Business & GA, Embedded Avionics, Military

Common Face

By Emily Feliz | March 1, 2012
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Long, expensive software development periods and the desire to bring more capabilities, faster to soldiers in the field spurred the creation of a new avionics software standard, designed to allow aircraft across the military to get the latest applications faster than ever before.

The Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium, established in 2010 as a government and industry partnership to define an open avionics environment for all military airborne platform types, in January released the FACE Technical Standard, a specification that establishes a common computing architecture supporting portable, capability-specific software applications across Department of Defense (DoD) avionics systems. The end result, according to the consortium, will be faster software development time and reduced costs, enabling developers to create and deploy a catalog of applications for use across the entire spectrum of military aviation systems through a common operating environment.

“We can take an application, like [required navigation performance] or [area navigation] or any other application for avionics, and move it, redeploy it from one platform to another one without having to do very much more than recompile it. In that way we would realize an affordability advantage as well as a time-to-field advantage. We very carefully figured out how we were going to do that and the standard describes how you would do that,” said Joe Dusio, government systems architect at Rockwell Collins and a member of the consortium’s technical working group.

The consortium, managed by the Open Group and includes 39 companies, government associations and military branches, developed the standard in 18 months. The consortium is directed by a steering committee and includes technical working and business development working groups. “The FACE consortium has some legs and this thing is going to carry for a long time,” said Jeff Howington, government systems business development at Rockwell Collins, and a member of the consortium steering committee. “Three-hundred individuals who have been attending our conference have been able to accomplish in 18 months something that others have taken longer to do.”

‘This is quite possibly the most important innovation in naval aviation since computers were first introduced into aircraft.’
Capt. Tracey Barkhimer, program manager, PMA-209 at the Naval Air Systems (NAVAIR) Command

The consortium, through the standard, aims to obtain industry and DoD program management endorsement and facilitate conformance with standards to maximize interoperability between applications within the avionics system. In fact, consortium members said the adoption of this standard may be mandatory for many military procurement processes. Many request for proposals (RFP) that have been released have already included a FACE-compliant software provision. “The government and industry have worked together to make sure we have a specification that meets the mission needs. A vendor that uses the standard to develop their products and then later on shows conformance to the standard would be a preferred vendor. It gives the vendor a target to shoot for and on the procurement side they know they can procure that vendor’s products with a certain degree of confidence that they’re going to meet the need,” said Dave Lounsbury, chief technical officer at The Open Group.

“From our perspective here at NAVAIR, this is quite possibly the most important innovation in naval aviation since computers were first introduced into aircraft,” said Capt. Tracey Barkhimer, program manager, PMA-209 (Air Combat Electronics) at the Naval Air Systems (NAVAIR) Command in Patuxent River, Md. “What it’s going to do for us in the end is reduce time to procure, design and develop and finally deliver weapons systems to the fleet at a significantly reduced cost, which is great for the warfighter, but also great for the taxpayer.”

Consortium members said the standard was designed to address the business aspects in parallel with the technical standard. “What the consortium recognized early on was that in order for this construct to be successful not only the technical aspects needed to be addressed, but also the business aspects needed to be addressed for the value proposition for both the government customer and the supplier base,” said Dennis Stevens, who is in business development at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, and is chairman of the consortium’s business working group.

Additionally, the standard will establish conformance criteria and define an associated certification program for the standard. This implementation guide “explains the thought process and how you can use the standard to instantiate your mission specific scenarios into this architecture,” said Kirk Avery, chief software architect, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors.

“We want to ensure that as we develop this technical standard and we develop the business model and allow the industry to procure conforming products, that we’ve got the certification processes in place that allow us to take advantage of maximum efficiency of this standard,” said Scott Dennis, director, Aviation Systems Integration Facility (ASIF) Software Engineering Directorate, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Command.

The software standard is hardware agnostic and will support airworthiness qualification of airborne systems from DO-178B Levels A through E or equivalent qualification requirements. In addition, FACE will support the Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level 4 (EAL-4) (threshold) and EAL-7 (objective). Additionally, it supports general-purpose, safety-critical, or secure avionics capabilities, or any combination of the three capability types through the use of profiles.

The consortium is working on version two of the standard and expects to release that later this year. Additionally, consortium members said the standard could be expanded to include international concerns in the future.

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