The mil/aero community is beginning to turn to current bleeding-edge computing technology, and move away from lengthy design cycles that result in fielding technology that is often four to five, or even 10 years, behind the commercial curve. The network-centric battlefield—in which the right information is delivered to the right person at the right time—is starting to take shape, and it requires secure, reliable, and efficient platforms. Innovative netcentric platforms are driving the warfighter’s need for the latest and greatest technologies in the field. One such area and a major force driving this need bleeding-edge technology is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Achieving the amount of computing power necessary to pilot the UAV and to communicate, process, and deliver real-time, high-definition video and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data is no small feat.
Military forces across the globe are asking for the latest and greatest commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware on the battlefield. It represents a significant change in the way militaries traditionally operate.
I have worked directly with many primes (prime contractors) and the traditional way of doing business has been to make a request for hardware that did x, y, and z, let’s say. Then, the subcontractor would produce a hardware product that performed x, y, and z specifically for that contract vehicle. This general practice is an inefficient way to do business from multiple standpoints, including dealing with supply issues from the date of manufacture until some unknown date in the future, and having to retain staff to support these potential contracts or vehicles for a one-off product that will likely never be used for anything else ever again.
The recent trend in the industry is to leverage COTS electronics housed in an off-the-shelf rugged enclosure with custom, virtualized secure operating system (OS) platforms. It does away with the added expense and long design and prototype cycles of the past.
Other design options exist that are a hybrid of old and new processes, and prove to save both time and money. For example, modern design automation enables engineers to develop and test a product virtually before it is sent to the manufacturing floor. Designers can test and modify a product virtually and go through many product iterations and improvements without incurring the additional time, money, and effort required in spinning many different physical prototypes. This hybrid of new and old greatly reduces overall design time, allowing electronics manufacturers to deliver a well-tested and optimized product the first time. Hardware and software virtualization tools are a powerful addition to the engineer’s arsenal.
From one geek to another, I see a bright and cutting-edge future ahead for our militaries in the new world of hardware and software/applications that is emerging. We will explore this new app-driven world and more in upcoming blogs.