Military Embedded Systems

MOSA for crewed and uncrewed aviation platforms


November 20, 2023

Cynthia Springer

Wind River

As the aviation industry evolves, the modular open systems approach (MOSA) is expected to play a significant role in the development of innovative and safe avionics systems that enable no-fail operations, whether crewed or uncrewed.

According to an avionics market report from Fortune Business Insights, the global avionics market is projected to reach $75.81 billion by 2027, at a combined annual growth rate [CAGR] of 9.25% from 2019 to 2027, driven by the increasing demand for advanced systems in modern aircraft.

Where security, safety, and reliability are paramount, avionics systems professionals are looking to realize the digital future with software-defined, mission-critical intelligent systems. The modular open systems approach (MOSA) and related standards and solutions are all playing critical roles in enabling next generation capabilities in avionics.

MOSA, in particular, benefits the avionics space in both military and civilian applications, as it enables faster development cycles, reduced costs, increased flexibility, and improved safety.

MOSA enables new technologies

Avionics-systems professionals face the challenge of keeping pace with rapid technological evolution while balancing complex requirements with limited budgets. In today’s digitally defined landscape, the traditional way of designing avionics systems as closed systems, with hardware and software tightly integrated and designed specifically for a particular aircraft, is proving unsustainable.

MOSA can help meet this demand by enabling the integration of new technologies, reducing development costs, and improving performance and reliability. A MOSA design focuses on developing open and interoperable systems using modular, independent components that can be easily modified, replaced, or upgraded. With tools available at the modeling level, these approaches can be used in crewed and uncrewed aviation.

MOSA: A competitive game-changer

MOSA is not itself a standard but rather a strategy for component acquisition and system design that prioritizes use of open standards-based technologies. The goal is systems that are flexible, competitive, and sustainable over their entire life cycle.

MOSA provides a scalable path for building avionics systems, leading to increased efficiency. Cost-effectiveness is another advantage, as each system can be designed using standard components already available on the market. This approach eliminates the need for costly bespoke designs and ensures that components can be purchased in bulk from competitive vendors and used across multiple aircraft types, both military and commercial.

Utilizing MOSA with IMA

In complex environments, utilizing MOSA along with other technologies, such as integrated modular avionics (IMA), can further enable flexibility, affordability, and enhanced capabilities. IMA simplifies avionics software development by supporting an integrated architecture of application software that is portable across common hardware modules. Avionics systems can be designed as individual modules that can be swapped in and out as needed. Complexity management is also addressed, since each module is designed to operate independently, which simplifies the overall system design. IMA also uses standard interfaces, which makes it easier to integrate new modules with existing systems.

MOSA and FACE conformance

To provide a common framework for integrating different avionics systems, standards such as the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Reference Architecture have emerged. FACE is a collaboration between government and industry that created a software standard to provide an open systems approach for military aviation solutions, delivering software-defined capabilities to the end user faster and more affordably.

The FACE architecture consists of several components, including a common operating environment (COE), a portable component framework (PCF), and a data model that defines how components interact with each other. FACE supports MOSA because it backs the IMA concept. (Figure 1.)

[Figure 1 ǀ Capabilities developed for one FACE [Future Airborne Capability Environment] operating system segment can be reused across multiple aircraft platforms. Graphic: U.S. Army via The Open Group.)

Addressing different safety-criticality levels

MOSA enables the development of high-performance systems that can support different safety-criticality levels. Safety-critical systems are defined as systems whose failure could result in injury or loss of life, damage to property, or damage to the environment. Since safety is paramount in avionics, MOSA is useful because it helps mitigate risk by enabling the development of robust, reliable, and flexible systems. To achieve the full benefits of MOSA, it is essential to verify and validate all components against the appropriate safety standards. Meeting standards such as DO-178C for software, DO-254 for hardware, and DO-297 for system architecture in airborne systems is essential for achieving certification and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.

Ensuring safety, mitigating risk

Several critical factors must be considered when implementing MOSA in aviation – one of the most important being airworthiness. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines airworthiness as the measure of an aircraft’s suitability for safe flight.

While the FACE standard is often associated with airworthiness, it is important to note that the FACE standard does not mandate or specify a particular way of achieving airworthiness. Instead, it provides guidelines to build a safety-critical piece of avionics that can be adapted to fit different airworthiness requirements. When building avionics systems using MOSA, it is essential that the system’s features and attributes adhere to the safety profile, which defines the system’s characteristics and requirements that help ensure safe and reliable operation.

Another point: Multicore devices have become increasingly popular in avionics because they offer improved performance, reduced power consumption, and increased redundancy. However, their implementation requires careful consideration of avionics certifications and safety requirements. Risk mitigation is a critical component of MOSA implementation; it requires strict adherence to guidelines to ensure that software safety testing conforms to safety and security guidelines.

MOSA and the intelligent edge

One major development in avionics systems is the move toward intelligent edge devices. Intelligent edge systems collect and process data at the edge, feeding it into a cloud-based environment for analytics. The flexibility enabled by such systems supports incredible potential, including quick upgrades of applications and services on the system. Critical to the security of this approach is use of a DevSecOps environment, or the practice of integrating security testing at every stage of the software-development process.

Containerization – a type of virtualization in which all the components of an application are bundled into a single container image and can be run in isolated user space on the same shared operating system – also plays a critical role in enabling intelligent edge capabilities. Containers are a portable and scalable way to package applications and services, enabling faster deployment and simpler management.

For example, the U.S. Air Force has shown that an F-16 with a container-based server can deploy containers on the aircraft even in flight. This ability offers a range of benefits, including updating and replacing at least some software applications without needing to take the aircraft offline. This option is especially important for military aircraft, where downtime can have significant operational implications.

An evolving field

As the aviation industry evolves, MOSA is expected to play a larger role in the development of innovative and safe avionics systems that enable no-fail operations, whether crewed or uncrewed. MOSA implementation in aviation will be critical to remaining competitive, flexible, and profitable.

With the advent of embedded systems and the intelligent edge, avionics systems are evolving to offer sophisticated, high-performance capabilities with enhanced safety, security, and efficiency features. Avionics developers and engineers must leverage these advancements in MOSA and related technologies and standards, all of which play critical roles in enabling these next-generation capabilities.

Cynthia Springer is Director, Industry Solutions for Aerospace and Defense at Wind River. Cynthia has more than 15 years of experience across both the defense and satellite communication (SATCOM) industries. During her career in program and project management, Cynthia has a particular interest in MOSA [modular open systems approach] to achieve competitive and affordable acquisition and sustainment over the system life cycle.

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