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Friday, June 1, 2012

Software: Avionics About-FACE?

By Charlotte Adams

In the name of portability, interoperability and economy in military avionics, U.S. Navy and Army aviation honchos, together with a growing number of vendors, have announced a new software standard they wish military avionics to adopt. Housed under the Open Group (OG), the consortium developing this standard has taken the name of Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE).

The cover of the FACE reference architecture — whose development was sparked by the Navy’s Air Combat Electronics office — displays a quote from Vice Adm. (ret.) Arthur Cebrowski with a certain asperity: “…you can either create your own future, or you can become the victim of a future that someone else creates for you….”

Indeed the first steps towards the fledgling standard were not conciliatory. Within the OG FACE has been an exclusive group within a group. This was prompted by the need to avoid accidental disclosure of sensitive information and to protect conversations between members during the development of the standard, the group says. Things seem to be opening up now. Government-to-government agreements which would allow allies to participate in further developments are under consideration. As of late March, however, the U.S. Air Force was not officially on board.

Government offices are starting to reference FACE. There are a request for proposals (RFP) and a request for information (RFI) relating to the Navy C-130T, RFIs on Navy data loading and full-motion video efforts, plus an RFI on the Army’s future vertical lift initiative and a broad area announcement on the Navy Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System.

When all is said and done, it’s hard to fault the effort for its initial exclusivity now that there is something to show for it.

When all is said and done, it’s hard to fault the effort for its initial exclusivity now that there is something to show for it. But one wonders whether sensitive data couldn’t have been fenced off at the beginning, allowing the widest possible play of ideas.

Will FACE Be Different?

The past is littered with interoperability projects that fizzled or failed to live up to their billing. They were either too broad or too narrow in scope. Witness the “system of systems” common operating environment (COE) from the now-defunct Future Combat System (FCS) program and the Defense Information Infrastructure COE, not to mention the Joint Integrated Avionics Working Group (JIAWG). The successful, but relatively narrow, “weapon system” COE, which enabled rapid Predator/Hellfire integration, was folded into FCS.

FACE adherents say their effort will be different, in part, because many consortium members participated in earlier efforts and will apply lessons learned. For example, they assert that there will be no waivers, a weakness in prior efforts. That will be a challenge.

The consortium points to its business guide as a key differentiator. This document defines the business rules for developing and implementing products that conform to the technical standard, explains Judy Cerenzia, the OG’s FACE program director. Standardizing the software environment is not enough, she says. A lot of failed efforts in the past did excellent technical work but did not provide any guidance, tools or provisions on changing business rules and the business environment to make the standards successful. Unlike them FACE takes the current economic and funding environment into account.

The group recognizes that customers and suppliers can’t continue to operate “business as usual” given the scarcity of funding and need to slash cycle time. One key subject is intellectual property and data rights — how you sell and license software, says Lockheed Martin’s Kirk Avery, vice chair of the FACE Technical Working Group. As long as interfaces are understood, open and available, FACE takes a relatively more permissive stance on IP, he says. The “inner nuts and bolts that make up a capability” are less important, he adds.

The consortium expects to release “implementation guidance” this year. This unusual step would describe, for example, how to implement FACE-conformant software in a communications scenario. Another lesson learned is evident in the group’s evolutionary approach. “Get a framework in place and then start going down,” Avery says.

The consortium is also working on a conformance and certification framework with an independent evaluation of test results, Cerenzia says. A registry is targeted to be in place by year-end. Another project for this year is a contract guide which focuses on elements to be included in RFPs involving FACE.

Charlotte Adams has covered embedded electronics and software standardization issues for more than a decade.

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