Embedded Avionics, Military

FACE Software Effort Builds Momentum

By by Charlotte Adams | March 7, 2014
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Established in 2010 and backed by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Aviation, the Open Group’s Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium is an aviation-focused professional group aiming to standardize avionics software, drive software reuse, slash development costs and reduce time to market.

FACE is not just another standardization and interoperability effort: it now embraces 70 member organizations, including more than 750 individual members, and its website lists 15 programs so far. Clearly, FACE is an effort that is gaining momentum.

“I see well over half a billion dollars in visible programs with FACE requirements,” says Jeff Howington of Rockwell Collins, vice chairman of the FACE Steering Committee. “This is in addition to the $150 million in awarded contracts.”

So far, the effort has produced an avalanche of documents, including the basic FACE Technical Standard and updates, a conformance program, a contract guide and a business guide. The flagship procurement, a Communications, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) upgrade to the Navy’s C-130T avionics suite, was awarded late last year. The return for this prodigious effort will be when the C-130T upgrade and other programs produce software that is reused.

The Army’s PEO Aviation is “all in” on FACE, according to Terry Carlson, the organization’s assistant program executive officer for information management, because it lines up with the Army’s holistic system integration initiative, or the Common Operating Environment (COE) initiative. FACE is such a good fit for COE because it uses an “open architecture” software approach, allowing easy integration with other Army systems.

“Stove-piped, proprietary solutions cost too much and the time from idea to implementation takes too long,” Carlson says. “We see FACE as a means to begin reducing the costs and time to develop and integrate.” The Army Airborne Radio Control Display Unit (CDU) Replacement and the Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Generator Phase 2 efforts are examples of acquisitions looking to use the FACE standard.

NAVAIR’s Air Combat Electronics office, PMA-209, is trying to define FACE’s success metrics, says Capt. Tracy Barkhimer, PMA-209 program manager. But it seems clear that if the FACE standard allows downstream programs to write much less code than they otherwise would have done, the initiative would be a success, she says. There are a number of other CNS/ATM upgrades in the pipeline, for example, which could potentially reap savings from software reuse.

Carlson also anticipates long-term savings. “FACE will begin showing benefits as the repository of modules grows,” he says. He expects that reducing development and integration time will net big cost savings. PEO Aviation is working with the test community as well to help determine where software reuse can factor into reduced testing activities for follow-on systems using a conformant solution. It stands to reason that using FACE-conformant solutions will help lower the per-unit cost of purchases, he says, although it is too early to quantify savings.

“Given the fiscal climate, FACE is an enabler [for the government] to save money and for industry to change their business model and still make a profit,” says Judy Cerenzia, the Open Group FACE program director. The services will be “looking at cross-program opportunities — pay once and use it many times versus pay many times and use it once,” she says. “We’re really trying to break that pattern by standardizing software and putting the business incentives in place to really change the way the government procures software and the way the vendors provide it.”

More than ever, software drives the cost of avionics functionality, Howington says. The FACE initiative is addressing the cost and schedule-drivers behind avionics software development and deployment. “Done right, [FACE] will directly impact the conversation on how to meet military avionics needs in the current fiscal environment,” he says.

Rockwell Collins sees the FACE initiative as the “next logical step for open architecture, and [it has] aligned future offerings to the FACE Technical Standard,” Howington says. But, as openness can sometimes be relative, the consortium is looking very closely at how open architectures are developed today and how we can control that variation and get true interoperability, he adds.


Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Frank Medina of San Antonio, Texas, communicates with the cockpit of a C-130T Hercules assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron Five Three, VR53, during an engine run. Courtesy of NAVAIR.

PMA-209 has no hard and fast rule that everybody must use the standard, Barkhimer says. Program managers make decisions on a case-by-case basis. “We would hope that the business case would show program managers that it makes sense to incorporate FACE,” she says, if there are cost or time savings for reusing software across programs or vendors. “It is one of the tools PMA-209 uses to provide customers with common systems or an operating environment where they can benefit,” she adds.

The Army’s PEO Aviation takes a similar approach. Programs will add “FACE language” to their solicitations for upgrades or modifications where it makes good business sense, Carlson says. As of December 2013, five Army aviation procurements were listed at the consortium’s website.

Reusing software typically helps program managers break “vendor lock” and reduce development and integration costs, according to Barkhimer. The intended reusability and modularity of FACE software are expected to increase competition since one module could be replaced by another, she says. Companies will have to invest in writing software that adheres to FACE-standard open interfaces, rather than creating unique interfaces that lock out competition, says Bob Matthews, PMA-209’s FACE team lead.

The FACE Technical Standard enables a product-line approach that can be used by both NAVAIR and contractors, explains Robert Sweeney, the PMA-209 FACE team’s lead engineer. NAVAIR currently acquires systems with similar capabilities but in a vertical, platform-specific, “stovepiped” manner, he says. But the new approach will shift NAVAIR’s, and ultimately the Defense Department’s, perspective from vertical to horizontal platform integration, Sweeney says.

Conformant software will be written to be reused, Matthews says. Program managers will have to think up-front about a modular architecture, about Operational Flight Programs (OFPs) that are built-in modules designed for reuse and listed in a library. They will need to think about issues such as component size, for example, since the more functions included in a single module, the harder it will be to replace an individual function. There will be more startup work for engineering teams to establish the product-line approach, Sweeney says, but less work once the approach is established.

“I don’t think systems will get more complex,” Matthews says, “but [FACE] will change when the complexity is addressed. Changing the architectural approach also will require using lines of communications within the agency that may not have been used before.”

Today most avionics acquisitions deliver embedded hardware bundled with software, Howington observes. “[But] the FACE Technical Standard enables greater software-centric acquisitions because it abstracts the underlying hardware in a way that allows software portability and reuse,” he says.

One reason PMA-209 is confident in the new standard is that it brings together other proven standards, such as ARINC 653 and the Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX), Sweeney says. The new standard “just provides a common architecture that pulls them all together.”

PMA-209 also has had experience in reusing software across platforms, according to Barkhimer. Although this predated the FACE initiative and involved only a single company’s software, the Navy was able to reuse CNS/ATM modules across platforms, including the E-2C, P-3C, C-2A and the M/CH-53E.

Conformant modules may ultimately be accessible through some sort of network. Because of regulations and the need to ensure competition, however, PMA-209 officials don’t foresee software procurements through an “app store.” But they predict program managers will be able to consult a library of conformant modules as part of market research.

Likewise, the Army’s PEO Aviation believes there will be no iTunes or Google Play app store. “We will have a repository of FACE-conformant solutions that participants can draw from for their use,” Carlson says. But modules will have to be integrated and perhaps slightly modified to meet unique requirements. And there will be testing for each use.

The government currently works with a library concept, according to Howington. But he predicts that once the defense community “comes to grips with what it means to acquire software products independently of the hardware, we will see alternative software delivery models put into play that parallel those in other markets, including commercial,” he says.


The C-130T is NAVAIR’s flagship FACE program. The major FAA-mandated CNS/ATM upgrade was awarded to Lockheed Martin before automated FACE conformance tools were available, but NAVAIR has since made that software part of the C-130T’s test plan, Sweeney says.

If the C-130T digital cockpit upgrade is at one end of the implementation spectrum, then the AV-8B mission computer upgrade is at the other end. The latter, contracted to General Dynamics in 2013, involves adding a second mission processor card in the computer the company builds. NAVAIR is requiring a FACE environment for that card, Matthews says. According to a General Dynamics press release, AV-8B’s FACE implementation would be able to host Required Navigation Performance and Area Navigation (RNP/RNAV) upgrades integrated by the Navy.

The AV-8B will continue to use the legacy OFP in the first mission processor card, says Sweeney, but NAVAIR will add a software adapter to the OFP that will essentially translate the OFP data into the FACE environment for the new card. So far, all tests show that the translation approach will come in an order of magnitude faster than established performance limits.

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