The FACE Technical Standard’s impact on military avionics systems
The Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Technical Standard has come a long way since its initial intent: as a way to enable reuse of software components across multiple avionics platforms. Currently the Technical Standard is in its 3.0 version, with the FACE Consortium – managed by The Open Group – boasting about 90 member companies with 20 products in the FACE industry. Platforms such as the CH-47 Block II already use FACE-conformant products, and new avionics platforms are adding FACE conformance to their requirements. I discussed the effect of FACE on the military avionics community, the involvement of the user community, the benefits of FACE Technical Standard 3.0, and other topics with Jeffry Howington of Collins Aerospace – also vice chairman of the FACE Consortium Steering Committee for nine years – in my McHale Report podcast (find the podcast on www.mil-embedded.com). Edited excerpts follow.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Please describe your current role within Collins Aerospace and your work in the FACE Consortium.
HOWINGTON: Within Collins Aerospace, I continue to work with an outstanding team of business-development professionals within the advanced avionics program business. Our role is to envision the future of aircraft and how we can make them more effective, more affordable, and safer. That effort includes taking on leadership roles within standards development organizations like The Open Group FACE Consortium, and for the last nine years I’ve served as its elected vice chairman. Together with the other Consortium members, I’ve been pretty busy helping to refine the FACE Technical Standard and promoting its adoption.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Why is FACE so important to the military end user, prime contractors, and embedded hardware and software providers?
HOWINGTON: The FACE Standard enables the acquisition of portable and reusable avionics software products independent of the hardware. That statement may seem a bit strange to those used to installing software in desktop and laptop computers, but it’s relatively new for avionics. Aircraft operators and pilots can benefit from reuse by having interoperable capabilities with similar look and feel. Prime contractors benefit from the standardization, allowing them to pick best-in-class products from a wider variety of suppliers while lowering their integration costs. The benefit for both hardware and software suppliers is the ability to compete in a larger addressable market that can better integrate their products.
MIL-EMBEDDED: During your presentation at the FACE/SOSA TIM [Technical Interchange Meeting] event in September you cited a statistic showing how software costs in new platforms can escalate to the point they become unaffordable, especially as 70% to 90% of aircraft avionics capability is implemented in software. How will FACE reduce these costs going forward?
HOWINGTON: One of the biggest cost drivers the FACE Consortium set out to conquer was the common practice of developing different software for different platforms that implement the same capability. By conforming to the FACE Technical Standard, you can produce software for portability and reusability, and therefore reduce duplicative development efforts. Standardization allows reusability while reducing integration efforts because it puts everyone on the same page with respect to the overall architecture, interfaces, and data definitions. If the software also meets DO-178 criteria, then it becomes possible to reuse both the software and its certification artifacts in another system, saving additional time and cost.
MIL-EMBEDDED: The latest version of the FACE Technical Standard is 3.0. What does this version bring to the table for military avionics suppliers?
HOWINGTON: The most important change to 3.0 is allowing easier use of Component Frameworks. Many different commercial software components and industry product line frameworks exist today. One well-known, very familiar example is the Java virtual machine. Component Frameworks allow software developers to focus on the unique requirements of software components without having to spend effort developing lower-level functionality management details. This capacity increases software development efficiency and makes support for these frameworks important. But these frameworks come with unique interfaces that introduce barriers for reuse. To promote portability, the FACE Technical Standard 3.0 provides an easier means to access those unique interfaces through the FACE Architecture.
MIL-EMBEDDED: How has Collins Aerospace leveraged FACE within its systems and solutions? What applications/platforms use FACE-conformant solutions from Collins Aerospace? Any examples you can give?
HOWINGTON: Absolutely. Collins Aerospace was the first-ever company to earn a FACE Conformant Certification with its Mission Flight Management Software product. Using commercial technology that we’ve deployed in over 50 different type-model-series aircraft, this software product now forms the foundation for upgrading multiple Navy aircraft through a contract with NAVAIR. Our second FACE Conformance Certificate was earned for our Avoidance Re-router situational-awareness and decision-aiding software. This product was also developed from commercial technology and is incorporated within the CH-47F Block II program (see Figure 1) to provide additional hazard avoidance capabilities to pilots. Additional FACE applications are on the shelf or in development, and we’ve enabled our avionics systems to host them.
MIL-EMBEDDED: How has FACE affected the Collins Aerospace CAAS program, which was created for the Army to cost-effectively leverage COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] and common software architectures across Army helicopter platforms?
HOWINGTON: The Common Avionics Architecture System, or CAAS – which flies on the CH-47F and other aircraft – uses underlying standards common with the FACE Technical Standard, such as POSIX, ARINC 653, ARINC 661, and OpenGL. As we’re showing in Block II, Collins Aerospace stepped up the ability of CAAS to host FACE-conformant software, and that has opened up opportunities to integrate more third-party software components. We’ve found that the FACE architecture does a good job of abstracting software components and easing many integration problems such as transporting data around in the system. That feature makes it easier to cost-effectively adopt open applications built to the FACE Technical Standard.
MIL-EMBEDDED: FACE-conformant solutions were part of the Tri-Service Open Architecture Interoperability Demonstration held in January at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. How important for the FACE business model has it been to have buy-in been from prime contractors, certainly different from the proprietary model they were used to?
HOWINGTON: Standards thrive when they are implemented often, so it is hugely important to see not only primes implement the FACE Technical Standard, but also other industry players of all sizes. We’ve seen many program wins across the Consortium membership, which right now numbers around 90 companies, and demonstrations for new capabilities continue to be held. I also can’t stress enough how important it is that our customers have bought in to buying FACE software, as evidenced by requirements and purchases coming from all of the services. Suppliers are finding a market of FACE software buyers, and that is validating the concept. Right now, Collins Aerospace is executing well over $150 million in programs that will supply FACE software.
MIL-EMBEDDED: FACE was developed for use by military applications, but could the model also be applied to commercial avionics platforms?
HOWINGTON: It can and it has. I mentioned the two FACE-conformant certified software products that Collins Aerospace produces, and that they are based on commercial technologies. Those technologies continue to be used in both the commercial and military spaces, although we may not tout that fact on the commercial side. If you seek out other FACE Consortium members, you will find several who are producing software for the commercial space as well. The real-time operating system vendors are a great example here.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Twenty FACE-conformant products from 12 suppliers are now in the FACE Registry, and FACE requirements are now included in new military avionics contracts. What is the next design challenge or hurdle for FACE members to overcome?
HOWINGTON: The defense industry is working hard to keep the United States and its allies on top of the game for defense, and we in the industry are being challenged to find ways that allow quick and agile fielding of enabling capabilities to affordably go into the aviation fleet. On the commercial side, we’ll continue to see rising air-traffic usage over the long haul, and airline carriers will look for advanced solutions to navigate an ever-more-crowded airspace. These challenges demand the kinds of solutions that building to [conform with] the FACE Technical Standard can provide. Collins Aerospace will continue to advance its open architecture products using the FACE standard, and we will continue building an outstanding team of skilled programmers for developing FACE-conformant software.