Gone are the days when the United States could tower over all adversaries with unmatched technology projecting global power. Today, our near-peer adversaries can procure and build competitive (if not dominant) systems and capabilities that challenge our best weapons and defense systems.
Historically, the U.S. has built manned aircraft with both a single mission purpose and prime contractor and a fixed set of suppliers. Modifications to these systems had long lead times coupled with high costs of change. This worked well in a world where the number of aircraft types was constrained, and the cost of aircraft was modest when compared to the cost of aircraft today. But in the new era of unmanned systems and relatively high airframe costs, this is no longer feasible, especially in a world where multiple near-peer adversaries are emerging and evolving faster than the U.S. military can innovate. This challenge is exacerbated by tightening military budgets and equipment shifting to unmanned, robotic and autonomous platforms that drive both software and system complexity higher.
What is needed? Former U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis stated the demand for a Modular Open Systems Approach succinctly in 2018: “Success does not go to the country that develops a new technology first, but rather, to the one that better integrates it and more swiftly adapts its way of fighting.”
MOSA to the Rescue
How do we compete in this new environment? How does one insert technological advances into military systems at the speed of innovation? There are many vectors we can traverse to achieve this change, but one that has proven to be successful is to build a new procurement and technology approach. Specifically, an approach that creates system capability agility and incorporates a streamlined procurement process that does not need to flow through a platform prime contractor.
The U.S. military has now fully embraced a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) that enables the rapid insertion of best-of-breed technology from a supply chain that supports both legacy defense and new innovative companies.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has codified the use of MOSA into multiple directives, such as the U.S. DoD Tri-Services Memo from 7 January 2019 entitled MOSAs for our Weapon Systems is a Warfighting Imperative and the Secretary of Navy-issued Defense Acquisition System & Joint Capabilities Integration and Development Systems Implementation (SECNAV Instruction 5000.2F) on 26 March 2019, among others.
The benefits of MOSA are now well-proven and are summarized (see sidebar) in the U.S. DoD Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Modular Open Systems Approach document. There is no single “magic bullet” for implementing MOSA. The user must determine the desired outcomes up front to fully realize its benefits.
The FACE Approach
In 2010, almost a decade prior to these directives, government, industry and academia formed a powerful coalition of avionics experts to create an open, standards-based environment for the military avionics industry, with the goal of accelerating agility and warfighter capability in future avionics systems. This led to the creation of the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium, which is managed by The Open Group, an independent standards management organization.
The FACE Consortium members created both a technical standard and a business approach that is now in its third major revision – it is a mature and highly relevant standard that can be employed in all military avionics systems.
The FACE Technical Standard is based on a layered architecture designed for rapidly replacing any software component as required. These layers, or FACE segments, consist of a software component or domain-specific data model designed to meet the applicable requirements defined in the FACE Technical Standard for a defined FACE architectural segment. These software modules are referenced as a FACE Unit of Conformance (UoC).
The FACE Consortium also created a UoC conformance and certification program. This is a process where UoCs are independently tested against a rigorous FACE Conformance Test Suite. When independently verified that a given UoC supports all requirements for a at any point in its development and becomes a FACE Certified UoC upon completion of the FACE Conformance Process.
There are eight very powerful structures built into the FACE Technical Standard. The first is this is a not a single service or set of company standards – it is a government/industry collaboration by 90 member organizations on the standard itself and its supporting ecosystem is managed by an independent body. There are no competing abstraction layers between FACE software components. This creates a framework for building multiple product lines that can be readily integrated and deployed.
Another key is that the FACE Consortium only publishes application programming interfaces (APIs), not business logic. Because the majority of these APIs are based upon existing open standards, this eliminates the opportunity to inadvertently export military application business logic when publishing this standard.
FACE deployments are broad in reach and are flexible. FACE systems are applicable for real-time, near-real-time, and non-real-time systems, allowing FACE investments to be supported by a larger customer and program base. There is flexibility designed in below the transport layer, which enables the use of a wide range of network protocol and backplanes. This enables FACE applications to maintain interoperability across different communications and connectivity environments.
The FACE Technical Standard is data-centric by design. There is explicit governance at the data architecture level that optimizes opportunities for re-use and interoperability by enforcing a common lexicon for component-to-component interfaces. This data-centricity also directly aligns to and supports the DoD Data Strategy, “Unleashing Data to Advance the National Defense Strategy”, which was published in September 2020. The DoD Data Strategy declares that all DoD leaders have the responsibility to “treat data as a weapon system and manage, secure, and use data for operational effect.” This further supports the vision of the DoD becoming a data-centric organization that “uses data at speed and scale for operational advantage and increased efficiency.”
All published FACE documents are approved for public release: distribution unlimited. This facilitates easy access and inclusion for coalition and supply chain partners.
The FACE Technical Standard is also a standard-of-standards. The FACE Technical Reference Manual did not invent new APIs where existing, proven commercial and military standards were well-established. Instead, sixty industry standards were leveraged to create a larger market for these standards and to immediately add proven reliability and quality.
FACE update Part II will appear in the next issue.
Chip Downing is the Senior Market Development Director of Aerospace and Defense at Real-Time Innovations (RTI). In this position, he manages RTI’s global Aerospace & Defense business and helps drive the RTI Connext product, which is now used in over 1,700 global systems, both commercially and in the military aerospace market. Downing currently serves as Chair of the FACE Consortium Business Working Group Outreach Subcommittee, promoting the FACE approach globally..