Commercial, Embedded Avionics, Military

Wind River Powers F-35 Communications in Flight Test

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | April 11, 2014
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[Avionics Today April 11, 2014] Avionics Magazine recently caught up with Wind River to discuss how its VxWorks Multiple Independent Levels of Security (MILS) Platform provided a separation kernel-based security foundation for a new avionics communication system designed to enable F-22 and F-35 avionics systems to communicate with each other. 

Wind River, an Intel Corp. subsidiary, says the VxWorks MILS Platform provides an operating runtime environment designed to consolidate applications with mixed domains or security levels on a single multi-core processor-based hardware platform. Paul Chen, VxWorks MILS product manager for Wind River, said the technology is necessary for the F-35 to communicate with older legacy fighter jets such as the F-22 and others, including the F-15, F-16 and F-18.

"The older aircraft had been designed to work essentially autonomously — and hadn’t been designed to communicate with each other and, of course, not with future aircraft that they didn’t know were coming, like the F-35," said Chen. 

According to Chen, the concept for the MILS architecture actually emerged about 20 years ago. However, at that time the technology and hardware was not available to support it. 

MILS is basically a software foundation that takes a system which needs to separate some applications and data from each other either for safety or security reasons, and provides separate and secure communication channels for each data stream. 

Chen compares it to the separate communication channels deployed on commercial aircraft to enable in-flight connectivity, and separate that from flight critical navigation systems. 

"In the old days you would just build all those systems on separate hardware boxes, and they might be connected by a bus, but generally there would be physical separation between them," said Chen.

"Nowadays though with aircraft … you might find more of these systems being deployed on the same hardware. That saves a lot of Size, Weight and Power (SWAP) making them cheaper. So it becomes very important for the software running on those hardware platforms to be separated and isolated and that’s exactly what VxWorks MILS does. It provides the foundation for separation and isolation," Chen added.

Lockheed Martin used the VxWorks MILS platform to transmit and receive Link-16 communications between the F-22 and F-35 during its Project Missouri flight tests in December. According to Lockheed, the Project Missouri team was able to achieve up to a 60 percent reduction in the development, integration and test timelines needed to deploy the new communications concept. 

 "Being able to leverage commercial processing hardware and software is a key element to meeting the affordability objectives of our customers by reducing software porting and development costs," said Ron Bessire, vice president of Program and Technology Integration at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. "The Wind River VxWorks MILS product helped us achieve this objective and still meet our information assurance requirements."

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