Boeing JSF avionics team eyes COTS and open architectures to fight obsolescence

By John Keller

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Avionics designers for the Boeing version of the future Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) plan to use an open-architecture approach and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components in their effort to field and maintain cutting-edge electronics technology for the new aircraft.

Officials of the Boeing team -- notably the Raytheon Company's Dr. Peter S. Pao, vice president and general manager joint strike fighter, as well as deputy general manager of air combat & strike systems -- made their comments July 26 at the Farnborough Air Show in Farnborough, England.

Competing to build the JSF are two industry teams, the first led by the Boeing Co. of Seattle, and the second by Lockheed Martin Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas. U.S. Defense Department officials are set to choose the JSF contractor next spring. The JSF is to be an air-superiority jet fighter and light-attack bomber capable of operating from military airports, aircraft carriers, and unimproved fields.

The Boeing JSF's integrated core processor, on which Raytheon is teaming with Boeing and with Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., is to be primarily COTS, Pao says. The aircraft's RF system, however, will have substantial custom-designed electronics content.

"The processor is COTS, but the RF system you really cannot buy off the shelf," Pao said at a Farnborough news conference. Pao is with the Raytheon Electronic Systems division in El Segundo, Calif.

The integrated core processor, which experts will develop on the Intel Pentium microprocessor and the Windows NT operating system, will be based on the Motorola PowerPC microprocessor and Wind River VxWorks real-time operating system, Pao says.

Raytheon avionics designers also are pursuing an electronics strategy calling for "a continuous technology and product development concept that produces a forward- and backward-compatible family of products."

This approach calls for Raytheon designers to build in the capability to upgrade JSF electronics components quickly as technology improves, and also to re-use component designs from previous aircraft designs, Pao says.

For example, Raytheon experts are designing radar, electronic warfare, and data processing subsystems that they can use on the JSF as well as on upgrades to the U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter-bomber, Pao says.

In other areas of the Boeing JSF electronics, engineers at Sanders, a Lockheed Martin Company in Nashua, N.H., are designing the aircraft's integrated radar and electronic warfare suite.

The aircraft also will has a third-generation distributed infrared sensor that PAO says will provide "spherical coverage" of the aircraft, which will be integrated with the pilot's helmet-mounted display. This way the pilot will be able to "see" through the skin of the aircraft.

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