FACE consortium tries to succeed where others have failed in crafting open-systems avionics computers

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Embedded computing providers, in unguarded moments, often blurt out their frustration with major avionics computer designers who make just enough tweaks to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and software to create what are essentially proprietary solutions with what ought to be open-systems avionics components.

We've all seen these before. Remember the Common Integrated Processor (CIP) design for the F-22 Raptor advanced tactical fighter? It was developed two decades ago by what was then Hughes Aircraft (bought later by Raytheon), and was based on the Intel 80960 processor. Hughes promoted the CIP as an open-systems computer, but anyone who took a look at it quickly realized that Hughes held the keys to the architecture, and no third-party suppliers could participate in the CIP without the approval and support of Hughes.

Today an industry group called the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) consortium is trying to change all that. This group, launched last July, is attempting to formulate industry standards for a common operating environment in avionics computer systems.

To date the FACE consortium has backing from the U.S. Navy Air Combat Electronics Program Office, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research and Engineering Center, and 19 defense industry avionics suppliers -- including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Rockwell Collins, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Harris Corp.

The group was formed to address the lack of common standards among aircraft systems, which has hindered interoperability while increasing the cost and time necessary to develop, integrate, and maintain modern avionics computers, consortium officials say.

Other FACE consortium members include ATK, CMC Electronics, Elbit Systems of America, Green Hills Software, Wind River Systems, LynuxWorks, Objective Interface Systems, Physical Optics Corp., Real-Time Innovations, Stauder Technologies, System Planning Corp., and
ViaSat.

Truly open-systems avionics have been a long time in coming, and many of us over the years have seen failed attempts in this direction. The Joint Integrated Avionics Working Group (JIAWG), which tried to come up with open-standards avionics for the F-22 and the long-cancelled RAH-66 Comanche attack helicopter, immediately come to mind.

It will be a long, uphill climb for proponents of the FACE consortium, but efforts will be worth it if this organization can succeed where others have failed.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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