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EXCLUSIVE ROUNDTABLE: Experts Discuss Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE)

JEFF CHILD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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Recently, COTS Journal’s Jeff Child had the unique opportunity to sit down with representatives from three companies involved in the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE): Kirk Avery from Lockheed Martin, Joe Dusio from Rockwell Collins, and Chip Downing from Wind River (Figure 1). The FACE Standard defines the software computing environment and interfaces designed to support the development of portable components across the general-purpose, safety and security profiles. FACE uses industry standards for distributed communications, programming languages, graphics, operating systems and other areas. Its goal is to establish a common computing software infrastructure supporting portable, capability-specific software components across Department of Defense (DoD) avionics systems.

Figure 1
From left to right, Joe Dusio from Rockwell Collins, Kirk Avery from Lockheed Martin, and Chip Downing from Wind River.

Jeff Child, COTS Journal: Let’s start out with the consortium itself. What is the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium and what is its purpose?

Joe Dusio, Rockwell Collins: The FACE Consortium was formed in 2010 as a collaborative approach to develop a common operating environment supporting portability and reuse of software components across Department of Defense (DoD) aviation systems. The FACE Consortium has developed a supplier-independent, standardized environment for DoD aviation systems allowing software components to be rapidly migrated across systems conforming to the FACE Standard.

The FACE Consortium provides a vendor-neutral forum for industry and the U.S. government to work together to develop and consolidate the open standards, best practices, guidance documents and business models necessary to achieve these results.

CJ: Attempts at establishing open systems standards have been tried in the military before with mixed success. Why is FACE so critical now?

Kirk Avery, Lockheed Martin: There are a couple of reasons why FACE is so timely. First, current aviation systems are typically developed for a unique set of requirements by a single vendor, causing longer lead times for urgent needs, platform-unique designs, limited portability of software components, increased costs, and creating barriers to competition within and across platforms.

Second, the military aviation community has not created standardized architectural and software interface standards to sufficiently enable portability of software components across DoD aviation systems. Furthermore, contracts typically do not require conformance to a common set of open standards, and program managers are not funded to assume cost or schedule risks of multi-platform requirements.

Chip Downing, Wind River: Commercial aerospace suppliers have standardized on open common core platforms based upon ARINC 653, which is a standard API for integrated modular avionics (IMA), but this has simply not occurred in military avionics systems. Wind River alone has over 140 customers using our ARINC 653 solution on over 50 aircraft; so it is clear that the concept of using an open, common compute platform environment makes good business sense. We just need to proliferate this concept into military aviation system designs.

CJ: I would imagine there’s a lot of cost savings and reuse benefits with this type of architecture. Can you review some of those benefits of FACE?

Avery: FACE creates an open, modular software environment enabling portability and reuse of software components across multiple programs and platforms. This architecture expands the selection options for military software components, reduces up-front procurement costs, reduces system integration cost and risk, reduces upgrade and technical refresh costs, and therefore reduces total life cycle costs.

CJ: Many of our readers are familiar with initiatives such as IMA and Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA). How does the FACE Consortium relate to those?

Downing: The FACE Consortium builds upon the tenets of Open Architecture (OA), IMA and Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) by defining a standardized method of interface between software components and architectural segments. The consortium is currently comprised of 39 members including DoD and industry member organizations, their representatives and advisors. The Consortium was formed and is currently managed under the auspices of The Open Group. 

Avery: There are four key teams managing the development and proliferation of the FACE standard and other Consortium documents: 

1.Steering Committee: Provides oversight, governance and direction to the consortium.

2. Technical Working Group (TWG): Responsible for creating the Technical Standard and accompanying information.

3. Business Working Group (BWG): Responsible for defining business models to communicate FACE goals to DoD and Industry leaders.

4. Advisory Board: Provides guidance and advice to the consortium.

CJ: Oftentimes a standard can be called “open” yet in practice interoperability isn’t always a certainty. Are the standards produced by the FACE Consortium truly open standards?

Dusio: Yes, the standards are truly open. Anyone can download and use FACE Consortium work products after agreeing to The Open Group’s terms and conditions for use. The FACE Business Guide and FACE Technical Standard for FACE Reference Architecture are available now. The Consortium teams are now actively working on a FACE Contracts Guide, FACE Library Guide, FACE Conformance Business Plan, and the FACE Conformance Certification Guide. It’s important to note that all members of the consortium realize that to make this standard a success we need to create a powerful balance between both technical and business requirements. Just defining an open API for DoD aviation systems won’t work.

CJ: You mentioned the business side. How soon do you expect there will be government procurements requiring FACE conformance?

Downing: There are now at least five released Requests for Information (RFI) and Requests for Proposal (RFP) having references and requirements for FACE. These RFIs/RFPs include US Navy C-130T, US Navy ADDS, US Navy Full Motion Video, Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, and the US Navy BAA for the Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) research program.

CJ: Let’s get down to the specifics now. Would you outline for me what the key components are of the FACE computing environment?

Dusio: The FACE Consortium has defined the key vertical and horizontal software interfaces and will provide implementation guidance for using these interfaces. The Technical Standard for FACE Reference Architecture document contains a high-level architectural overview and a detailed description of the architectural segments interconnected by three key interfaces. These segments and their interconnections comprise the FACE computing environment.

Avery: The five segments (Figure 2) of the FACE computing environment are:

Figure 2
These five segments and their interconnections comprise the FACE computing environment.

1. The Operating System (O/S) Segment

2. The Input/Output (I/O) Services Segment

3. Platform-Specific Services Segment

4. Transport Services Segment

5. Portable Component Segment

FACE is not a platform-specific design, however, it provides design guidelines to both aviation platform and mission equipment package Program Managers. This computing environment enables portable, modular, software capabilities to be used across multiple platforms.

CJ: What’s the process by which the FACE Technical Standard is being validated?

Downing: The FACE Consortium membership, in conjunction with academia, has worked to prototype, evaluate, examine and demonstrate the FACE computing environment. The FACE Consortium is also developing a FACE Conformance Verification and Certification Program Plan covering three major topics: the FACE Conformance Verification Process, the FACE Conformance Certification Process, and the underlying FACE Conformance Business Structure.

 

For more information readers can go to the FACE public website at: www.opengroup.org/face/. This site contains general information about the Consortium. There is also a private, members-only collaborative website supporting the work of the Consortium. Anyone who works for a FACE Consortium member organization and would like to participate in the Consortium contact them at ogface-admin@opengroup.org.  

 

Lockheed Martin
Bethesda, MD.
(301) 897-6000.
[www.lockheedmartin.com].

The Open Group
San Francisco CA.
(415) 374-8280.
[www.opengroup.org].

Rockwell Collins
Cedar Rapids, IA.
(319) 295-1000.
[www.rockwellcollins.com].

Wind River
Alameda, CA.
(510) 748-4100.
[www.windriver.com].

 

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