Electronic warfare systems and open standards at AOC show
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 electronic warfare (EW) technology, the impact of open standards in the EW community, software defined radios (SDRs), and the buzz on the floor the Association of Old Crows (AOC) Annual Meeting Association of the U.S. Army’s (AUSA) this month in Washington with exhibitors at the event.
This month’s panelists are: Haydn Nelson, Director, Product Management, Advanced RF and DSP, Abaco Systems; Rodger Hosking, Vice President and Co-founder of Pentek; and Tim Fountain, Sales Director at National Instruments.
MCHALE REPORT: What trends did you see emerging this week at the AOC show? What was the buzz?
NELSON: More integration, which enables more complete solutions delivered to the customer – even at the chip level. Over the next six to 12 months there will be increased innovation with higher levels of integration especially as Xilinx releases its RF System on Chip device. This device is making an impact in commercial wireless circles and should have an impact on the EW community as well. It will be interesting to see how it affects VITA 57.4 and FMC solutions and how it will help enable modularity.
HOSKING: The community is looking for a better way to get actionable intelligence. There is so much information being gathered right now by the current technology that it is virtually impossible for the human mind to sift through it in real-time. Information is different from knowledge as knowledge is something you can act upon. So the buzz this year is about how to automate the evaluation of information using new strategies like artificial intelligence (AI) and learning algorithms that can help boost the speed and accuracy of decision-making abilities of the humans in the loop. This will extend the great advancements already made in information fusion technologies that combine radar, EO/IR [electro-optical/infrared], and EW data to provide a more complete picture.
FOUNTAIN: We are seeing more demand for reduced size in software-defined radios. There is also more demand for reduced size, weight, and power (SWaP) across all domains and as ever EW customers want more bandwidth.
MCHALE REPORT: How is the electronic warfare community embracing COTS technology and open standards?
NELSON: The community is definitely increasing its adoption of FPGA [field programmable gate array] technology because of the capability these devices enable. Standardization efforts like the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) are driving commonality with the vendors, which will enable them to focus on innovating and their core expertise.
HOSKING: I think one of the challenges with open standards is that the complexity of the technology they support only increases as time goes by – starting at the component level and doubling every year or two. Useful standards must always evolve and improve to survive, like VPX. If a standard is truly worthy, it can accommodate new enhancements to extend its adoption and longevity. For example, many VPX users like its gigabit serial backplane for high-speed data transfers, but as copper traces fall short in speed or distance, the strong shift toward optical links is now already supported with the VITA 66 standard.
In the EW community open standards like VPX are being embraced and are challenged by this industry’s unquenchable thirst for bandwidth and the complexity of the applications themselves that require more signals, more density, and better thermal and power management.
FOUNTAIN: Open standard adoption is obviously increasing, and not just industry standards, but also de facto ones. For example customers are looking for clumps of technology to fit together such as a GNU radio. There is also a continuing move toward open source. Integrators want to be able to maintain, modify, and inspect software without having to go back to the original vendor.
MCHALE REPORT: What EW requirements are driving innovation at the embedded electronics level?
NELSON: Innovation is happening with multichannel synchronization. This is a hot topic in EW. Customers want more system level integration to provide a full system capability. There is also more pressure to get products released faster and with more complete system level solutions.
HOSKING: One of the biggest challenges at the design level is thermal management. With the reduced SWaP requirements this becomes even more critical and requires even greater innovation from the embedded electronics suppliers.
FOUNTAIN: There is an increasing need for agile radios, so there is interest in creating products that have lower switching times and have a wider bandwidth.
MCHALE REPORT: How is the electronic warfare market performing compared to others such as radar, avionics, unmanned systems, etc.?
NELSON: I believe it’s growing and strong. There are more EW inquiries than I’ve seen in the past. I’m also seeing a double down on investment from government and industry in EW technology. The EW community is a vibrant one with good people collaborating to help drive innovation.
HOSKING: The EW market is doing very well, but that should not detract from how military radar, communications, and unmanned systems markets are also performing. They are all strong and extremely well funded. EW and radar are also not exclusive markets when it comes to unmanned systems as many of the unmanned platforms carry radar and EW payloads.
FOUNTAIN: It is certainly a growing market as threats are increasing worldwide. The government wants better control of the spectrum and to understand what their adversaries are doing. It’s not just the EW market that is growing, but the converging of EW and radar is increasing. For example, there is increased demand for multifunctional systems that can perform radar and EW functions in the same footprint.