Cyber technology at AFCEA and Navy COTS procurement
Every month the McHale Report will host an online roundtable with experts from the defense electronics industry – from major prime contractors to defense component suppliers. Each roundtable will explore topics important to the military embedded electronics market. This month we discuss U.S. Navy COTS procurement trends and the buzz on the floor of the AFCEA West show in San Diego in February, which had a large contingent of Navy attendees.
This month’s panelists are: Michael Carter, Chief Executive Officer, IXI Technology; Amos Deacon, President, Phoenix International; and Bob Kopas, Vice President, Military Programs, sales, and Business Development at Z Microsystems.
MCHALE REPORT: The AFCEA West show was held last week in San Diego. What trends regarding military designs and applications did you see emerging at the event?
CARTER: From my perspective, there were three dominant trends at AFCEA West. First, the trend of reducing size, weight, and power (SWaP) continues into 2016; with emphasis added for industry to increase performance and functionality.
Second is the issue of cybersecurity. During the sessions it was evident the military is faced with issues of cybersecurity from connecting sailors to the Internet to “phone home” to preventing a cyberattack on systems that connect to the Internet. Software security, encryption, and firewalls to protect systems and personnel were an important topic. There was also a large increase of exhibitors in the cloud, cybersecurity, encryption, secure server, and data analytics over prior years.
Third, the military was focused on rapid development and deployment of technical innovation this year. From examples of how a ship defense system was upgraded in 14 months after a new threat was identified to how small businesses can work with government on how to get their technology evaluated. Small business innovation outreach programs, contacts with the offices of small business at various commands, SBIR [Small Business Innovative Research], and STTR [Small Business Technology Transfer] opportunities were showcased both in sessions and on the exhibitor floor.
DEACON: Cybersecurity and security in general was the buzz of the show. It is on everyone’s mind especially as the DoD begins to embrace cloud-based computing. Security has come to the forefront and it’s not so much security itself, but security management. The technology is there to secure just about anything. Security management is making use of the right tools and making sure the right people have access to key data and doing all of this in a timely fashion. That’s the challenge.
KOPAS: The biggest continuing trend I saw at the show is the push toward cybersecurity. There is even more demand than we’ve seen in the past. It is a growing trend within DoD and the one most prevalent throughout the exhibit floor.
MCHALE REPORT: The DoD’s FY 2017 budget request was released this month and it has a $1.6 billion increase for the Department of the Navy Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). Do you see this as a sign for an increase in naval procurement of embedded computing technology?
KOPAS: I definitely see it as a sign of an increase. Now what will be interesting is how it plays out and where the funding goes. Where I really see an increase coming is in the application of distributed lethality within the surface Navy. Distributed lethality is where every platform has an offensive capability to increase the challenge for any potential adversary. For example many amphibious ships today only have the U.S. Marine Corps as their offensive weapons. The strategy of distributed lethality enhances that capability and will require enhanced networking and embedded computing capabilities. Arming the Predator unmanned aircraft was the beginning of this concept, but now distributed lethality has really taken a foothold and at a minimum significantly expands the potential to enhance our surface navy lethality with existing platforms.
CARTER: Absolutely! However, the budget does not necessarily mean new weapons systems. I believe there will be continued focus to replace or upgrade aging systems through data conversion, emulation, virtualization, and the use of embedded, small form factor computing devices. Technology exists today that can translate data from one protocol to another, with the use of an electronic interface with software operating code. Technology also exists that can use the same operating code, without the electronic interface running on an embedded computer in a server – true virtualization. Embedded computing, especially products with multiple processors, interfaces and are small, light, and consume little power will dominate.
DEACON: I’m seeing the increases in the Navy and in the Air Force markets, but not so much in Army. Much of the embedded computing technology is going into [unmanned aerial systems] UAS platforms.
DEACON: As I mentioned above, quite a bit of funding is going into Naval UAS platforms. They continue to invest in new programs such as the UCAV [Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle], which is starting to get more traction. Unmanned approaches for surveillance, for attack systems, and for defense systems will only increase. Missions with swarms of UAS are being developed and now there is discussion about having swarms of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) or unmanned undersea vehicles. The military as a whole is evolving into an autonomous force.
KOPAS: All of the above. Especially in shipboard applications as they add distributed lethality via new weapons systems and upgrade their C4ISR capabilities. The Navy is also looking for enhanced video capability for surveillance systems to help surface ships operate better in an EMCON [emissions control] environment or “run silent.”
The other thing as I see as a trend is more use of unmanned aircraft in the Navy. We are seeing more applications of the Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS) program for amphibious ships and possibly even a destroyer variant coming. This ties into the push toward distributed lethality fleet wide. More capability is being added to every ship so they can do more things. It’s encouraging that we’re looking at longer range, “fixed wing” UAVs (like STUAS) on all ships and not limiting ourselves to the Fire Scout anymore. Longer range UASs with more on station time only helps enhance the surface Navy’s capability.
CARTER: In order, but not necessarily in volume, from first to last: unmanned systems, naval aviation, submarines, and shipboard applications (the exact inverse order is in volume). SWaP [requirements] dominate unmanned systems and naval aviation applications – both are searching for new technology to increase operational functionality while reducing weight. Submarines and ships are less impacted by SWaP, but are faced with aging systems and obsolescence that is driving the use of more embedded computers. The sale by IBM to Chinese company Lenovo of its blade servers has wreaked havoc on the Navy. Now Ingram Micro, the largest VAR of network servers in the world is selling to a Chinese company.
MCHALE REPORT: How does the Naval market differ from that of the other U.S. military services? Does it embrace COTS usage more, less, or about the same?
CARTER: I think the Navy embraces COTS as much as the other forces. The Navy wants to buy COTS, but requires companies to design and develop products to Navy requirements and qualify them at company expense. If a company has a ready-made off the shelf product, it is still required to qualify it to Navy requirements; that’s the real world. If that is the definition of COTS, the Navy has it down to a science.
DEACON: That boils down to the application, not necessarily the service itself. Some Naval aviation platforms might use more COTS than say an Army platform, or vice versa. It really depends on the mission parameters and on the environmental requirements. Platforms with more benign environmental specifications, regardless of service branch, will likely use more COTS. Surface ships in the Navy have more room and more benign environments for electronics to save money and buy more COTS technology for their 19-inch rack systems. Submarines not so much.
Those with more stringent requirements might need more custom-designed solutions. It also depends on how much funding a program has. They might like a certain commercial product, but the supplier or customer isn’t willing to spend the extra dollars to get it up to snuff in terms of environmental or security specifications.
KOPAS: It embraces COTS in pretty much the same way. Submarines, manned and unmanned naval aviation platforms are using more COTS technology than ever before. I also see more embedded COTS technology being leveraged for new weapons systems and even in electronics upgrades in engine rooms.
That said, I do see different flavors across the services with the Navy being less sensitive to size, weight, and power (SWaP) constraints. The Navy has more flexibility when it comes to COTS procurement onboard large surface ships as they basically have more room than say on a helicopter or submarine. As a result they have more flexibility to go with less expensive technology such as 3.5 “spinning” hard drives rather than smaller, more expensive solid-state drives. The Air Force, Army, etc., put more emphasis on reduced SWaP as they have constrained spaces and want to save fuel. Every pound you add to an aircraft or ground vehicle increases fuel consumption and cost -- while requiring more space. Unmanned platforms especially embrace COTS and embedded computing for their SWaP advantages.
Since Navy surface ships do not have the same SWaP constraints due to their available space and less sensitivity to weight and power, they are able to save some costs by using less expensive technology. An example would be the CANES [Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services] program, where on ships and even on submarines the specifications are for 3.5 inch rotating disk drives. It’s a huge cost saver for them.