Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: The Open Group.
Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion, coming to you from The Open Group Conference last week in Boston.
We've assembled a panel to explore a new military aircraft systems interoperability consortium and effort, the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE), which aims to promote and better support interoperability and standardization among future military avionics platforms across several branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
We will 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 components' development agility is our panel. We are here with David Lounsbury, Vice President for Collaboration Services at The Open Group. Welcome.
David Lounsbury: Hi, Dana. How are you?
Gardner: I'm great. We're also here with Mike Williamson, Deputy Program Manager for Mission Systems with the Navy's Air Combat Electronics Program Office. Welcome to the show.
Mike Williamson: Dana, thanks, it’s good to be here.
Gardner: Mike, tell us a little bit about what FACE is, and the history that led up to it?
Williamson: 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.
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.
Gardner: In general terms, what are the problems that we need to solve here?
Williamson: The primary problems are cost and schedule. The costs of getting systems to the fleet today are going up. Primarily, it's driven by testing and by the fact that the systems that we have on aircraft today are not open.
As for schedule, it takes a minimum of two years, once a new capability is defined, to get it fielded on our aircraft today. We need to reduce that timeline.
Gardner: For the benefit of our listeners, we're talking about the avionic systems. Can you tell us a little bit more about the actual systems and some of the capabilities that we're addressing with this program?
Williamson: 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.
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.
Gardner: Dave, I think The Open Group has seen this issue before, right?
Lounsbury: Yeah. It’s very interesting. We've got 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.
I want to pick up on a thread that you mentioned about schedule, because there’s two sides to that coin. 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.
We really need that 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.
Gardner: So how did The Open Group become involved, and what do you expect to be doing vis-à-vis the FACE effort?
Lounsbury: 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.
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've got the proven process at The Open Group to make sure that we have that openness that's important for protecting all of the parties.
Gardner: Mike, tell me about milestones and timelines? How far into this effort are we, and what might the fruits of this labor be over time?
Williamson: This idea really started about a year ago in the Navy, within PMA-209, the program office that I represent here, the Combat Electronics Program Office, at the Naval Air Systems Command. We started looking at what we could do and what we needed to do.
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.
Gardner: And for you, Dave, at The Open Group, what do you see as some of the existing efforts that have taken place that you could look to for some guidance? Are there processes, standards, or technologies that will already be available for FACE?
Lounsbury: It's very early, and we're just starting to learn the technical requirements. There are a few that we know that we are going to need. We've talked about the need for operating system kernels that keep the various levels of information to various levels of sensitivity separate. And, there's an active program in our Real-time and Embedded Systems Forum called MILS that's addressing that. I think there will be many that we will discover going forward.
There is also a good background. The Open Group has worked with some other government activities -- the Modular Open Systems Architecture folk. We've got quite a reservoir of expertise there. What we're going to be doing principally is marshaling, as always, the expertise of the members to address various parts of the problem.
Gardner: Let's look to some commonality, Mike, between the commercial world and the efforts for your avionics platforms, this notion of modular and the right balance between components, silos, and an overarching system. Tell us where you expect this to go, not only in terms of your agility, but into better architecture.
Williamson: 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: I want to pick up on something you mentioned there about following the commercial world, and you articulated a few business drivers in there, like cost, time to market, and things like that. 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.
It's early on how we are going to do that, but it’s a very active topic inside the consortium.
Gardner: Do you see an extensibility that this effort with FACE might have some bearing on where you could go in other areas of either the military or government?
Lounsbury: Certainly. Obviously, we started FACE. The Navy came to The Open Group, but once the word got out, the Army and Air Force are on board. So, we've started to branch out into agencies.
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. Part of the vision is, in fact, how does this start to overlap with the commercial avionics practice that Mike mentioned earlier.
Gardner: And, we've got our timeline. We understand that there are going to be some improvements pretty rapidly. Is there anything about the standardization process, Mike, that is perhaps different than you expected? Is there any learning process so far?
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.
Gardner: We've been discussing a new military aircraft systems interoperability effort and consortium, the Future Airborne Capability Environment or FACE effort, and how it promises to improve costs, spur upgrades, flexibility, and accelerate avionics components' development agility.
I'd like to thank our guests. We've been joined by David Lounsbury, Vice President of Collaboration Services at The Open Group. Thanks, Dave.
Lounsbury: Thank you, Dana.
Gardner: And, we've been joined by Mike Williamson, Deputy Program Manager for Mission Systems, with the Navy’s Air Combat Electronics Program Office. Thank you.
Williamson: Thank you, Dana.
Gardner: This sponsored podcast discussion is coming to you from The Open Group Conference in Boston the week of July 19, 2010.
This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. You've been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast. Thanks for joining, and come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Download the transcript. Sponsor: The Open Group.
Transcript of a sponsored podcast discussion on the US military's work with The Open Group to develop a computing environment that will smooth cost and schedule issues for new systems. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2010. All rights reserved.
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