Avionics software: where are we?

by Willis H. Ware


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Since the digital computer first flew in an avionics system 25 years ago, the art has progressed from small, very slow vacuum tube machines with limited memory to fast chip-based machines that not only do sensor processing but also integrate a variety of data sources into many capabilities--among others, navigation, sophisticated weapons delivery, and programmed menu-displays to the air crew. As on-board computer hardware has proliferated, software inescapably has also. From a few hundred program words at the beginning, flight software is now commonly many tens-of-thousands of words; frequently, a few hundred thousands; and in some cases, even a million. Thus, implementation and management of software resources has become a major problem area for the military services. The paper explores dimensions of the issue as it now exists, suggests many positive actions under way, and proposes a direction in which the future may well move. It concludes that software will continue to be troublesome; progress will come slowly.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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