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FACE Standard Brings Open Concepts to Airborne Platforms

While open architecture standards have been slow to catch on in the military, the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) offers whole new levels of efficiency for airborne software computing implementations.


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As the military moves to a more systems-level approach to deliverable platform designs, the pressure is on to not reinvent the wheel for every software need. But open standards have been slow to catch on. One of the more vivid success stories is the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE). 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.

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.

Overcoming Adoption Resistance

Over the years, attempts at establishing open systems standards have been tried in the military before with mixed success. There are a couple of reasons why FACE is finally catching on. 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.

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. 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.

Already Required in Programs

There are several programs with requirements for FACE. Among these are the U.S. Navy C-130T, U.S. Navy ADDS, U.S. Navy Full Motion Video, Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, and the U.S. Navy BAA for the Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) research program.

For its part, Northrop Grumman was an early advocate of establishing open architecture standards. The company is actively using the FACE Reference Architecture and interfaces on existing avionics programs, including the effort to integrate third-party-developed FACE components inside Northrop Grumman’s embedded GPS/inertial navigation system for the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System program. Northrop Grumman is also pursuing the FACE Reference Architecture for future programs, including the UH-60L Cockpit Digitization Program (Figure 1).

Figure 1
U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters lift off at Cairo West Air Base. The UH-60L Cockpit Digitization Program is among those that Northrop Grumman plans to use the FACE Reference Architecture in.

Additionally, software components supporting the FACE Technical Standard, such as the full-motion video application for the company’s Integrated Avionics System, have been successfully demonstrated on various hardware platforms. Furthermore, Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Avionics System has already been rated exemplary by the U.S. Department of Defense via the Modular Open Systems Approach Program Assessment and Rating Tool, which measures the degree of implementation of open architecture standards within a program.


Also an early adopter of FACE, Lockheed Martin last month said it will offer a universal, highly adaptable and affordable mission equipment package (MEP) to meet requirements for the Joint Multi-Role/Future Vertical Lift (JMR/FVL) rotary wing program, with potential applications for other customers and platforms. The product will be an affordable, dependable solution for multiple customers due to its open architecture and future airborne capability environment (FACE) software design.

To improve the affordability and growth potential of the mission equipment package throughout its lifecycle, Lockheed Martin is incorporating the DoD’s FACE-software standards into the cockpit and mission systems. The use of the FACE standard for the software design will provide the U.S. Army unprecedented flexibility for reuse across multiple aviation platforms.