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Quantum Change on the Way


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Apparently the overall economy has bottomed out and is s-l-o-w-l-y improving. And the military electronics market is also starting to move ahead. This does not mean that the general budget for the military is improving, only that the reality of having fewer people means that in order for the military to perform its mission it needs to depend more on electronic systems. It will take a little time before there is a general positive feeling about the military electronics market, but unless our elected officials decide to do something extremely stupid, the trend will continue.

The budget situation for the military electronics industry over the last two years has been a lot like a tornado going through a town; some suppliers were untouched and others completely devastated. Whether you were hit was dependent on the programs you were part of. From here on out we need to face the fact that the current U.S. budget climate is all about less money and getting more for what the military spends. The DoD will reduce the uniformed and civilian manpower as low as they reasonably can, and increase the use of less costly electronics to replace the effectiveness lost by the manpower reduction. Programs that will be seen in a more favorable light will be the ones that use available technology and limit costly development programs.

Whether creating new platforms or upgrading existing platforms, one fact is certain: gone are the days when electronics and computing technologies were just a part of military deliverable’s functionality. From now on primes will start to partner with electronics systems suppliers, or may acquire companies that develop them. Vendor-supplied electronics systems will form the intelligent systems that are fundamentally tied to the capabilities and requirements of everything from radar systems to fire control systems to advanced communications gear.

The result is that high-level technical decision makers—from DoD execs, to program managers (both uniformed and non-uniformed), to engineering managers—need to keep pace with the system-level technology issues along with the many global, big-picture trends that drive and affect technology decision making. The importance of technology as the military moves forward has even been part of every speech made by the U.S. Secretary of Defense over the past year. But while the importance of electronics and computing technology in the military is far from new, the role it’s playing and the stakes involved have moved to a whole new plateau.

Until recently, our industry supplied modules, boards, boxes, preconfigured systems and in some cases complete subsystems to a prime that integrated those electronics into a platform that ended up in a deliverable system. The responsibility of finding a supplier that used the technologies necessary to fulfill the requirements of the different elements within a platform or deliverable was on the shoulders of the prime contractors. In order to be successful as a supplier in the new budget climate, suppliers need to be conversant with the architecture of the platform and deliverable. They also need to tailor their offerings to be not just compatible, but also highly effective with the other elements within the platform and deliverable.

Whether the platform is a UAV, a manned aircraft, a ground combat vehicle or a warship, every platform has varying requirements from basic SWaP reduction to highly sophisticated unique needs of a specific platform. Exploring different technology options and their different benefits is essential to every platform management team—from teams developing the smallest autonomous ground vehicle to those developing highly complex, large aerospace or marine platforms. Similar to what our industry did when the COTS philosophy was first introduced to the military, we now need to do the same with respect to platform architecture development and integration. This industry is at a point of experiencing a quantum change and any time we humans are faced with accepting a change, there is resistance. Our industry on both the supplier and user side will require some time before this imminent change is understood and accepted.