Safety critical COTS avionics, military avionics trends

Every month the McHale Report will host an online roundtable with experts from the defense electronics industry – from major prime contractors to defense component suppliers. Each roundtable will explore topics important to the military . This month our roundtable of industry experts discuss avionics design trends, safety of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components and the buzz on the floor at the show held last week in Munich, Germany.

This month’s panelists are: Matt Jackson, Technical Project Manager, Embedded Graphics, at Presagis in Swindon, United Kingdom; Paul Hart, Chief Technology Officer at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions in Bournemouth, United Kingdom; Marc Gandillon, Marketing Communications Manager at Creative Electronic Systems (CES) in Geneva, Switzerland; and Tim Keller, Director of Marketing at Great River Technology in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

MCHALE REPORT: Last week the avionics community gathered in Munich, Germany for the annual Aviation Electronics Europe show. What trends did you see emerging at the event?

JACKSON: There seemed to be more interest in COTS support of certification than previously; people were looking for products supporting both hardware and software certification. It seems that the drive for more features and systems on aircraft is stretching development times while resources are becoming tighter. Where previously bespoke solutions were developed, people were looking for [commercial-off-the-shelf] COTS to fill the gap.

HART: First, there’s a lot of talk in the industry about the changes to the air traffic system with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Next Gen and the [European] Sing European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) programs, so there will be a lot of changes to air traffic management. There be changes coming to avionics as well, specifically on flight management systems and surveillance systems in as much as Automatic Dependent Systems-Broadcast (ADS-B) is coming to the forefront to provide position reporting of the aircraft over land and water via sitcom links.

Another trend is the development of the aerospace version of CANbus ( 825), which is basically taking automotive technology and moving it into the aviation industry with the objective of taking out weight due to wiring in the aircraft, but also building in redundancies and fault tolerance into the network at the same time.

GANDILLON: The big news was the announcement of Open GL SC 2.0 with programmable shaders to enable enhanced avionics graphics. It essentially enables customers to acquire safety-certification off the shelf. Adoption of safety-critical COTS software will be a continuing trend not only in graphics, but also the rest of avionics systems as well.

KELLER: [Aviation Electronics Europe management is] growing the technical content, which is why an engineer would want to attend a conference in the first place.

MCHALE REPORT: How do avionics hardware and software safety certification requirements differ in Europe compared to the U.S.?

JACKSON: There has always been a requirement for certification in the military market in Europe. While this is still the case, now we are seeing an increase from the U.S. for certification of military applications. The general intent and rules are similar for both Europe and the U.S., however the role of dedicated engineering representatives (DERs) in the U.S. approach means that reviews sometimes have more detailed feedback.

GANDILLON: I think the certification requirements are slightly more stringent in Europe, where there are more requirements, but the overall process in fairly the same. With EASA, it can be a little more difficult to obtain a waiver.

HART: This is a controversial subject in as much as the certification is in general different, there are slight differences between EASA and the FAA. In the U.S., which is under FAA jurisdiction DERs are able to sign off on data certification packs to certify the information – and that can extend all the way up to Design Assurance Level (DAL) A. During that process as you go higher up the certification process there are four review points. It is different in Europe where this process is carried out by a Certification Verification Engineer (CVE), who has to present the results of the XOY reviews to EASA under what’s called EASA Department 1J DOAPOA. There are also a number of slight differences in how the paperwork is processed between the U.S. and Europe due to the different responsibilities and roles of a CVE versus a DER.

There are also slight differences between the certification memorandi and the advisory circulars between EASA and FAA in as much as the hardware certification process using the process. As far as we understand the FAA is only concerned with programmable logic devices and , anything that’s running microcode. In the eyes of the FAA, the DO-254 does not cover processors or even discrete components, whereas under EASA it’s generally viewed that all of the devices on the board are covered under DO-254, which then raises problems when it comes to certifying microprocessors, particularly processors. And in EASA there is another thing to do with what are called certification review items (CRIs). These comprise certification documents at an aircraft level.

KELLER: We use the FAA interpretation of DO-254 in the U.S., which is applied specifically to CEH (complex electronic hardware) such as FPGAs, but not to a line replaceable unit (LRU), or a board. In Europe they use the EASA interpretation, with additional work at the board/box level. EASA CM SWCEH-001 defines the applicability of ED-80/DO-254 in relation to LRUs and circuit board assemblies (CBAs) used in airborne [applications]. This is additional work when trying to certify for EASA.

MCHALE REPORT: What is the outlook for avionics COTS suppliers in the commercial avionics market? Are conditions improving or are conditions more flat?

JACKSON: Based on general conversation at the show, many COTS vendors were seeing improved conditions in the commercial market, but the improvements seem to be in different areas than five years ago.

GANDILLON: I would say quite flat in the commercial aviation market because there are no new programs where it is more about technology refits. And while refits make use of COTS hardware and software, the volume is lower when compared to design for new programs.

KELLER: In our ARINC 818 world, the market is expending due to many upgrades and new designs, which are using ARINC 818 in the cockpit.

MCHALE REPORT: What presents more growth opportunities in the military avionics market -- upgrades or new designs?

GANDILLON: It is more upgrades than new designs, similar to the commercial market. There is also a trend toward more COTS use in the upgrades. In a webcast last year a participant said that COTS is an ideal, and that in reality most use modified COTS. So often military upgrades leverage COTS designs, but often tweak them for their specific needs. But the basic architecture is off the shelf. I would say most COTS equipment today 90 percent design ready for boards and systems.

JACKSON: There are significant differences here depending on the region being considered. The appetite for large-scale new developments appears to be less in Western Europe and North America, so the focus is on upgrades to existing platforms and systems. Other regions of world are keen to reduce dependence on external or imported solutions and have established goals to build local skills and capacity, which is leading to more systems being considered and developed.

HART: There seem to be more upgrades than brand new aircraft programs. There are people who are upgrading existing fleets to add, for example, new capabilities such as synthetic vision or degraded visual environment hardware onto an existing platform – as well as adding things like Mode 4 or Mode 5 and new transponders, so they are applicable to the retrofit market. With new-build programs, which are few and far between, () are coming to the fore now, but there are very few manned helicopter or fixed wing programs. It’s upgrades that are driving the technical developments at the moment.

KELLER: We are seeing opportunities in both, but probably more activity around upgrades.

MCHALE REPORT: What technology or standard will have the most impact on the avionics world in the next five to 10 years?

KELLER: We don’t look at the whole avionics space, only high-speed avionics . In this space, the release of ARINC 818-2 that pushes the defined bandwidth up to 28 Gbps and adds features for switching and ultra-high-speed , which will have the most impact on architectures of mission critical video system interfaces. The systems using ARINC 818 include cockpit displays (HMD, MFD, PFDs, HUDs, and LADs), cameras, sensors, video processors, and mission processors.

JACKSON: In the cockpit HMI [human machine interface] and graphics area, the biggest impact could be the availability of the newly announced OpenGL SC 2.0 standard. The ability to harness the programmability and performance of modern GPUs in a safety critical environment may make development of more advanced displays possible, and reduce CPU loading at the same time. Many HMI effects and designs can now be achieved more efficiently, since with the previous standard, development of some cockpit displays would have been cost prohibitive or impossible, and development teams can now look at approaches to information display that previously would never have been considered.

GANDILLON: The automotive industry’s push toward driverless cars will drive innovation in safety critical designs, which are just as important to the automotive world as they are to the aerospace world. Often the technical requirements are the same but there are many more cars sold each year than aircraft. Essentially the larger volume automotive industry will only drive down the costs of this technology and that will transfer over to the aerospace world. While pricing of the systems will never be the same, the basic hardware and software pricing should lower over time. Any added cost would be associated with meeting the extreme temperature and shock and vibration requirements necessitated by the harsher environments in which aircraft operate.

HART: I think the most impact will come from the change going from point-to-point connectivity on the avionics to network systems. I think that Ethernet based networks will prevail [as can be seen in the development of] the ARINC 664 Part 7 standard for flight critical Ethernet, and a standard offered by the Society of Automotive Engineers called SAE AS6802, which is a time-triggered protocol for Ethernet. I think that Ethernet protocols will become quite wide spread over the next ten to twenty years. I’m also quite a believer that CANbus being a mature technology that is used across automotive has great potential, especially since most aviation sensors don’t really generate that much data to warrant a huge pipeline of 100 Mbits/sec.