COTS, GaN, cybersecurity flavor spring trade shows

Attendees and exhibitors at trade shows I attended this spring – regardless of the show’s subject matter or location – wanted fewer product pitches and more technology demonstrations, education on new technology, and more commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions and open standards. The three shows – Aviation Electronic Europe in Munich, International Microwave Symposium (IMS) in San Francisco, and Xponential in New Orleans – reflected these trends.

While none were pure military trade shows, they all covered technology essential to military systems such as avionics, radar, and unmanned systems, with the exhibitors at each event demonstrating their technology for these applications. No one just pitches a board or a chip anymore; to make a sale, they have to demonstrate it running an avionics display, operating a power-distribution system, or analyzing radar signals.

In Munich, many booths touted their product in a graphical avionics demo that leveraged CoreAVI OpenGL SC 2.0 graphics drivers, which help enable safety certification of programmable graphics. IMS exhibitors ran radar and telecommunications demos to show off their RF and microwave components. At Xponential, formerly the AUVSI Unmanned Systems show, demos focused on not only military applications but also unmanned platforms for agriculture, law enforcement, oil and gas, and transportation.

Military industry folks attending these shows reiterated these common trends and, of course, COTS. Let’s take a quick look at each show. We’ll go alphabetically.

Aviation Electronics Europe

COTS and the safety certification of COTS hardware and software is always of primary interest to the design engineers attending this event.

“There seemed to be more interest in COTS support of certification than previously; people were looking for products supporting both hardware and software certification,” said Matt Jackson, technical project manager, Embedded Graphics, at Presagis in Swindon, U.K. “It seems that the drive for more features and systems on aircraft is stretching development times while resources are becoming tighter. Where previously bespoke solutions were developed, people were looking for COTS to fill the gap.”

[Editor’s note: OpenSystems Media and Aerospace & Security Media, the owner of this event, co-produce the Avionics Design newsletter.]

Most of the conference content covered the modernization of Europe’s air-traffic-management (ATM) system, known as Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), but the most popular session was a panel on cybersecurity and avionics.

During that session, Ravi Nori, Aircraft Systems Security SME at Teledyne Controls, said that more participation is needed in aviation cybersecurity working groups and that the bodies need to approach security the way they approach safety certification.

Cyberattacks can hit anywhere: from the cockpit to the engine room, anything connected is vulnerable. “Increased connectivity [also] means increased vulnerability to cyberattacks,” said Matt Shreeve, principal consultant at Helios, during his presentation. “Aviation will always be a cyberattack target, as it is symbolic.”


Same as last year, the hot topic at IMS was GaN, GaN, and more GaN, whether the device is COTS or custom-designed. RF components based on GaN, or gallium nitride, are showing performance advantages; moreover, their growing popularity in commercial markets has lowered the cost, making GaN more attractive for military system designers, especially in radar and electronic-warfare (EW) applications.

Also trending is greater levels of integration in RF designs, enabling multifunctionality in new phased-array-radar systems and EW platforms, said Bryan Goldstein, general manager for the Analog Devices Aerospace and Defense Group. In addition, the ability to put the functionality of 20 chips into the footprint of one enables designers to reduce size, weight, and power (SWaP).


The folks at AUVSI changed the name of their unmanned system event to Xponential to reflect the potentially huge markets for autonomous systems beyond military applications … and while driverless cars, hobbyists, small drones for retail delivery, and the like were more evident at this event than in past years, military users remain the main operator of unmanned platforms.

Among military system designers at the event, interoperability was the key trend, from the signal-processing systems to the payloads themselves.

“The future will be about plug-and-play payloads so multiple missions can be performed with one airplane configuration by swapping out the payloads in a way that takes no longer than a few minutes,” said Peter Klein, director, UAS Programs, Airborne Business Unit, Elbit Systems of America. “End users are [also] definitely looking more at COTS as an option, especially with the push toward more interoperability in payloads.”

Despite the push toward commercial applications, I still see this event as important for military embedded designers, especially if they want to get a jump on commercial market opportunities.