An Open Systems Approach in the Future Airborne Capability Environment in the Battlespace

Open Systems Approach
A U-2 Dragon Lady equipped with a U-2 Federal Lab-developed open software architecture orchestrated by Kubernetes prepares to land Sep. 22, 2020, at Beale Air Force Base, California. The Sep. 22 flight represents the first time Kubernetes has flown on an operational major weapon system in the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luis A. Ruiz-Vazquez)

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) continues to focus on leveraging open architecture solutions to improve speed, flexibility, and costs, while getting technologies into the hands of warfighters, pilots, and mission systems operators in the modern multi-domain battlespace. One of the well-defined open systems approaches can be found with the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE™), which includes an Open Group consortium that is using open system standards and business models to get avionics hardware into the field more quickly and makes military operations more robust, portable, and secure.

The Modern Battlespace editors recently attended a webinar, “Airborne Safety with FACE in the Digital Battlespace,” to listen to experts from Collins Aerospace, Rapita Systems, and Wind River discuss how the FACE standard can help ensure system safety for military airborne platforms.

Levi Van Oort, Associate Director at Collins Aerospace (a member of the FACE consortium), explained how this open systems approach and conformance requirements ensure airborne safety today and for future platforms. As an expert in the field, Van Oort is a member of the FACE Technical Working Group Leadership team and Co-chair of the FACE Technical Working Group Graphics Subcommittee. He has spent 20 years in the avionics industry developing solutions for fixed-wing and rotary wing aircraft and is an active participant of the FACE Technical Working Group since 2013.

Van Oort shared with the audience the significance of the open architecture and noted, “FACE components are going to be a key open standard that the defense market leans on for future platform developments.” Van Oort pointed to Future Vertical Lift as one example of this already occurring using both FACE standards and a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA). “FACE standards have an advantage in that is has a conformance test suite. Companies developing applications using the FACE standards can’t just say they are using it; they really have to prove it and that is very powerful when you talk about the future of open systems architectures.”

As the panelists on the webinar noted, FACE architecture builds upon existing open standards and doesn’t recreate the wheel. In fact, the standards that it does build upon are already used in commercial aviation for safety-critical systems.

“There is this misconception that FACE architecture was not designed for safety-critical applications,” Van Oort recalled. “I often hear that FACE was designed for non-flight critical mission applications in the back of the aircraft. Yet, the makeup of the FACE Technical Working Group leadership team is mainly suppliers from OEMs that do safety-critical development on a regular basis. That’s why when you look at the FACE standard itself, you see that safety-critical was designed into the standard from the start.”

A few examples that Van Oort highlighted to demonstrate airborne safety for FACE standards included:

  • Safety-critical operating system profiles that have been defined by experts in the operating system field.
  • Safety-critical language profiles that specifically meet safety aspects from an application perspective that can be driven into the development process upfront.
  • Applications that follow the standard can be both FACE conformant and achieve DO-178 objectives at the same time.
  • Use of open standards specifically designed for safety-critical applications such as ARINC 661 and Open GL SC.

Van Oort noted that that in a well-architected system, FACE standards reduce safety challenges and as such, key elements of the standard should be at the foundation of future development.

Using this approach will also open up new business opportunities for companies that have experience in designing modular open systems, according to Van Oort. “The most masterful practitioners of FACE are going to have architectures with all the modular components built ahead of time and can have certification and conformance artifacts ready and waiting for FACE Unit of Conformance (UoC) to drop into their systems. It will create a synergy between companies and products supplied to the defense market.”

Conformance is a critical aspect of the FACE standard and is key to future success. “We should embrace FACE conformance and see it as the opportunity it truly is,” Van Oort concluded.

To watch the full webinar on-demand, click here.