DCNS takes an industrial approach to developing on-board systems software with Bull
The information systems and security division of French naval defense company DCNS delivers on-board computer systems, working closely with numerous companies charged with developing the software for these systems.
One of these companies is Bull which, on the strength of its work on the NovaForge™ collaborative development platform, has been responsible for software engineering services (modeling, tooling...) since 2006. From a very early stage, Bull has supported the GEMO (GEneric and MOdular) open architecture developed by DCNS for its new-generation Combat Management System (CMS). Bull’s investments in this innovative architecture has helped it to rapidly win a growing amount of business working on DNCS’ large-scale programs such as the new-generation strategic nuclear ballistic missile submarine ‘Le Terrible’ and its FREMM multi-purpose frigates.
DCNS wanted to ensure that the weapons and combat systems for the FREMM program were developed using new information technologies. DCNS awarded Bull the contract to develop almost half of the first version of the FREMM CMS. Bull is now also working on integrating the CMS, which is due to go into service on the first frigate to be launched, in 2011.
Having developed a collection of software tools and a number of reusable technical building blocks, Bull has gradually been helping DCNS on the development of all functional software blocks – both for submarines and surface ships. For its part, the shipbuilder has retained overall control of the architecture design and responsibility for maintaining business-critical or highly sensitive algorithms.
Today, Bull has around 90 engineers working for DCNS, and is one of the company’s main partners when it comes to development combat system software. Bull is also the official training center for GEMO, providing the necessary training to ensure that the framework is used effectively.
NovaForge™: the Bull’s software forge at the heart of DNCS’ developments
Given the scale of the projects that Bull is involved in, coordinating the various teams is vital to ensure that cost commitments and deadlines are met. Taken together, these are huge projects with several million lines of code. The geographic aspect also has to be taken into account, because DCNS has split its production between two different locations in France. For an optimum response to these constraints, it is essential to have a truly ‘industrial’ mind-set, making used of an appropriate software factory. Which is why the program is using Bull’s NovaForge™ software forge, based on a selection of the very best available Open Source tools, assembled into a single Web portal. Thanks to NovaForge, Bull can respond to the geographic challenges with Virtual Shore™, creating a single environment spread across several production sites. All the work being done is stored in a totally transparent way at Bull’s highly secure hosting center.
The libraries of compiled code provided by DCNS are integrated into the subversion of the CMS in a centralized way. Everyone involved has access to the same sources and libraries. An adaptation module has been developed to rapidly overcome the differences between the various CMS tools used by DCNS. Any anomalies are centralized and traceability of ‘requirements-tests-code-bugs’ is maintained throughout the development process. It has been easy to adapt the process of continuous integration to DCNS’ specific requirements.
Keeping track of everything is vital on a project of this size. NovaForge provides an overall, consolidated view of the state of advancement of all DCNS projects. All the documentation produced is managed wholly within NovaForge. The NovaForge tools facilitate collaborative working, as do the forum and wiki, which now represent a formidable technical and business knowledge-base.
GEMO: new technologies help improve productivity
Established in 2003 to support the design of a shared software base for two submarines, GEMO is now being essentially re-used on a number of projects, including FREMM, SNA, SNLE and LDT (the Monalisa system). Born out of forty years’ experience in CMS, GEMO is a systems architecture and development project that improves productivity by drawing on technologies such as Java, Open Source and those applied to Web developments. Because bespoke development is no longer in favor, the GEMO approach is above all an industrial one. It involves building and developing ‘blocks’ of software that can be re-used for other new-generation CMSs... Nowadays, GEMO processes functional elements that are hard to re-use in a different area from CMSs. Nevertheless, there are some transversal issues – like data distribution, command-control and display management – that are re-usable in other types of on-board software. And its powerful information processing capabilities mean that GEMO could well be extremely useful in other areas, such as manufacturing computing.
“It’s like a revolution,” explains a Systems Architect at Bull, “because up to now, on-board software was almost the exclusive preserve of C and C++ type technologies. Now GEMO is enabling us to use technologies from the JAVA world to develop software.”
What’s more, Bull has already responded to an invitation to tender for on-board software in urban transport using GEMO; other solutions using this versatile framework are expected in the near future.
What is a CMS?
The origin of Combat Management Systems is a direct result of the increasing complexity of threats, which themselves result from the modernization of fighting fleets. Faced with multi-lateral attacks (from missiles, aircraft, attack submarines...) it is no longer possible to respond using human intelligence alone; hence the need to implement systems that process incoming information automatically, and that are capable of managing every type of existing threat. The CMS is a key element of this, which enables weapons systems to be effectively managed, to create a broader ‘combat system’.
The CMS is the computer system that allows the different weapons systems on board to interact in a coherent and coordinated way. The veritable nerve center of the combat system, the CMS acts like a highly sophisticate operating system: by collecting and analyzing data from each weapons system, it enables the tactical situation of the particular craft to be assessed, all possible threats to be identified, and the most appropriate responses to be put forward.
The main function of a CMS is to give officers on the deck and at command posts an instantaneous picture of the environment surrounding the craft; with identification data for every ship, submarine and aircraft. It also distinguishes between friendly and enemy tracks and provides an assessment, if needed, of the level of threat they pose. Identifying and labeling sensor tracks are one of its numerous automatic functions. The moment that a threat is confirmed, the CMS switches over to the next phase, and puts forward a range of possible responses. As soon as the potential target and its weapons have been identified, the CMS suggests the most appropriate weapons system to engage. If necessary, the CMS can automatically fire torpedoes or missiles against ships, submarines or aircraft. But except in cases of self-defense, the CMS will put forward solutions rather than directly engaging the enemy. At any time, the decisions of command officers can override what the CMS has suggested.