Milestone in abstracting the hardware: Realizing the promise of FACE

The Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consort­ium, part of The Open Group, was formed to establish a standard common operating environment to ­support portable capability-based applications across Department of Defense (DoD) avionics systems. Key to the common operating environment envisioned by FACE is the definition of an interface for operating systems and board support packages (BSP) that enables the hardware portion of a system to be abstracted, greatly increasing the portability and reusability of software applications. With the wide adoption of FACE, system integrators can reap tremendous benefits in interoperability and cost.

The FACE Consortium is a government/industry partnership that manages technical standards and business strategies for acquisition of affordable software systems; it exists to promote innovation and rapid integration of portable capabilities across global defense programs. To be verified in accordance with the FACE Technical Standard and FACE Conformance Policy, software needs to be approved by an approved FACE Verification Authority. FACE conformance does not cover hardware, although hardware solutions can be designed to comply with FACE-approved software applications. U.S. Army Aviation, with thousands of helicopters to maintain and deploy, has been a leading advocate of the new standards, as has NAVAIR.

The last few years have seen a number of vendors demonstrating FACE-approved software running on a wide range of open architecture hardware designed to be compliant with the FACE standards. To demonstrate the true promise of FACE, though, requires the same FACE-approved application simultaneously operating in systems that are running different processor architectures (i.e., Intel, Power, ARM, etc.). Such a demonstration would establish the true abstraction of the underlying hardware that the effort seeks.

Each year, the U.S. Army hosts the FACE Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM), enabling FACE Consortium members to demonstrate FACE-certified software products and products aligned to the FACE Technical Standard. The Army FACE TIM 2018 (held on September 18 in Huntsville, Alabama) allowed vendors to showcase their FACE efforts for the warfighter. While the FACE target audience is the Army community, other customer communities are also invited, and previous events have seen hundreds of Army, Navy, and Air Force attendees.

At the 2018 FACE TIM, Curtiss-Wright, Green Hills Software (GHS), and Harris Corp. publicly demonstrated what is believed to be the first working example of a FACE-conformant software application running simultaneously on two completely different 3U OpenVPX single-board computers, each of which was based on different processor infrastructures (Intel and power architecture). The demo featured Harris’s FACE-approved FliteScene Digital Moving Map software running on top of GHS’s certified FACE-conformant INTEGRITY-178 tuMP real-time multicore operating system. The commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) module hardware solutions showcased in the demonstration included Curtiss-Wright’s NXP Power Architecture QorIQ Quadcore AltiVec-enabled T2080 processor-based VPX3-152, a DO-254 safety-certifiable 3U OpenVPX single-board computer (SBC), and the VPX3-1258, a 4th-generation Intel Core i7 (Haswell) processor-­based 3U OpenVPX SBC.

The demonstration of the two completely different hardware instantiations highlighted how the use of a FACE-conformant software infrastructure enables operators of different aircraft types to run common capabilities on hardware that is SWaP-C [size, weight, power, and cost]-optimized for each individual platform. Today, as 3U VPX becomes the industry standard (replacing the ubiquitous 6U VME form factor), leading COTS vendors offer a wide range of 3U OpenVPX processors based on Intel, PowerPC, and ARM architectures, some available as DO-254 safety-certifiable solutions, that can be embedded in a rugged chassis for applications in fighters, cargo aircraft, and helicopters. As the FACE-conformant OS supports all of these processor types, it enables designers to choose their optimal mix of processors and OS when integrating a FACE-conformant SWaP-C-optimized system.

For some applications, the 3U LRU approach may prove too heavy, hot, or costly to meet unique platform requirements; for example, on small unmanned aerial vehicles or in environments where space and power on a larger platform is very limited. For those cases, non-backplane-based small-form-factor (SFF) LRUs can reduce SWaP-C. When the SFF subsystem can also host a FACE-conformant OS, the system integrator gains the added flexibility to run the exact same applications on both the SFF and larger 3U VPX systems and still meet restrictive SWaP-C limitations.

The promise of FACE: To deliver greater flexibility to system designers while simplifying logistics, boosting interoperability, and eliminating costly proprietary solutions. With the demonstration of the same FACE-compliant OS and application software running on heterogeneous hardware platforms, the promise becomes a reality.

Mark Grovak is Director, Avionics Business Development, at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions.