76th SWEG Team Leads High Level Air Force Research Project> US Air Force> Post Display
The 76th Software Engineering Group has a few highly specialized and advanced teams working on cutting edge technologies and advancements for the Air Force. One of those teams is Xanatos Gambit, a team of eight who are making great strides in embedded development and hardware emulation.
The main strategy used by the XG team when considering the necessary digital transformation of embedded development is: “Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast”.
“This thought process allows them to think outside the box, to go beyond the current limits of on-board development and to deliver innovative and impactful solutions for the fighter,” said director Kevin Higgs of the 559th Software Engineering Squadron.
In August 2020, the Air Force Chief of Staff, General. Charles Q. Brown Jr. published a document on the Strategic Approach entitled “Speed up change or lose”Who pleaded with the Air Force to make big changes, quickly. In his introductory note, Brown said the Air Force “must accelerate change to control and operate the air domain to the standards the nation expects and demands of us.” If we don’t change – if we don’t adapt – we risk losing the certainty with which we have defended our national interests for decades.
Initially, the XG team began their journey by reaching out to industry leaders to determine some of the biggest constraints that in-vehicle development faces when it comes to safety-critical real-time avionics software. During this endeavor, XG inspired the creation of an integrated consortium, named “Team 8”. This consortium was mandated by the Air Force software manager.
Following ACOL’s strategy of “collaborating inside and out,” XG leads the way by chairing and administering Team 8. Through Team 8, XG has been in contact with top executives from more than 20 companies, multiple Department of Defense agencies, major clients and various research institutes. First-hand insight has put XG in a unique position to understand some of the biggest constraints impacting on-board development.
“The main obstacle noted by XG is that the embedded development of traditional avionics requires writing software applications specific to its hardware and operating system,” said Felix Cortez, owner of the Xanatos Gambit product with the 559th SWES. “Unlike desktop / web applications, which can be installed on a variety of general purpose computer systems, embedded software has fixed hardware requirements. “
The built-in software is written to run on a particular device with processing and memory restrictions directly related to the specifications of that device.
“This proves to be tedious early in the lifecycle process because there is an important architecture to be defined before writing code,” Cortez said. Additionally, he added that this constraint limits reuse and refactoring during end-of-life hardware, which increases overall lifespan costs. This process hampers the fundamentals of Agile by requiring physical access to hardware for testing, pushing the lifecycle even further to the right. Finally, avionics software has unique certification and safety standards that must be met as the foundation for any development safety operations implementation.
Understanding the challenges of “Good enough today will fail tomorrow,” which is another strong point Brown highlighted in his memo, the XG team focused on resolving various constraints within embedded development. Early in the development phase, XG explored the possibilities of separating the software architecture from specific hardware using model-based systems engineering.
XG then used their experience with hardware emulation and found free and open source software they could use to reduce dependencies on licensing and access to flight hardware. It was determined that the implementation of these technologies with automation and cloud integration was fundamental to support the principles of continuous integration within a DevSecOps workflow.
Cortez said the prospects for these big ideas started small with incremental capabilities.
“XG set out to create a simple application, starting from the requirements phase,” he said. “The models were created to represent high level and detailed functional requirements. These models became the authoritative source of truth from which qualified source code was generated automatically, regardless of hardware and operating system.
Throughout this phase, XG continued to remove the physical constraints of the hardware through the use of hardware emulation. Finally, the code generated from the models must be executed on selected avionics hardware. However, hardware emulation alleviates this constraint, by providing early high availability development testing before physical testing in the system integration lab.
In order to “rapidly evolve” this approach, Cortez said XG has leveraged native cloud technologies through the use of pipelines, containers, and Kubernetes.
“We immediately discovered that containerized on-board tool chains are limited, both commercially and in the DoD Iron Bank,” he said.
XG used a FOSS real-time operating system and containerized the build tools and associated unit testing tools.
“No product can containerize a running RTOS, a requirement for integration testing in a cloud pipeline,” Cortez said. “So XG created a multi-layered abstraction technique called ‘nesting doll’ that allows embedded software to run on emulated hardware in a container for automated testing. The XG team created these containers for distribution through the Iron Bank balancing the need for flexibility of different hardware configurations with the benefits and reusability of standardization.
XG Demonstration of Implementing Non-x86 Embedded Software Pipelines Providing Automated Functional Analysis, Construction and Testing in a Cloud Environment Enables Software Development Driving the Air Force Core Mission to Realize Full Agile Benefits and DevSecOps.
This demonstration caught the attention of an Air Force Vanguard project called the Golden Horde. The Vanguards are large-scale Air Force research projects aimed at rapidly advancing emerging weapon systems and combat concepts through prototyping and experimentation. The Golden HordeThe objective is to develop an array of ammunition swarm capable of autonomously attacking multiple targets simultaneously. XG strives to evolve these demonstrated capabilities within the Golden Horde, inspiring other Air Force projects to evolve current integrated development practices.