades, cybersecurity improvements, and multi-touch displays. In addition, there are significant performance enhancements of the platform computing server as the Army continues to improve the JBC-P systems used for tactical situational awareness and global “Blue Force Tracking” and In-Transit Visibility logistics tracking.

“We are very proud to deliver these advanced MFoCS systems for joint service use to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. As the Army continues its modernization efforts, MFoCS will serve as a critical enabler of the Mounted Computing Environment and the Modernized Network. MFoCS II was designed to meet the extreme requirements of mission-critical reliability in the most demanding environments combined with robust security enhancements to ensure trusted performance today and into the future,” Guyan said.

“What gave you the cutting edge to beat the competition to win this contract?” The Editor asked.

“This was a “Best Value” competition.  Three factors gave us the edge; our long history of proven performance supplying advanced computers in high volumes to the U.S. Army, our approach to providing not only the best but the most reliable technology and our ability to deliver on time and at a competitive price. A critical component of the MFoCS II system is the cyber-hardening technology inside the hardware.  This Cyber Secure technology, called Edge-Assured™, ensures commanders are operating trusted and protected computer systems though all types of user operations. MFoCS II also retains key components and features of the first generation MFoCS platform, including a dismountable tablet, an expandable rugged platform computer and 12”, 15” and 17” sunlight readable rugged displays, featuring multi-touch functionality.”

MFoCS II: Enabling Army Network Modernization

The Mounted Family of Computer Systems (MFoCS) II is a common computing solution that enables the platform-integration of consolidated requirements from a range of programs and military computing users.

  • Tactical Sensors
  • Tactical Networking
  • Tactical Logistics
  • Tactical Applications
  • System of Systems

The Mounted Family of Computer Systems (MFoCS) II represents the most advanced generation of rugged computers and displays ever engineered for military use. MFoCS II embodies the knowledge and experience gained through nearly 20 years of Mission Command and Battle Management Combat Experience with the U.S. Army Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2), Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), Blue force tracking (BFT), Movement Tracking System (MTS) Logistics and UK Army Bowman programs.

 

 

 

 

 

MFoCS II deftly executes the software necessary for a range of applications — Command and Control, Manoeuvre, Logistics and Situational Awareness. In addition, it can run multiple software packages at full speed, simultaneously, and is engineered to accommodate future software demands.

MFoCS II signifies an improvement in system integration and display of current on-board sensors, such as Driver’s Vision Enhancer (DVE), 360-degree situational awareness cameras, gunshot detection systems; Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) sights; Vehicle Health Management System (VHMS); Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) sensors; and more. When it comes to communications, the MFoCS II hardware infrastructure is also fully capable of providing embedded vehicle intercom,  managing control of combat net radios, routing of data between terrestrial and Satellite Communications (SATCOM) radios and cross-banding between two different networks.

MFoCS II includes new technologies such as the Intel® Xeon Quad Core Processor, expanded memory, greater storage and enhanced Information Assurance (IA). These enhancements provide significantly improved processing capacity and efficiency to run next generation software applications such as Joint Battle Command – Platform (JBC-P), Forward Observer System (FOS) and the Tactical Ground Reporting (TiGR) System. 

MFoCS II is backward compatible with fielded Mission Command capabilities. It integrates existing Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) and future Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) capability into a powerful, modular and flexible hardware architecture.

 

 

 

 

 

MFoCS II supports Situational Awareness (SA) Command and Control (C2) and maneuver capability using next-generation computing and display hardware. These MFoCS II systems include dismountable Tablet PCs, Processor Units, keyboards, removable solid-state storage, Display Units, cabling and installation kits designed for various platforms — all engineered rugged for continuous operation in a wide range of military and combat environments.

“What of the future?”

“The future is bright for our company. The U.Ss Army is embarking on a series of modernization efforts to include Networks and new Manned and Unmanned Platforms.  MFoCS is a VICTORY-compliant system at the foundation of efforts to move towards the Army’s vision for a Mounted Computing Environment (MCE).  Internationally, budgets are trending up and commanders increasingly identify platform situational awareness as a critical modernization priority – to improve mission command capabilities, or command and control, AND to reduce the risks of fratricide.  We are also committed to the development of GVA variants of our MFoCS II products and have already delivered early examples, which comply with many aspects of Def Stan 23-09.  Our team is proud of having become the global leader in cyber-protected platform computing and displays for tactical platforms.  We will continue to harness the latest in COTS technologies to enable increasing levels of capabilities for improved situational understanding through platform integration and sensor fusion.  Mission critical systems must be reliable for use across the spectrum of operations. We know that Soldiers depend on our systems to work under the most extreme conditions.  Our team is committed to always providing them with the edge.” Bill Guyan concluded.

Back to article list