Embracing open standards in military electronics systems

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 Department of Defense (DoD) open architecture initiatives, board-level standards from and PICMG, and more from attendees of the (ETT) conference held last week in Austin, Texas.

This month’s panelists are: Michael Munroe, Technical Product Specialist, Elma Electronic; Roy Keeler, Senior Product Manager and Manager of Business Development, Aerospace and Defense, ADLINK Technology; and , Group Editorial Director of Military Embedded Systems and Proprietor of the McHale Report.

MCHALE REPORT: What was the buzz at Embedded Tech Trends conference in Austin, Texas this month?

MUNROE: Definitely the announcement of the 16GT/s 25Gb/s MultiGig RT3. The announcement was huge. Expected, but still exciting. The changes are actually relatively minor to achieve these speeds. We must remember that margins at these rarefied speeds will be minimal at best, non-existent at worst. Any product that needs to operate at these speeds will have to be evaluated in an end-to-end simulation effort.

KEELER: The buzz around Embedded Tech Trends centered on several topics; IIoT [industrial internet of things], edge computing, and artificial intelligence (AI). The embedded industry is gaining an understanding of just how the technology fits into the IIoT architecture and the role embedded technology will play in this new frontier. There’s now talk of using the IIoT construct in avionics systems with people starting to think outside the normal constraints of this is how we implement avionic systems.

MCHALE: I would agree with Michael the announcement about the MultiGig RT3 in presentations from Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions and of course from TE Connectivity generated a lot of buzz, but from my perspective not as much as the presentations from the Navy, Air Force, and Army on their initiatives. These topics were covered before, but the enthusiasm and buy-in from the end-user and from standards community is much greater. This is the first time the Embedded Tech Trends meeting was co-located with a Sensor Open Systems Architecture () meeting and Vita Standards Organization (VSO) meeting.

MCHALE REPORT: Navy, Air Force, and Army perspectives on open architecture initiatives including SOSA and , were presented at the conference. What impact are these initiatives having on the military commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) industry? Are there still hurdles to be overcome?

MUNROE: I think the SOSA and HOST [Hardware Open Systems Technologies] effort will have wide impacts across our entire embedded standard architecture industry. Just commonality across a few products will be good. The hurdles are ongoing; we need to come to final agreement on a large set of proposed slot profiles. We need to see the hardware buys that Dr. Ilya Limpkin [Air Force Lead for SOSA] has alluded to. It will be the services putting their money where their mouth is, that will be the actual impetus to adoption and the emergence of actual products.

KEELER: I believe the HOST and SOSA initiatives are having a positive impact on the COTS hardware industry. For the first time we now have the user community directly involved with industry driving standards and providing feedback into product development. Several of my colleagues and peers noted the positive aspects of a close relationship between industry and the customer base. Yes, there are hurdles to overcome. As with any undertaking of this nature there are going to be disparate opinions on just about everything. The key to overcoming these hurdles is strong leadership and commitment to make the decisions that benefit the industry as a whole, not just individual organizations.

MCHALE: These open architecture initiatives will succeed because they make economic sense. As I said in a column last year “To return to old procurement models, where the DoD funded technology development from the ground up or paid more money for proprietary technology based on closed architectures, is just economically unsound.

The only roadblocks at this point will be a lack of enthusiasm on the volunteer side of these efforts. As Dr. Lipkin said in his presentation, the success of these efforts depends on the enthusiasm and passion of the volunteers. In that sense I think they are on pace to bring these initiatives to fruition, deploy them to the warfighter, and in the long run save taxpayer dollars.

MCHALE REPORT: What open standards from VITA, PICMG, and other standards bodies do you see making the biggest impact in military system designs and why?

MUNROE: I think that we have yet to see the influence of CompactPCI Serial in the defense segment. ComExpress also has a place in small form factors.

.11 should probably be listed as a major hurdle in the question above. The wide adoption of VITA 46.11 with the planned additions could be a game changer for the management of many systems. Configuration control, software inventory with update and as well as fault records will add significantly to the overall life cycle affordability of enabled systems. Of course .0/.1-2017 is the overall winner.

KEELER: I think VITA 75 will make the biggest impact to military systems design because it provides manufacturers with a standard for small form factor system that is an excellent fit for autonomous platforms, edge computing, communications systems, and applications where size, weight, and power () is a major concern.

MCHALE: Obviously VPX in 3U and 6U form factors is quite popular among military system designers, especially for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), radar, and electronic warfare applications and its adoption within SOSA and HOST will only continue that trend.

Regarding PICMG technologies nothing is hotter than . The flexibility of the small form factor – especially Type 7 – makes it ideal for reduced SWaP applications such as small unmanned aircraft payloads. The Serial specification is already seeing use in military platforms as an upgrade to legacy CompactPCI systems where designers do not want to change to the VPX architecture. On the legacy side, solutions are in use on the Aegis Destroyer, as Artesyn discussed in their presentation at ETT. For more on PICMG and the military read COM Express hot among military electronics users while CompactPCI levels off.”