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Government Reference Architectures

The below is an ongoing effort by the DAF Digital Transformation Office (DTO) to document the importance to programs for using a Government Reference Architecture (GRA).  This page first starts with a few important definitions, followed by explaining the GRA importance, and then provides a list of existing and emerging reference architectures a program can use, learn from, and make a part of their own effort.  Recommend if you are new to GRAs that you watch the very good video on Government Reference Architecture below. 

What is an Architecture, Reference Architecture, and a Government Reference Architecture?

An Architecture is the structure of components, their relationships, and the principles and guidelines governing their design and evolution over time. (Source: DAU Glossary)

Reference Architecture (RA) is an authoritative source of information about a specific subject area that guides and constrains the instantiations of multiple architectures and solutions. (Source: DoD Reference Architecture Description, Jun 2010)

And a Government Reference Architecture is an RA provided by the government to guide the system design, development, production, and sustainment processes. (Source: ME Guide 2020)

The presentation located to the right was put together by part of the Data and Architectures team and is intended to help outline information about Reference Architectures, how they fit together, how they differ from Solution/System Architectures.  

AFMC Published Its Guidebook for Implementing MOSA in Weapon Systems

In November 2023, AFMC published a revision to it’s Guidebook on Implementing MOSA in Weapon Systems.  The Guidebook contains principals that should be applied to both weapon systems and mission critical non-weapon systems (e.g. systems of systems, or families of systems) that can benefit greatly from a Modular Open Systems Approach.  The document highlights all level of Federal and Service policy as well as lists information on how to identify Key Interfaces and apply MOSA Enabling Standards.  Version 2.0 of the Guidebook includes updates recommended from the US Space Force as well as some updated information regarding IP data rights and resource organizations which can help programs develop MOSA strategy.


 Standards and Interface Management

There have been dozens of disparate open architecture and consensus based standards initiatives across the AF, DoD, and industry.  These initiatives vary from mature to early development and from widely applicable to highly tailored for specific use cases.  As part of the DTO and in pursuit of digital modernization across the Department of the Air Force, there is a need to more clearly document and communicate what Government Reference Architectures (GRAs) and interface standards exist across the community.  This document attempts to bring these disparate GRAs and interface standards together into a single, coherent catalogue.

Standard is defined as a formal agreement documenting generally accepted specifications or criteria for products, processes, procedures, policies, systems and/or personnel.  Technical Standards document specific technical methodologies and practices to design and implement (DOD Architecture Framework Version 2.02).

Interface Management is defined as the functional and physical characteristics required to exist at a common boundary or connection between persons, between systems, or between persons and systems.  A system external to the systems being analyzed provides a common boundary or service that is necessary for the system to perform its mission in an un-degraded mode (DAU Glossary). 

The Reference Architecture and Interface Management definitions are broad, leaving room for confusion about what can constitute a Reference Architecture.  Multiple government and industry standards contain elements that define interface management techniques, and because these standards provide constraints for systems, they technically meet the definition of Reference Architectures, or Government Reference Architectures if the standards were financed using Government funds.  Open Architecture Standards help provide common interface management techniques for certain architectural areas (usually targeted to specific domains and/or functional areas).  Government Reference Architectures designed to guide program decisions benefit from using one or more standards together to guide and constrain programs.  


Benefits of Government Reference Architectures

GRAs benefit the government in various ways.  They promote procurement efficiencies through consistent guidance for system requirements and the use of standard contracting language.  GRAs also shorten acquisition timelines, maximize component and subsystem reuse, limit non-recurring engineering, and reduce development cost.  GRAs increase commonality across systems that enables more efficient maintenance and readily interchangeable components.  Finally, GRAs enable improved system interoperability and help eliminate vendor lock.

GRAs also benefit the contractor by reducing risk through mature and familiar procurement requirements; reducing development costs by using well defined interfaces and standardized tooling; and sharing cost savings with the government via economies of scale and maximizing re-use of SW, HW, and engineering effort across systems.

GRAs and Standards 

The table below will sort standards and reference architectures into three groups and lists the current POC to request more information*:

1.     Reference Architectures that utilize Open Architecture Standards

2.     Open Architecture Standards containing reference architecture elements and interface management elements

3.     Open Architecture Standards that contain interface management element


  • Owning Organization:  Automated Test Systems Division
  • Contact: [email protected]

Click the image to read more

  • Owning Organization:  Digital Acquisition and Sustainment Office (DAS)
  • POC:  AFLCMC/EBRD, Dr. Luann Duffus
  • Contact:  [email protected]
  • Owning Organization:  Open Architecture Management Office
  • Contact Information:  [email protected]
  • Owning Organization:  AFRL/RW (Munitions Directorate)
  • Contact Information: [email protected]


Standards Containing Reference Architecture & Interface Management Elements

  • Owning Organization:  Open Architecture Management Office (OAMO) 
  • Contact Information:  [email protected]
  • Owning Organization:  Navy PMA-209
  • Owning Organization: Open Architecture Management Office (OAMO)
  • Contact Information:  [email protected] 

Owning Organization: Army’s VICTORY Program Office

Data Schemas & Ontologies

Standards Containing Interface Management Elements

  • Owning Organization: Open Architecture Management Office (OAMO)
  • Contact Information: [email protected]
  • Owning Organization: UAI Program Office, AFLCMC/WWX
  • Contact Information: [email protected]
  • DAF Lead office: Open Architecture Management Office (OAMO)
  • Contact Information: [email protected]