[Avionics Today 09-08-2014] The U.S. Army will soon be able to integrate new avionics capabilities at a much lower cost than it currently does thanks to a new ground control station Open Architecture (OA) framework being developed by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (GD-AIS) and Real-Time Innovations (RTI). GD-AIS selected RTI's Transport Services Segment (TSS) software to serve as the abstraction layer in the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Aligned Reference Architecture to provide a standard interface between portable applications for the Army's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) ground control stations.
General Atomics' Gray Eagle is one of the UAS platforms that could benefit from the new framework in development by General Dynamics and RTI. Photo: General Atomics.
"The Army has not officially announced any plans to redesign their Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) currently in theater," said John van Dyke, senior director of sensors and processing at GD-AIS. "The [Army-UAS Control Segment] A-UCS program is a customer-funded prototype effort to investigate potential architectures that will facilitate the Army vision for Open Architecture, Open Business Model paradigm to realize greater capabilities at lower cost."
The Army's UAS fleet surpassed 2 million flight hours earlier this year, and there are currently more than 7,000 UAS in operation, ranging from the five-pound Raven to the 3,600-pound Gray Eagle. That's more than the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy combined, according to David Barnett, vice president of product and markets at RTI. Providing a common framework for new capabilities to be developed around would greatly lower implementation costs.
Barnett said RTI was one of the earliest members of the FACE Consortium, a government-industry partnership formed in 2010 to define an open avionics environment for all military airborne platforms. The RTI vice president compares developing software and new capabilities for the ground control stations to the way smart phone applications are developed for current Android and iPhone devices.
"It basically provides a standard environment on which I can build an application once and then I can write it. On any Android phone for example … I don’t have to write a specialized application for each platform," said Barnett. "The idea of FACE is to do the same thing. To provide a standard platform on which you can write applications that are independent of the underlying hardware or specific ground control station that’s being used."
Traditionally, military branches would purchase a ground control station and select a systems integrator to build the software for that specific station from scratch and completely customize it for that station, Barnett said. Now, with the FACE standard, instead of building from scratch, companies such as RTI can build portable components that are independent of the hardware.
The Navy, for example, could have a ground control station "designed for shipboard deployment or a soldier might have a portable ground control station on something like a tablet, but they both have some common applications that have to run on them," said Barnett. "You shouldn’t have to rewrite that application you should be able to run that same application on the tablet as on the shipboard ground control station. So that’s what FACE allows you to do by defining what that underlying platform is."
RTI's TSS is a common set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and data model elements designed to provide the flexibility of rapidly and cost effectively integrating avionics capabilities in support of the Army's dynamic mission requirements, according to van Dyke.
General Dynamics and RTI will make the open framework developed from this collaboration available for reuse by other organizations looking to build UAS and ground segments in line with FACE standards.