June 29, 2022

Art & Lifestyle:

NAVAIR Puts Its Best FACE Forward

inaurgural FACE exposition

By Jay Friess
Editor

inaurgural FACE expositionThe Naval Air System Command’s dream of a software app store for aircraft took a public step toward reality Tuesday at an exposition held at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Lexington Park, Maryland.

NAVAIR is calling this concept “FACE,” or Future Airborne Capability Environment, and the concept has been in the works for nearly two years. Bob Matthews, the integrated program lead for FACE, said he’s used to hearing the question, “When is it real?”

“In some respects, it’s real now,” Matthews said.

A few of the 41 members of the FACE industry consortium appeared at Tuesday’s event to show off the capabilities they will be bringing to the software platform once it is complete. FACE could one day run everything from mapping software to radio controls to weapon targeting, all running on different models of flight computers in both fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

Robert Sweeney, lead technical engineer for FACE, explained that, in the past, aircraft have had to rely on proprietary hardware and software built by the manufacturer of the aircraft. FACE promises an open platform that any developer can use to upgrade and add capability to any manufacturer’s hardware.

“You need a common operating environment,” for this to work, Sweeney said. Software developers would retain the rights to their own code and logic, but the Navy would no longer be locked into a single software vendor for a given aircraft.

“A digital map is a digital map is a digital map,” Matthews said, noting that the Navy would no longer have to pay to develop individual mapping systems for each individual aircraft.

“I don’t have to recreate, redesign and redevelop systems,” said Capt. Tracy Barkhimer, program manager for Air Combat Electronics (PMA-209), noting that FACE will allow NAVAIR to port developed software from aircraft to aircraft. “It will save millions of dollars.”

Barkhimer said the system has the potential to save time and increase system interoperability as well.

Sweeney concurred, saying, “I think FACE is going to change the software acquisition environment.” He predicted more competition, greater innovation and more capabilities coming faster as a result of the system.

While the Pentagon is looking to shrink the overall software budget with FACE, Barkhimer said the defense industry has supported it, because it opens potential avenues for growth.

“In a shrinking economy, if you are the sole provider of a weapons system, you’re locked into that system,” Barkhimer said. FACE gives companies the chance to compete to develop software for competitors’ aircraft. It also allows small businesses a chance to break into the software contracting game.

When NAVAIR and its contractors will get some actual FACE time is unclear. Barkhimer said her program has issued a couple requests for information on the creation of a FACE-compliant cockpit design to gauge the cost of the system. Sweeney said the consortium is still sorting out the specifications for a common data model. And Matthews said his team is still drafting standardized contracting language for the system’s applications.

However, anyone can join the consortium at their web site and download the latest version of the software environment right now.

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