Radar, electronic warfare, AI, hot applications in growing European defense market
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 the European defense electronics market, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) use, and how the Trump Administration’s demands that NATO members pay more for their defense is boosting European defense spending with attendees and exhibitors from the Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI) held this month in London.
This month’s panelists are: Ben Green, Head of New Business for Harwin; Roy Keeler, Senior Product Manager and Manager of Business Development, Aerospace and Defense, ADLINK Technology; and Elie Gasnier, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Executive, Ecrin Systems.
MCHALE REPORT: The DSEI show was held this month in London. What trends regarding military designs and applications did you see emerging at the event?
GREEN: A fundamental dynamic that has a major ongoing effect on the military and aerospace sectors is satisfying size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements. One area where this is clearly vital is in the design of next generation unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Swarm UAV technology was demonstrated at this year’s show – this is where large numbers of drones can be used to launch military attacks. There were also numerous antidrone technologies on display, which again indicates that in the future a growing proportion of warfare will be carried out using various forms of automated technology. The constituent electronics in UAVs plus the cabling that supports it needs to be extremely compact and lightweight, so the range that these units can cover is extended as much as possible.
KEELER: Mobile computing for the battlefield, for example mobile WiFi. Requirements for increased on board memory due to memory requirements for VMware. There is lots of interest in running virtual machines on a single platform, each performing different applications.
GASNIER: Artificial intelligence (AI) combined with digital signal processing, RF, and software-defined systems (SDS) are definitely the big trends arriving on [aerospace/military] embedded market. This disruptive technology [combination] uses neuronal architecture and deep learning algorithms to penetrate radar/sonar, electronic warfare, and new-generation persistent ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] applications to offer more accurate, agile, and adaptive sensors-processing systems than ever. [This is also] thanks to the advances in modern High Performance Embedded Computing in SWaP-C [size, weight, and power–cost] constraint environments.
As data-centers serve the cloud, a sensors-to-server strategy needs HPEC edge-computing to reduce the distance and improve the latency to allow radar automatically select RF waveforms and processing filters in real time, based on the mission, its changing environmental conditions and target countermeasures.
GREEN: UAVs clearly represent an important area right now, and considerable progress is being made here – with new models being unveiled during DSEI that are capable of covering longer distances and carrying heavier payloads. In addition, there is a lot of interest right now in radar tracking and electronics warfare with several major players making big announcements relating to these technologies during the show.
KEELER: The hot markets seem to be communications and information dominance as well as ISR.
GASNIER: Radar/sonar, electronic warfare, and new-generation persistent ISR embedded UAV applications are very demanding in Europe. Improved system automation is mandatory to digest better and easier the waterfall of data coming out of [high-definition] sensors, integrating greater automation, and in-system processing to reduce analyst overload. Just imagine cognitive sensor systems that will be as close as possible to sensors embedded in UAVs, helicopters, [other] aircraft, or ground vehicles and other robots.
MCHALE REPORT: How would you describe the defense electronics market in Europe – growing, declining, or just flat? And why is it that way?
GREEN: Given that this year’s DSEI had 1,600 companies exhibiting (the largest number to date) and around 35,000 attendees in total, I would say that the defense business in Europe appears to be a strong and vibrant one right now. As well as the attendance levels seen at this show, there is the positivity of the people who visited our stand and volume of enquires we are currently getting in general (not just as a result of DSEI) to factor in. This means that there are numerous indicators to suggest that this market will continue to be a very healthy one and there will be plenty of impetus to drive continued innovation here.
KEELER: The market is slightly up. After years of declining defense budgets in Europe we’re starting to see a slight uptick in spending. This is being driven by the current U.S. administration’s position that European nations need to pay more of the cost related to NATO and the defense of Europe.
GASNIER: Prime contractors – in the U.S. and in Europe – are without exception outsourcing their mission computer needs to focus on their core business. They are looking for SME partners that offer them flexibility, reactivity, innovation, and quality of services for long-term partnerships. In 2014, [we at] ECRIN Systems changed our software to better develop our own product range to become a system manufacturer for the embedded market and to help meet this demand from the prime contractors and break into the export market in the European Union and the rest of the world.
MCHALE REPORT: How would you describe the demand for commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products in Europe? What standards or products are hot?
GREEN: In North America, the lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) initiative has put new emphasis on sourcing products while keeping within stringent budget limitations, and this is starting to have influence on the market this side of the Atlantic too. As a consequence, the COTS market is exhibiting significant growth, as defense customers need to look to advance their technology beyond the limitations of mil-spec components. Though all this is very much cost focused, at Harwin we think that it is not necessarily a bad thing as it means that suppliers will need to make investment into developing components that can deliver better performance while also being cost effective.
KEELER: The demand for COTS in Europe is high. We see strong adoption of CompactPCI in Europe with a gradual transition to VPX and busless architectures such as ComExpress and PC/104. There is also a great deal of interest in rugged telecommunications products for applications offering LTE [long-term evolution] connectivity to the aerospace and defense market.
GASNIER: Very exciting and promising! COTS technologies are pushing and will continue to push the frontiers of the possible in Europe for all C4ISR applications. But the mainstream is that the board business is definitely evolving into the system business. Embedded computing companies are offering rugged systems based on standards such as COM Express and VPX while leveraging commercial processors and FPGAs from companies such as NVIDIA, Intel, and Xilinx. Customers also want these COTS solutions to be qualified to DO-160 and MIL-STD-810.