Open source effort targets the trouble with joint avionics

Marines H-1 helicopter

The Marines Corps’ H-1 helicopter is scheduled for an avionics upgrade based on a joint service effort.

The majority of joint service technology development programs have had trouble getting off the ground, as evidenced by troubled programs like the Joint Tactical Radio System and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. military's version of open source development is trying to change that poor track record on common system development through an open avionics standard backed by the three military services under the auspices of an "Open Group" consortium.

The Future Airborne Capability Environment, or FACE, was launched in 2010 as a government-industry partnership to define an open avionics development environment. The fruits of the consortium's work are destined for a range of military aircraft, promoters predict.

So far, the Army's aviation command, the Naval Air Systems Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory have all signed on to the consortium, along with heavy industry hitters like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Among the Open Group's technology companies are Green Hills Software and real-time operating system specialist Wind River.

Among the goals of the FACE program is developing a technical standard that lays the groundwork for maximizing the reuse of certified software. In other words, it is attempting to mimic the collaborative open source software approach that is increasingly being embraced by technology giants like Google and IBM.

"It will accelerate delivery of integrated war-fighting capabilities in a more competitive environment," asserts Vice Adm. David Dunaway, commander of Naval Air Systems.

The FACE approach also seeks to forge an acquisition strategy that reduces the cost of software development while at the same time boosting avionics capabilities. The hope is that each service would leverage common software for their aircraft avionics systems.

The open source program is beginning to show some early results: In July, the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to deliver its next-generation mission computer for the Marine Corps' H-1 helicopter upgrade. The mission computer is designed to integrate weapons and video processing capabilities into an airborne computer capable of driving four multifunction displays.

The mission computer stems from Northrup Grumman's integrated avionics development, which the company noted is "aligned" with the FACE standard. By levering the spec, the hope is that system upgrades can be accelerated along with the option of integrating emerging technologies. That approach, proponents say, would also make it easier to integrate avionics, communications, onboard sensors and electronic warfare equipment.

The FACE Consortium's mission statement can be found here.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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