FACE approach improves affordability, time-to-field of avionics systems and software platforms

Maintaining U.S. supremacy in all aspects of warfare can be challenging for Department of Defense (DoD) leaders, partly due to being locked into proprietary platforms or vendor- specific open architectures. These issues limit the government’s ability to bring in third parties to compete or add new capabilities, which has resulted in sole-source or single-bidder contract awards. An open systems architecture strategy has shown to curb the high-cost, long program schedules and lack of integration options of warfighting capabilities. This is where an initiative such as the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) can play a major role in making a business and technological difference.

Business and technology benefits of adopting the FACE approach

The main goal of the FACE Consortium is to increase the affordability and improve time-to-field of avionics systems and their software-based platforms, which offers numerous technical and financial benefits. Technically, the FACE technical standard opens the floodgates to increased innovation across the defense industrial base by letting science and technology communities focus on ground-breaking capabilities or FACE units of conformance (UoCs) as opposed to the redesign of an entire avionics system in order to integrate new abilities. Sequentially, deployment of the FACE technical architecture avionics systems that are required to complete a mission can now be tailored by adding new UoC capabilities to support a range of ever-evolving missions. Consequently, with the use of the FACE technical architecture becoming obsolete or outdated and no longer used is also dramatically reduced, providing a tremendous business benefit for the U.S. armed services.

Since the FACE technical architecture enables the quick and cost-effective deployment of new capabilities, these UoCs eliminate redundant development efforts and break the vendor-lock situation that challenge the U.S. military. The benefits expand further by defaulting into having a common training for installation, operation, and maintenance of these systems.

The FACE approach also bolsters effective competition, lowering costs across DoD avionics systems. However, if you are the software supplier of a UoC chosen to fulfill a government contract, the business and financial gains can be enormous and continuous because of ever-evolving warfare demands. Cost benefits to software suppliers of UoCs have trickled down into the development life cycle, particularly in software development efforts, by reducing time-to-market of UoCs and contributing to the reduction in time-to-field of avionics systems.

Challenges for software developers

Adopting a new standard is not a simple task. The entire development team needs to become familiar with all the requirements that the software unit needs to conform to and provide the proof that shows adherence. This raises a raft of important questions. What are the requirements that need to be satisfied? How should the proof be presented? What formats are acceptable? What are all the artifacts that need to be produced? Has a requirement been missed? Does the code adhere to the FACE coding rules? Is there a way to assure a passing grade before submitting the software unit to the FACE Verification Authority (VA)?

The FACE Consortium offers a helpful document called the Conformance Verification Matrix (CVM) which is a spreadsheet containing all requirements for all of the FACE software segments, but it does not answer all the necessary questions, leaving a lot of room for doubt. The manual use of spreadsheets is also inefficient, error-prone and difficult to collaborate within a team environment. Automation is the path forward.

The need for automated software testing and FACE conformance

Development of UoCs and adoption of the FACE approach is being abridged through automated software testing and FACE conformance-assurance offerings from tool vendors such as LDRA. One example is the automation of finding FACE code rule violations. As developers implement the code, violations are flagged, removing uncertainty in the use of unacceptable application programming interfaces (APIs) or the introduction of defects and security vulnerabilities. These automations improve time to market by reducing demanding rigor and reducing exhaustive team development efforts.

FACE conformance-assurance labor can also be automated and simplified by laying out the set of requirements and objectives that must be fulfilled in order for the software supplier to conform to a particular FACE software segment. Placeholders for expected artifacts not only guide the user, but also further the comprehension and adoption of the FACE Technical Standard. Template sample documents that must be delivered to the verification authority as artifacts expedite workflow and help developers avoid reinventing the wheel.

The final recommended step by the FACE technical standard is to execute the software unit against the FACE Conformance Test Suite (CTS). The ability to invoke the CTS from within a tool suite environment and abstract the test results ensures that all test artifacts are captured and builds confidence in early adherence and certainty of a FACE-conformant unit of portability, before submitting to the verification authority.

Pictured is a screen shot of LDRA software enforcing, tracking. and assuring conformance of the FACE technical standard.

FACE acceptance continues to grow

A FACE Technology Interchange Meeting (TIM) is held annually to showcase the development of applications certified and or aligned to the FACE Technical Standard running on avionics systems. This year, the U.S. Air Force is sponsoring the TIM event in Dayton, OH on September 17, 2019. Attendees will see demonstrations of FACE Certified products by software suppliers.

The FACE Consortium’s goals and scope continue to broaden as well, with efforts to expand the FACE technical architecture and its capabilities into NATO countries and strengthen relationships with U.S. global coalition partners. Adoption of the FACE approach across allied nations could benefit existing businesses locally and abroad in software supplier partnerships and in future technology-transfer agreements by allowing the sharing of innovative technologies between nations more affordably and effectively. The first public FACE event in Europe will take place in Toulouse, France at the Aerospace Tech Week conference in March of 2020.

The FACE Consortium continues to evolve a framework for making military computing operations more robust, interoperable, portable, and secure. An example that is taking place is the software-driven platform of the Army’s Apache helicopter. It has moved towards an open system architecture through FACE conformance requirements in order to enable software reuse throughout the defense enterprise. Additionally, since the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has purchased more than 20 Apache attack helicopters it gives the U.K. MoD the ability to upgrade or acquire additional capabilities by way of FACE UoCs.

Furthermore, as FACE adoption continues to progress, software-testing tools, such as LDRA’s tool suite are becoming a clear necessity in enabling this growth. The automation, workflow and FACE alignment assurance it provides is becoming significant to the software suppliers looking to achieve FACE conformance.

For more information on the FACE Consortium, visit: http://www.opengroup.org/face.