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SPECIAL FEATURE

Pre-Integrated Systems Move Up the Solution Food Chain

As pressure to control program costs mounts, the military is on the hunt for new levels of pre-integrated solutions. And embedded computing suppliers are responding.

JEFF CHILD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Keywords in this Article:

  • Vehicles
  • UAV
  • Rugged Boxes
  • Ethernet
  • Enclosures
  • Avionics
  • ATCA
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The rising trend toward stand-alone rugged box systems continues to pervade the military embedded computing industry.  These box-level systems often resemble the end deliverable systems that prime contractor manufacturers have in the past pieced together themselves using off-the-shelf subsystems. In parallel with the trend toward rugged box-level systems is another trend toward “pre-integrated subsystems.” These are defined as a set of embedded computing and I/O boards put together and delivered as a working system to provide a certain function, but intended to be used in a military customer’s larger system.

Pre-integrated systems usually are made up of a set of modular embedded boards housed in a rugged enclosure that has its own power supply and interface ports to link to a variety of user terminals. This concept of offering a more complete system solution is nothing new. They used to take the form of purely “custom” offerings built from the ground up for specific customers. Today what’s changed is that the concept is now part and parcel of the services many embedded computer suppliers are offering.

Pull from Primes

On the demand side of this trend, prime contractors are shifting to an ever greater reliance on embedded computing suppliers for integration expertise and a level of software development as part of those integration efforts. This is driven by the primes that need to contain their costs—a need that is all the more important as more and more programs are structured as fixed-price rather than cost-plus. New DoD regulations are also helping to fuel the demand for pre-integrated solutions. (The article “New DoD Goals Boost Preconfigured Subsystem Opportunities” by Curtiss-Wright on p.24 of this section explores the impact of those DoD regulations.)

In a recent pre-integrated system design win example, Parvus announced a few months ago that its DuraMAR 1000 routers and DuraNET 2955 Ethernet switches are installed in an Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) (Figure 1) in support of a SPAWARSYSCEN Atlantic/U.S. Navy technology refresh program to enhance onboard vehicle network-centric capabilities. The units were shipped last year as part of an order through Mercom. Both the legacy Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle and its successor, specify a version of Parvus’ DuraMAR IP router subsystem. Parvus also supplies the Tactical Switch Router (TSR) along with several other Line Replaceable Units (LRUs) for the EFV program through a contract with General Dynamics. Both the DuraMAR and the DuraNET 2955 Ethernet switch subsystems are ruggedized versions of COTS Cisco Systems 3230 and 2955 Series products.

Figure 1
Both the legacy Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle and its successor, specify a version of the DuraMAR IP router subsystem, which integrates a Cisco router.

Taking On More Integration Duties

Another example exemplifying the shift toward pre-integration was an upgrade program deal won by Mercury Computer Systems last fall. It received a multimillion-dollar system order from a leading defense supplier for its global radar upgrade program. The deal called for Mercury to deliver a complete signal processing solution employing its OpenVPX-compliant Ensemble 6000 Series products. Mercury’s Services and Systems Integration organization meanwhile is providing comprehensive professional services aimed at the development, validation and qualification of the complete subsystem for this ground-based defense system. Mercury’s innovative multi-plane architecture simplified the system design while supporting scalability and facilitating interoperability between the different elements in the system.

Leveraging the design principles of the OpenVPX System Specification, the engineers were able to deliver signal processing capability in a heterogeneous environment overlaid with a systems management infrastructure. According to Didier Thibaud, General Manager of Advanced Computing Solutions at Mercury, the level of integration involvement asked by the customer in this case was significantly more than for the original design, of which Mercury was also the supplier. “In the original design the customer did 75 percent of the integration themselves, and tasked us with 25 percent of the job,” he said. “This time around those numbers were reversed.”

One of the ways suppliers are adding value to pre-integrated systems is to offer systems that have cooling solutions designed in up front. An example is Extreme Engineering’s XPand4200 ½ ATR forced air-cooled chassis (reduced height and length) for conduction-cooled modules. This fully ruggedized chassis is designed to meet the rigorous standards of MIL-STD-810 F/G while integrating the latest power-saving and performance-enhancing technology. The heat from the internal conduction-cooled modules is conducted to sidewall heat exchangers, where it is dissipated to the ambient environment by forced air cooling. Depending on processing requirements, the XPand4200 can be populated with high-performance, low-power, conduction-cooled 3U VPX or cPCI modules designed and manufactured by X-ES. X-ES also has an extensive lineup of conduction-cooled XMC and PMC solutions to fulfill data-processing and I/O requirements. Additionally, X-ES provides integration services for third-party modules.

Application-Specific Systems

Parallel with the trend to pre-integrated solutions is the idea of products tailored specifically to a category of applications—like military vehicles or command and control. Offering a vehicle-specific solution, AP Labs recently announced its newest version of its Vehicle Expansion Unit (VEU) embedded computer system (Figure 2), which provides a rugged, multifunction platform for deploying and consolidating applications within military vehicles used in harsh battlefield environments. The VEU supports efficient integration of multiple applications in a single rugged chassis, with scalability for up to three independent processors plus video encoding of up to four MPEG channels. Combining independent subsystems within a single thermally efficient fanless chassis provides a compact footprint for optimal Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) and improved maintainability.

Figure 2
The Vehicle Expansion Unit (VEU) embedded computer system supports integration of multiple applications in a single rugged chassis. It’s scalable to up to three independent processors plus video encoding of up to four MPEG channels.

At the AUSA Exposition in February, the VEU was demonstrated running Northrop Grumman’s NCOMS-P software, providing fact-driven Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM) capabilities for operators/maintainers of military vehicles. The VEU also is used in a battlefield vehicle application that processes multiple video streams from externally mounted camera systems, thereby providing 360 degree observation in real time, even while traveling over rough terrain.

ATCA for Command and Control

Focusing on Command and Control applications, RadiSys brings ATCA into the pre-integrated system military space with its Promentum C2 Server. As the military continues to expand its network-centric warfare capabilities and integrate more platforms together, there is an increased need for mobile computing and communications infrastructure that can be quickly deployed in the field. This portable ATCA platform is designed to provide the performance and features required for rugged, ground mobile applications in the Mil/Aero industry. The C2 Server leverages LCR Electronics’ ruggedized ATCA chassis and Astute Networks’ Edge Storage Blades in a rapidly deployable, higher performance platform with a more than 30 percent weight decrease and lower power consumption than current Rack Mount Servers (RMS). The C2 Server has been designed to meet the demanding environment requirements of MIL-STD-810 and can quickly be deployed and serviced in the field.

A handful of embedded computing vendors are even making the pre-integrated system idea part of specific platform service and integration initiatives. An example along those lines is Themis Computer’s Mission & Payload System Initiative. The concept is to supply kinetic and thermal management technologies and both shortened lead times and reductions in unit price and overall program cost. Themis demonstration systems in this initiative include preconfigured versions of the 3U VPX and mezzanine modules, backplanes, I/O controllers, front panels and chassis cooling options. These systems allow customers to buy true COTS systems, with a standardized option set, suitable for many Mission Computer, Display Processor, Digital Map, EW Controller, SIGINT Recorder, Bus Data and Voice Recorder, and Payload Management applications. 

The initial conduction-cooled 3U VPX MPSI product suite includes a high-performance Intel Core i7 (Arrandale)-based SBC, an AMD E4690-based GPU module, an 8-Port SATA/SAS RAID Controller and XMC/PMC Carrier module and a Mass Storage Carrier for 256 Gbyte flash or 500 Gbyte non-rugged rotating media. I/O options are extended, through the use of the XMC/PMC I/O Carrier, which hosts a wide range of I/O controllers, including MIL-STD-1553, ARINC 429, High Speed Serial, ATDS, Discrete and Analog I/O. Included in the MPSI suite is a series of third-party Software Defined Radio and FPGA Modules. Packaging options for the MPSI suite include two new Themis designed chassis systems, an 8-slot, ½ ATR high-power chassis with multiple cooling and storage options (Figure 3); and a 5-slot convection-cooled chassis intended for smaller footprint and lower power applications. 

Figure 3
The Mission & Payload System Initiative suite includes an 8-slot, ½ ATR high-power chassis with multiple cooling and storage options.

AP Labs/Kontron America
Poway, CA.
(858) 677-0877.
[www.kontron.com].

Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing 
Leesburg, VA.
(703) 779-7800.
[www.cwcembedded.com]. 

 

Extreme Engineering Solutions
Middleton, WI.
(608) 833-1155.
[www.xes-inc.com].

Mercury Computer Systems
Chelmsford, MA.
(978) 967-1401.
[www.mc.com].

Parvus
Salt Lake City, UT.
(801) 483-1533.
[www.parvus.com].

RadiSys
Hillsboro, OR.
(503) 615-1100.
[www.radisys.com].

Themis Computer
Fremont, CA.
(510) 252-0870.
[www.themis.com]. 

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