The U.S. Army's Future Combat System (FCS), a network-centric communication technology aimed at raising battlefield awareness, will use a Linux-compatible, open-source operating system as its software backbone.
General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, the vendor building the Integrated Computer System (ICS) for the FCS, said last month it will use Linux-compatible LynxOS-178 from LynuxWorks Inc.
The announcement served as possibly the most prominent example to date of open-source software's growing acceptance in the world of embedded electronics.
"Engineers of military systems, especially systems with safety-critical requirements, have in the past found reasons not to use nonstandard software," notes Inder Singh, chief executive officer and chairman of LynuxWorks. "But here, because there is so much software involved, and because it is such a long-term project, they decided to use open standards as much as possible."
The FCS, an enormous engineering undertaking, involves 18 sub-systems that link soldiers with manned and unmanned ground and air vehicles—such as tanks and helicopters—in a massive advanced communications platform. The idea of the project is to bring new levels of awareness and communications to the battlefield, thus enabling soldiers to know where their fellow troops, as well as enemy troops and vehicles, are at any moment.
Such highly-secure military projects typically call for high levels of documentation and traceability of software code, which is specified by various military standards, such as avionics standard DO-178B. LynxOS-178 meets the security requirements because it employs so-called "virtual machines," that is, software partitions that enable one microprocessor to behave as if it were several separate computers.
Up until recently, open-source software has made limited inroads in secure military applications, but the partitioned nature of the software, combined with the broad usage of Linux in nonsecure portions of the system, made LynxOS-178 a logical candidate as the software backbone for FCS.
"Linux is being used virtually everywhere now," Singh notes. "There's so much being developed on it now that if you want to have a really open system, it's becoming the environment of choice."