Government and industry partnership driving FACE and SOSA success

Despite experiencing doubt from some corners since inception,the Future Airborne Capability (FACE) and Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) consortia are not simply surviving, they are flourishing.

Last month I attended the U.S. Air Force-hosted FACE & SOSA Expo and Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) event in Dayton, Ohio: The event was buzzing with a crowded expo floor and at-capacity conference rooms.

The meeting gathered more than 500 attendees, while the Expo had 56 exhibits, including demos of FACE-conformant products and integrations, says Richard Jaenicke, Director, Marketing, Safety and Security-Critical Products at Green Hills Software (Santa Barbara, California). Green Hills Software sponsored this year’s TIM.

The initial doubts I mentioned above were fueled by similar efforts over the last several decades that did not succeed due to a lack of cooperation between the different branches of the military plus a lack of enthusiasm from industry. That is not the case with FACE and SOSA, however, as the end users – Air Force, Army, and Navy – are working together to drive these efforts. In fact, military organizations now count themselves as members of such open-standards organizations as VITA. (See our three-part series on the tri-services convergence for more details.)

Enthusiasm for the consortia is also now seen from prime contractors and system integrators. “The SOSA Consortium is developing a unified modular open reference architecture – and associated business model – for radar, EO/IR, SIGINT, electronic warfare, and communications,” said Raytheon’s Dr. Steven A. Davidson, who is Vice Chair of the SOSA Steering Committee, in his SOSA Overview presentation at the event. “It makes economic sense,” adding that military collaboration with industry is a “win-win ... and for the most part we are aligned in every way.”

FACE reduces cost and time to fielding, said Jeffrey Howington of Collins Aerospace and FACE Steering Committee Vice Chair, during his FACE Overview presentation. Right now, Howington said, “about 70% to 90% of aircraft avionics capability is implemented in software.”

That level is unaffordable and unsustainable, and a big reason why FACE came to be. By leveraging the FACE Technical Standard, platforms will be able to continue improving capability throughout their life cycle without incurring astronomical software development cost, such as with the F-35.

This commonality permits life cycle competition from many players in the marketplace by creating an environment for portable, reusable software, Howington explained. The effort is ongoing: “There are now 19 FACE-certified conformant products from 12 different suppliers in the FACE registry, which lists FACE-Conformant Certified software components. Companies cannot publicly market their software as FACE-Conformant without being listed in the Registry. [This enables] customers to independently confirm that a software product is FACE-Conformant Certified.”

The success of FACE also paved the way for SOSA. “The SOSA standard is rapidly becoming real,” said Chip Downing, Senior Market Development Director, Aerospace & Defense at RTI and Chair, FACE Business Working Group. “This was the SOSA standard’s first external public event, and it had wide interest from a range of suppliers and users. The SOSA team was smart,” Downing said, as “they leveraged the best of the FACE Technical Standard and business approach and built upon that foundation. Their challenge is larger – the SOSA standard is for both hardware and software. Creating standardized hardware typically is a much larger investment that must have a market size that will justify the investment. And they need to get it right because the cost of changes (and errors) is higher.”

The cost could also be measured in the success of adversaries, who also use COTS [commercial off-the-shelf products] and continue to make their systems more complex. The U.S. and its allies must stay ahead of the opposition; enabling commonality in future designs through open standards will aid and hasten that effort.

Howington made just that point in his presentation when quoting Vice Admiral (ret.) Arthur K Cebrowski, “You have a choice: You can either create your own future, or you can become the victim of a future that someone else creates for you.”

Next up for FACE and SOSA

SOSA technology will next be demonstrated at The Tri-Service Open Architecture Interoperability Demonstration (TSOA-ID), an exclusive event for media, the acquisition community, and industry influencers, on Wednesday, January 29, 2020, at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Joining tri-service representatives will be industry vendors representing HOST, SOSA, CMOSS, and VITA standards-development organizations.

Aerospace Tech Week 2020 (to be held March 19-20, 2020 in Toulose, France) will now have the FACE Pavilion for exhibiting FACE solutions at the event. “This is the first public FACE event in Europe and expands our capabilities into NATO countries and strengthens our relationships with our global coalition partners,” Downing says.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Full disclosure – Author John McHale is on the Advisory Committee for Aerospace Tech Week.