AdaCore Blog

AdaCore for HICLASS - Enabling the Development of Complex and Secure Aerospace Systems

by Paul Butcher

What's changed?

In 2019 AdaCore created a UK business unit and embarked on a new and collaborative venture researching and developing advanced UK aerospace systems. This blog introduces the reader to ‘HICLASS’, describes our involvement and explains how participation in this project is aligned with AdaCore’s core values.

Introducing HICLASS

The “High-Integrity, Complex, Large, Software and Electronic Systems” (HICLASS) project was created to enable the delivery of the most complex, software-intensive, safe and cyber-secure systems in the world. HICLASS is a strategic initiative to drive new technologies and best-practice throughout the UK aerospace supply chain, enabling the UK to affordably develop systems for the growing aircraft and avionics market expected over the coming decades. HICLASS includes key prime contractors, system suppliers, software tool vendors and Universities working together to meet the challenges of growing system complexity and size. HICLASS will allow the development of new, complex, intelligent and internet-connected electronic products that are safe and secure from cyber-attack and can be affordably certified.

The HICLASS project is supported by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme, a joint Government and industry investment to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture. The programme, delivered through a partnership between the ATI, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK, addresses technology, capability and supply chain challenges.

The £32m investment program, led by Rolls-Royce Control Systems, focuses on the UK civil aerospace sector but also has direct engagement with the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The collaborative group, comprised of 16 funded partners and 2 unfunded partners, is made up of the following system developers, tool suppliers and academic institutions: AdaCore, Altran, BAE Systems, Callen-Lenz, Cobham, Cocotec, D-Risq, GE Aviation, General Dynamics UK, Leonardo, MBDA, University of Oxford, Rapita Systems, Rolls-Royce, University of Southampton, Thales, Ultra Electronics and University of York. As well as researching and developing advanced aerospace capabilities, the group aims to pool niche skills and build a highly collaborative community based around the enhanced understanding of shared problems. The project is split into 4 main work packages with 2 technology work packages focusing on integrated model based engineering, cyber-secure architectures and mechanisms, high integrity connectivity, networks and data distribution, advanced hardware platforms and smart sensors and advanced software verification capabilities. In addition, a work package will ensure domain exploitation and drive a cross-industry cyber-security regulatory approach for avionics. A final work package will see the development of integrated HICLASS technology demonstrators.

Introducing ASSET

HICLASS also aims to build, promote and manage the Aerospace Software Systems Engineering and Technology (ASSET) partnership. This community is open to all organisations undertaking technical work in aerospace software and systems engineering in the UK and operates in a manner designed to promote sharing, openness and accessibility. Unlike HICLASS, ASSET publications are made under a Creative Commons Licence, and the group operates without any non-disclosure or collaboration agreements.

AdaCore's R&D Work in the UK

Within HICLASS, AdaCore is working with partners across multiple work packages and is also leading a work package titled “SPARK for HICLASS”. This work package will develop and extend multiple SPARK-related technologies in order to satisfy industrial partner’s HICLASS requirements regarding safety and cyber-security.

SPARK is a globally recognised safety and security profile of Ada and a software programming language defined by IEC/ISO 8652:2012. Born out of a UK MOD sponsored research project, the first version of SPARK, based on Ada 83, was initially produced at the University of Southampton. Since then the technology has been progressively extended and refined and the latest version SPARK 2014, based on Ada 2012, is now maintained and developed by AdaCore and Altran in partnership. Due to its rich pedigree, earnt at the forefront of high integrity software assurance, SPARK plays a big part in AdaCore’s safe and secure software development tool offerings. Through focused and collaborative research and development, AdaCore will guide the evolution of multiple SPARK-related technologies towards a level where they are suitable for building demonstrable, safe and secure cyber-physical systems that meet the software implementation and verification requirements of HICLASS developed by UK Plc.

New extensions to the SPARK language, specific to HICLASS systems, will be developed, these will include the verification of cyber-safe systems and auto generated code. There is also a planned maturing of SPARK reusable code modules where AdaCore will be driven by the needs of our partners in providing high assurance reusable SPARK libraries resulting in the reduction of development time and reduced verification costs.

QGen, a qualifiable and tuneable code generation and model verification tool suite for a safe subset of Simulink® and Stateflow® models, is as a game changer in Model Based Software Engineering (MBSE). For HICLASS, AdaCore will place an emphasis on the fusion of SPARK verification capabilities and HICLASS-related emerging MBSE tools, allowing code level verification to be achieved at the model level. The generation of SPARK code, from our QGen tool, as well as various HICLASS partner’s MBSE technologies, will be researched and developed. Collaborative case studies will be performed to assess and measure success. Collaboration is a key critical success factor in meeting this objective; multiple HICLASS partners are developing MBSE tools and SPARK evolution will be achieved in close partnership with them.

The second, and complementary, objective of this work package is to research and develop cyber-secure counter measures and HICLASS verification strategies, namely in the form of compiler hardening and the development of a ‘fuzzing’ capability for Ada/SPARK. HICLASS case studies, produced within proceeding work packages, will be observed to ensure our SPARK work package is aligned with HICLASS specific standards, guidelines and recommendations and to ensure the relevancy of the work package deliverables.

The third objective is for AdaCore, in collaboration with our HICLASS partners, to evaluate QGen, and associated formal approaches, for existing UK aerospace control systems and to make comparisons with existing Simulink code generation processes. In addition, AdaCore will promote processor emulation technology through a collaborative HICLASS case study.

The final objective is to demonstrate the work package technology through the creation of a software stack capable of executing SPARK software on a range of (physical and emulated) target processors suitable for use in HICLASS. The ability to execute code generated from MBSE environments will also be demonstrated.

Committing Investment into the UK

AdaCore has a long history of working with partners within the UK aerospace industry on safety-related, security-related and mission-critical software development projects. Participation in the HICLASS research and development group complemented AdaCore’s commitment to invest within the UK. This four-year research project is also an excellent fit with AdaCore’s core values and its existing and future capabilities. In addition, the creation of a new UK business unit, ‘AdaCore Ltd’, created to rapidly grow into our UK Centre of Excellence, ensures that our existing and future UK aerospace customers will continue to receive the high level of technical expertise and quality products associated with AdaCore.

History has shown that the UK aerospace industry isn’t afraid to be ambitious and has the technological capability to stay at the forefront of this rapidly growing sector. With HICLASS, the sky really is the limit, and AdaCore welcomes the opportunity to be a part of the journey and further extend our partnerships within this technologically advanced and continually growing market.

Further information about the ATI, BEIS and IUK...

Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI)

The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) promotes transformative technology in air transport and supports the funding of world-class research and development through the multi-billion pound joint government-industry programme. The ATI stimulates industry-led R&D projects to secure jobs, maintain skills and deliver economic benefits across the UK.

Setting a technology strategy that builds on the UK’s strengths and responds to the challenges faced by the UK civil aerospace sector; ATI provides a roadmap of the innovation necessary to keep the UK competitive in the global aerospace market, and complements the broader strategy for the sector created by the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP).

The ATI provides strategic oversight of the R&T pipeline and portfolio. It delivers the strategic assessment of project proposals and provides funding recommendations to BEIS.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) 

Department for Business, Energy and industrial Strategy (BEIS) is the government department accountable for the ATI Programme. As the budget holder for the programme, BEIS, is accountable for the final decision regarding projects to progress and fund with Government resources, as well as performing Value for Money (VfM) assessment on all project proposals, one of the 3 ATI Programme assessment streams.

Innovate UK (IUK)

Innovate UK is the funding agency for the ATI Programme. It delivers the competitions process including independent assessment of project proposals, and provides funding recommendations to BEIS. Following funding award, Innovate UK manages the programme, from contracting projects, through to completion.

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. Innovate UK drives productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas, including those from the UK’s world-class research base.

UKRI is the national funding agency investing in science and research in the UK. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UKRI brings together the 7 Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

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About Paul Butcher

Paul Butcher

Paul is the UK Programme Manager for AdaCore and the Lead Engineer for GNATfuzz and has over 25 years of experience in embedded safety-critical real-time systems. Before joining AdaCore, Paul was a consultant engineer for ten years, working for UK aerospace companies such as Leonardo Helicopters, BAE Systems, Thales UK, and QinetiQ. Before becoming a consultant, Paul worked on the Typhoon platform and safety-critical software developments in the rail sector for BAE Systems and military UAVs for Thales UK. Paul graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a Bachelor's Degree with Honours in Computing and a Higher National Diploma in Software Engineering.