The Long View of VME In Military Embedded Systems

The future of military embedded systems does not necessarily rely on the next “super whiz-bang” technology yet to be developed, nor does it necessarily rely on the immediate adoption of serial fabric architectures.

What the worldwide military services need is cost-effective, field-reliable, and deployable sub-systems that employ long-lasting, stable and modular, upgradeable technology. These types of sub-systems have been the recipe for succeeding in today’s and preparing for tomorrow’s military embedded electronics sub-systems.

Figure 1: Standards facilitate technology innovations by enabling designers to focus on functionality versus compatibility. This rugged, 6U VME SBC brings powerful QorIQ multi-core processors to embedded systems, significantly increasing previous generation computing capabilities, while maintaining a well-used platform.

With VME’s lengthy and successful history in rugged, military applications as well as the clear path ahead through the implementation of VPX, it seems this workhorse of a technology platform is poised to provide stable, reliable systems well into the future, while preserving legacy systems that still function as needed. (Figure 1)

Pitfalls of “New and Improved”
Using new, non-standard technologies that constantly change in this fairly stable military application environment—where the exact same electronics are needed to be available for 10+ years—is an extremely inefficient process.

Think of the training, logistics, and maintenance costs alone if military programs throughout the world had to train hundreds of thousands of troops to use and maintain sub-systems with specific technologies (like Radar, radio, sensor, countermeasures, etc.) that are constantly in flux.

How would a war fighter, who must rely upon his defense sub-systems in the years to come, benefit from commercial “Technology du Jour” that seemingly changes with each passing breeze?  These frequently altered technologies are both costly and inefficient, and if implemented haphazardly would not benefit users long-term.

The Meaning Behind Proven Technology
In truth, developing sub-systems for the military requires long-term vision to continue to meet future trends and the seemingly divergent needs of providing tomorrow’s technology today against stability and longevity. A short-term “strike while the iron is hot” perspective should be saved for the commercial supplier base.

The world’s military has invested more than decades of deploying, training, repairing and maintaining VMEbus bus-based electronic sub-systems, and VPX is set to lead those platforms into the future.

The costs associated with new technologies and switching to a whole new architecture will take time to evolve, as multiple vendor integration issues will need to be solved.

The need to then build industry acceptance creates market inertia while the supplier/user infrastructure and a self-supporting ecosystem is being established.

Any hype about providing “tomorrow’s technology” to the world’s military highlights the strikingly obvious differences between the purely commercial equipment supplier and the suppliers that adapt commercial technologies for more rugged, reliable and sustainable military duty.

Keeping Rugged Systems Reliable
However, as we have seen, RoHS initiatives and subsequent component obsolescence issues are visible consequences of what happens when a minority community decides to blow the winds of change, and a simple commercial-only supplier tries to follow along, rather than continue to supply current products with today’s technologies.

This tendency to go with the flow, coupled with a general disregard to employ technologies that will last more than 12-18 months, hinders the growth of the military embedded computing industry. Most suppliers are focusing more on keeping up with the latest technology fad instead of building upon the proven, reliable technologies already in use and listening to their customer’s needs.

Companies must make a firm commitment to support the reliable technology platforms that, in the end, will benefit the customer far better than technologies that come and go.

Cost-effectively Solve the Problems
And there lies the rub. There is a marked difference between “technology push” and “market pull.”  Serial fabrics, the latest technology embraced by some of the standards groups, is a great example of a technology looking for a ubiquitous home, thus attempting to displace all other standard buses, rather than fulfilling the prime-directive, addressing the customer’s actual problem.

The key to serving the defense and aerospace market is providing new technologies that solve the customer’s problems in a cost-effective and timely manner, while at the same time offering a system with longevity and reliability, and not just pushing out new “stuff” hoping something sticks.

The promise of” tomorrow’s technology, today” still has a ring of untruth no matter how many times it’s spun and repackaged, so today more than ever, “Caveat Emptor” (let the buyer beware).


Doug Patterson is VP, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems.

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