CH-53Ks. Photo: Lockheed Martin.
If you’re a member of the military or just naturally interested in aviation, you may have heard some talk about The Open Group FACE Consortium. But what does the FACE approach represent, and what does it cover? And why is it so revolutionary for avionics anyway? There’s a lot of ground to cover, but here are the basics you need to know.
Standing for Future Airborne Capability Environment, the FACE Consortium represents a partnership between industry suppliers, government experts, academia and customers to provide avionics with an open-source environment for technical standards, best practices and solutions.
What does the FACE approach provide?
Through government and industry collaboration, the FACE Consortium has developed the FACE technical standard and business strategy. The standard integrates and builds off proven standards like OpenGL, ARINC 729 and POSIX. This not only gives it a wide reach, it also ensures its compatibility with future systems. The business strategy ensures the standard is used and adopted by customers and suppliers in the avionics marketplace.
Simply put, the FACE technical standard provides requirements for constructing avionics software. Conforming to these requirements ensures that software products are safe, secure and functional. Through its streamlined process, the FACE approach aims to lower software development and integration costs, and, by doing so, boost avionics abilities.
Since the FACE reference architecture builds on a common computing infrastructure, it is quite easy to link to specialized parts and systems — like those used by the Defense Dept.
This modularity is FACE’s main strength. Typically, military systems are proprietary and unique to their specific application. This drives costs and development time through the roof, as each new software package must be built from scratch. Any code reuse would require additional modification and rigorous testing.
“Given today's fiscal climate, the FACE approach is an enabler for government to save money and for industry to change their business model and still make a profit,” said Judy Cerenzia, the Open Group FACE Consortium 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 said.
“The FACE Conformance Program is a mechanism to break that pattern by standardizing software and putting the business incentives in place for reuse, to change the way the government procures software and the way the vendors provide it,” said Cerenzia.
Code developed using the FACE standard would not require the same modification and testing cycles. For example, this means code governing a helicopter’s radio could be reused for a jet, with little to no revision or testing. Once the standard is in place, the Defense Dept. will have never-before-seen flexibility, as it'll be able to rapidly push development and upgrades across FACE-compatible systems.
How are developers using the FACE standard?
Since its inception, quite a few groups have received FACE certification. This means that their products are certified to conform to the FACE standard’s requirements for safety and compatibility. In October 2016, Rockwell Collins’ Missionized Flight Management Software was the first product to be certified FACE compliant. In March, Wind River System’s VxWorks 653 2.5 with FACE safety base profile support was the first COTS product to receive the coveted certification.
"This is an important milestone for reducing system costs," said Heather Robertson, senior director of rotary wing solutions for Rockwell Collins. "Conforming to the FACE Standard ensures this product is architected to work across multiple avionics implementations, reducing test time and ultimately increasing rapid, affordable deployment of innovation."
Wind River has been a member of the FACE Consortium since its inception, and its certification is a huge step forward for the avionics industry. More than 200 customers use Wind River’s VxWorks 653 platform, the software in question. The application is so broad that it has applications in everything from space and autonomous aircraft to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
Other institutes, like Georgia Tech, don’t directly develop avionics solutions, but instead, they contribute to the core research needed for others to continue their development. In this case, the Naval Air Systems Command Air Combat Electronics Program Office funds their research. The university’s focus is mainly on making reference software to FACE standards.
The project has been ongoing for more than seven years, showing just what a big undertaking the development process is. Other universities, like Vanderbilt, have made similar contributions by working on toolkits and conformance tools.
Why is the military interested?
The military is attracted to the FACE standard for several reasons. The first is that it integrates so well with pre-existing systems. This is all due to the FACE standard’s focus on compatibility and open systems architecture. The U.S. Army has its own standardization push — the Common Operating Environment (COE). The FACE development philosophy allows it to mesh well with COE and other systems.
This leads to the second point: savings. Like any organization, the government likes to save money. Developing — or paying someone to develop — proprietary software and hardware solutions takes a huge amount of time and money. By using FACE components for avionics systems, it’s possible to reduce the costs of such projects.
Tying in with cost savings, utilizing FACE components will promote portability among the software that the military does develop. Essentially, this means that programs, or at least parts of them, will be reusable across different platforms.
Say the military has an application developed using FACE standards and needs a similar application for a different aircraft type. They could reuse part or all of the code for the new application without spending extra time coding or worrying about major compatibility issues. This reuse solves the problem of different parts of the government separately spending money on development and only producing needless redundancy as a result.
Thanks to years of relentless research, the FACE Consortium has developed the FACE technical standard and business strategy — outlining how developers in the avionics industry can make their products far more compatible and portable. As the program catches on, more and more developers will begin putting out certified standardized products.
Agencies like the military will be able to make use of the FACE requirements to promote reusability within its own proprietary systems, reducing both time and costs. As the movement grows, we can expect to see more companies with FACE-certified software in the future. Perhaps, given time, the FACE approach will even become the de facto standard of the avionics industry.