FACE initiative takes aim at improved interoperability and standards among future military avionics platforms

Summary:What we are trying to do with FACE now is to develop a computer environment that’s on the aircraft already. As we define new capabilities and new things that we want to put out into the fleet, we can host software in the computer environment that’s already there, rather than building a brand new box.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: The Open Group.

Coming to you from The Open Group Conference in Boston, we've assembled a panel to explore a new military aircraft systems interoperability consortium and effort, the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE).

FACE aims to promote and better support interoperability and standardization among future military avionics platforms across several branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. We define FACE, how it came about, and examine the consortium's basic goals under the tutelage of The Open Group.

Here to help better understand the promise and potential for FACE to improve costs, spur upgrades, flexibility, and accelerate the avionics components' development agility are our panelists, David Lounsbury, Vice President for Collaboration Services at The Open Group, and Mike Williamson, Deputy Program Manager for Mission Systems with the Navy's Air Combat Electronics Program Office. The conversation is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts from last week's discussion:

Williamson: FACE started out as a Navy program. As we started looking around to see what other services were doing, we found that the Army and the Air Force were also doing similar things and trying to go down that same path.

The Army had a program called Integrated Data Modem (IDM). The Air Force was doing a program called Universal Network Interface (UNI). We got together with them and are now teaming up to put this consortium together and go forward to define standards for what FACE will be.

We're really addressing all of the capabilities and all of the systems onboard the aircraft. In the past, we identified a requirement and usually developed a system to meet that requirement.

Sometimes it’s easier to describe a program by saying what it’s not. FACE is not a program. FACE is not a computer. FACE is not a software package. FACE is an environment, and it’s specifically set up as an environment. It was an idea that came about to try to reduce costs, improve interoperability across naval aircraft, and to get capabilities out to the fleet faster and quicker, as best we can.

What we are trying to do with FACE now is to develop a computer environment that’s on the aircraft already. As we define new capabilities and new things that we want to put out into the fleet, we can host software in the computer environment that’s already there, rather than building a brand new box, software, or program for every single capability that we put out there.

Lounsbury: We really need modularity within the necessary structures of testing for things that are going to be used, and be able to get those new capabilities in the cycle quickly and get them out to the war fighters.

The testing and deployment schedule is a real issue for agility for our forces. The one thing we know is that threats change all of the time, and we need the ability to field new capabilities quickly, both as the mission changes and also as the technology evolves.

The Open Group has a couple of areas similar to this. We've got our Real-time and Embedded Systems Forum for some of the fundamental standards.

We've been running a consortium called DirectNet, which is very similar to FACE in the sense that it is principally focused on a defense need, but in the context of open systems. Through connections developed there, Mike found us and we talked about what we can do to organize.

We have a number of activities that are on this government-industry boundary, where some of the lessons that industry learned about how open standards can bring agility and help control your cost can benefit military systems like this.

Williamson: The idea for FACE really started about a year ago in the Navy... . We started looking at what we could do and what we needed to do.

What we're going to be doing principally is marshaling, as always, the expertise of the members to address various parts of the problem.

The timeline is very, very tight. We're looking at having some kind of standards defined by first quarter of calendar year 2011 -- next year. By the end of March, we're looking to have defined a set of standards on what the FACE environment will look like, because we have procurements coming out at that time that we intend to have FACE be part of those requests for proposals (RFPs) that are going to be coming out.

One of the things that we have looked at is the fact that commercial industry is doing this. Commercial aviation is already doing a lot of this. We've not been able to do that within naval aviation to date, and primarily that's been driven by safety-of-flight issues, issues within our operability, and issues with how we contract for things. We need to get beyond that.

We're actually using the model of what commercial aviation has done, with open systems, open source software, licensed software, and those kinds of things, to ask how we can bring that into our platforms. We need to have an environment that we can have a library of software applications that can be used across multiple platforms in the same environment.

That solves two problems for us. One, it gets capabilities to the fleet cheaper and faster. And two, it solves the interoperability issues that we have today, where even sometimes when we have the same standards, two different platforms implement the same standards in two different ways and they can't talk to each other. They are not interoperable. Those are the things that we are trying to solve with this.

Lounsbury: One of the explicit goals of FACE, and we performed a business work group to address these, is to talk about the business-model issues. What does open licensing mean in a government context? What would be appropriate ways of sharing intellectual property rights (IPR) in the run up to this?

These are all things that commercial people are familiar with through years of standards activity, but it's kind of new to some of the players in the government space. So, we're going to make sure that those things are explicitly addressed. It’s not just the technological solution, though that’s the critical part, but the fact that people can actually buy -- and that we will have a marketplace of -- components that can be licensed and reused.

The government is a complex place, and there are lot of programs, so principal growth will be different programs inside the government. But, we do envision that some of the things that will be developed here may be applicable to other systems.

Typically, what The Open Group does is provide a structure. Members come in, they bring their business expertise, their subject matter expertise, and operate. What we provide is the framework, where we can have an open consortium that has a balance of interest between the suppliers of components, all government agency programs doing procurement, and the integrators who put it all together. We have the proven process at The Open Group to make sure that we have that openness that's important for protecting all of the parties.

Williamson: There have been a lot of things that I've learned, having The Open Group come along and take a lead on all of this and developing the standards. The Navy and the Department of Defense (DoD) aren't real good at developing standards ourselves. We've tried to do it in the past and we've failed miserably with some of the attempts that we have had. Having The Open Group come and join us, and then bringing industry in, was the right thing to do.

Having this consortium with industry, Navy, Army, and Air Force acquisition teams, and fleet participation, has been the right way to go. It’s the only way we can really define the standards and get in place the standards that we really need to get at, with all those inputs coming together.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: The Open Group.

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Topics: Emerging Tech, Enterprise Software, Software

About

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, an enterprise IT analysis, market research, and consulting firm. Gardner, a leading identifier of software and cloud productivity trends and new IT business growth opportunities, honed his skills and refined his insights as an industry analyst, pundit, and news edito... Full Bio

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