FACE to Quicken the Pace
How open standards are modernizing avionics for both customers and suppliers.
In the early years of product development, manufacturers may worry very little about interoperable standards, processes and specifications. However, this can have significant consequences for customers in the long-term, raising costs and limiting the adoption of modern technology, ultimately slowing the pace of industry innovation. This is especially true in avionics.
The Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE™) standard is a collaborative effort between government and industry to identify an established set of technical standards so that new software and hardware can seamlessly connect with existing systems on aviation platforms. In the past, aviation platforms have been largely custom built, with each component designed to fit an exact set of specifications. As a result, hardware integration is specific and limited, and software is not designed to work across multiple platforms.
Facing mounting pressure from the military to control costs and enable greater interoperability, the FACE Consortium formed in 2010 to support a common operating environment for Department of Defense aviation systems. This vendor-agnostic organization’s goal is to standardize approaches while spurring innovation and competition within the industry. The FACE consortium brings together industry suppliers, customers and users to not only develop the FACE architecture itself, but also to emphasize quality development and encourage aerospace technology innovation.
An open avionics standard will enable developers to create and deploy a wide catalog of applications for use across the entire spectrum of military aviation systems through a common operating environment, increasing capability, security, safety and agility while reducing long-term costs for customers. Product development by industry suppliers and procurements by government customer organizations are already underway based on the FACE standard.
The long-term benefit of FACE-standardized architecture is the ability to “future-proof” military air platforms, anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the effects of shocks and stresses of future events. Future-proofing is used in industries such as electronics, medicine, industrial design, and, more recently, in design for climate change. In today’s volatile global environment, operational scenarios are constantly changing as is the landscape of the manufacturing community. The military must use future-proofing approaches such as FACE to integrate newer capabilities faster.
Using a standardized software architecture that is FACE-conformant gives the U.S. military the ability to be more agnostic to the specific vendors and perform more plug and play; for example, disparate vendors could more easily integrate their solutions and spend less time on fine points of compliance, requirements definition, verification and validation. Standardization lets the military keep pace with technological change and integrate new solutions as they emerge. When products are designed to be plug and play by using FACE conformance, both large and small manufacturing companies can provide more products and variations of their products to the market faster.
Reaping Reuse Benefits
Developers of aviation systems will be able to reap the most benefit by leveraging good strategies for requirements, architecture and software reuse. Reuse is the process of using existing specification, code, design, documentation, templates, and even test cases to create something new. The benefits are enormous. Reuse increases productivity by decreasing time required to write new software from scratch. When a product is updated, many of the specifications from the previous version can be carried forward, including requirements and test management and regulatory compliance. The time saved can then be put into improving things like quality and reliability, as well as designing and developing new technologies.
As a successful example of industry standardization, AUTOSAR stands out as a predecessor from the automotive industry. Though in this case the end users were consumers rather than the government, many of the pressures driving standardization were the same. Controlling cost and interoperability drove the development and adoption of AUTOSAR. It has achieved those objectives but also contributed other benefits to automotive development—reduced time to market and reduced maintenance costs among others. As FACE gains ground in aerospace, the industry can look forward to many of the same gains, and the ability to focus on quality and innovation.
Open Standard Momentum
The long-term cost savings through reuse will benefit both manufacturers and the military. In addition to government participation, FACE Consortium membership includes all U.S. Department of Defense avionics prime contractors and most Tier 1 suppliers, including BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Elbit Systems of America, GE Aviation Systems, General Dynamics, Green Hills Software, Harris Corporation, Honeywell Aerospace, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, Sierra Nevada Corp., Sikorsky Aircraft, Textron Systems, UTC Aerospace Systems, and Wind River.
Members recognize that modern systems development requires conformant software to be intentionally developed with the goal to be reused, so while product managers will have more startup work to clearly outline objectives, the engineering team will have less work once the approach is established. Further, FACE would bring together other standards, such as ARINC 653 and the Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX), providing a common architecture that pulls them all together. The benefits outweigh the initial time expenditures.
Next for FACE
Much of the focus of FACE has been on military aviation systems suppliers, but as manufacturers see the benefits begin to pay off, the civilian aviation manufacturing community will likely get on board as well.
In commercial development, companies like Boeing and Airbus are establishing development standards to increase reuse, drive efficiency and ultimately reduce cost in the long-run. In 2015, the FACE Consortium announced future upgrades to the F-35 avionics software will be open to vendors outside of Lockheed Martin as a result of adoption of open standards, driving momentum in the defense industry. Further, the FACE Consortium recently launched the FACE Conformance Program to prepare, verify, certify and register FACE-conformant vendors.
The market is demanding a shift to a standard approach. The benefits to avionics customers are clear but should not overshadow the benefits to industry suppliers. Employing standards and leveraging reuse will reduce development and implementation cycles, freeing suppliers to focus on innovation and quality in engineering, which is good for both producers and end users.
Cary Bryczek, principal solutions architect for aerospace and defense for Jama Software, creates collaborative systems engineering solutions that increase stakeholder involvement and reduce decision-making time. With over 15 years of experience in the defense and intelligence industry, Bryczek has worked with companies such as Lockheed Martin and PTC, and is a member of INCOSE, AAMI and IEEE.