COTS or military: sometimes it's hard to tell

By John Keller

It's getting increasingly difficult these days to tell the real difference between commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, and those purpose-built for military use. I think the reason for this is not that the two design approaches represent clearly different technologies, but instead that the two are simply opposite sides of the same coin.


Unmanned underwater vehicles like REMUS, shown above, will receive manual control from a Navy-designed joystick digital interface. U.S. Navy video

Let me illustrate: is a desktop computer COTS or military technology? Pretty simple, right? The PC is commercially available, and it comes off the shelf of your neighborhood Circuit City or other computer store. Of course it's COTS -- or is it? What happens when we consider the ancestral roots of the PC, or of many other commercial products, for that matter?

The desktop PC is a general-purpose electronic computer. I think we'd all agree on that. But what about the first such device -- the ENIAC, short for electronic numerical integrator and computer, which was developed during the Second World War, and was unveiled in 1946?

The ENIAC also was a general-purpose electronic computer, yet it was designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the U.S. Army Ballistic Research Laboratory. So the ENIAC -- arguably a direct ancestor of the PC -- began its life as a military-specific system, yet evolved into one of the most successful commercial electronic appliances in recent memory. So, is the PC COTS or military?

Let's look at this evolution from a different perspective. What about those rugged tablet and palmtop computers that soldiers and airmen routinely carry onto the battlefield these days? These devices are purpose-built rugged for military applications, yet their innards often contain the same microprocessors and software operating systems as those COTS PCs on the shelf at Circuit City. Are these rugged battlefield computers COTS or military?

I think you can see my point. Look at most electronic technologies these days. The most successful see military and commercial applications, with some alterations to fit their specific uses and operating environments. Are these devices commercial or military? The answer is they're neither -- and they're both. At the end of the day it's hardly worth quibbling about.

I thought of this a week or so ago when I visited the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport, R.I., where scientists and engineers develop and evaluate unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) for military use (see feature on page XX for more on UUV technology).

Now you wouldn't think there would be a lot of COTS technology involved in such an esoteric field as UUVs, but that would be wrong. Actually there's quite a lot, but it's technology -- like in many other applications -- that has its feet in both camps, military and commercial. More interesting than that, however, is the technology that seems to flow freely back and forth between military and commercial.

NUWC engineers have developed a UUV they call MARV, which is short for midsize autonomous reconfigurable vehicle. MARV looks like a small torpedo -- 16 1/2 feet long and about a foot in diameter -- for testing different UUV technologies and payloads. One of the things they're using MARV for is to refine ways of remotely operating the UUV for precise and delicate tasks like docking with surface ships or with other UUVs.

"We want to be able to 'fly' the UUVs manually, occasionally for docking and similar tasks," says Christopher Egan, UUV customer advocate at NUWC. "We want to be able to manipulate the UUVs to guide them back onto submarines" and other vessels, he says.

To do that, they needed a joystick-type of interface, similar to those used in today's computer games. Why? Because most of the recruits going into the Navy these days already are experts at using joysticks in computer games. "The 'X-Box' skills the kids today have are right in the skill set we need," Egan says. "10 years ago, asking a sailor to do something like that would have been unthinkable."

NUWC experts have designed a special joystick for manipulating MARV and other UUVs, which is based on commercially available technology but is altered for a military-specific application. This joystick relies not only on commercial technology, but also on human skills developed as a result of widespread commercial technology.

Is this joystick military or commercial? The way I look at it, the device works, it doesn't cost too much, and the Navy was able to develop it quickly. Who cares if it's commercial or military?


Get All the Military Aerospace Electronics News Delivered to Your Inbox or Your Mailbox

Subscribe to Military Aerospace Electronics Magazine or email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest information on:


  • C4ISR
  • Cyber Security
  • Embedded Computing
  • Unmanned Vehicles

Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

XPand6020 | Small Form Factor (SFF) System Featuring XPedite5205 Running Cisco IOS® and XPedite7450

The XPand6020 is a Small Form Factor (SFF) system that features an XPedite5205, which runs Cisco ...

XChange3013 | 3U VPX Gigabit Ethernet Switch with Optional Layer 2 Switching and Layer 3 Routing Management Support

The XChange3013 is a conduction- or air-cooled, 3U VPX Ethernet switch module. The XChange3013 pr...

XPand3200 Series | Sub-½ ATR, Conduction-Cooled Systems Supporting Conduction-Cooled Modules

The XPand3200 Series redefines the limits of power, performance, and functionality in a sub-½ ATR...

XPedite5205 | Embedded Services Router (ESR) with Cisco IOS® on an XMC/PMC Module

The XPedite5205 XMC/PMC-based Embedded Services Router (ESR) router runs Cisco IOS® Software with...

XChange3018 | 3U VPX 10 Gigabit Ethernet Switch with Optional Layer 2 Switching and Layer 3 Routing Management Support

The XChange3018 is a conduction- or air-cooled, 3U VPX, 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch module. The XC...

XPedite7470 | Intel® Core™ i7 Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI SBC

The XPedite7470 is a high-performance, low-power, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the...

XPand4200 Series | ½ ATR Lightweight Forced-Air-Cooled Chassis for Conduction-Cooled Modules

The XPand4200 Series redefines the limits of power, performance, and functionality in a sub-½ ATR...

XPedite7570 | 5th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Broadwell-H Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI Module

The XPedite7570 is a high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the 5th genera...

XPedite7472 | Intel® Core™ i7 Processor-Based Conduction- or Air-Cooled 3U VPX-REDI SBC with SecureCOTS™

The XPedite7472 is a secure and high-performance, 3U VPX-REDI, single board computer based on the...

XPedite5401 | Freescale Eight-Core P4080 Conduction-Cooled PrPMC/XMC Module with Two GbE Ports

The XPedite5401 is a high-performance PrPMC/XMC, single board computer supporting Freescale QorIQ...

Related Companies

A-FLEX

Provides customized Printed Circuit Board fabrication in California. The entire process can be customized according t...

Velmex Inc

Manufactures linear and rotary motion-control positioning equipment for scientific, research, photonics, machining an...

TASC Technical & Assembly Services Corporation Electronic Equipment Manufacturing

Electronic Manufacturing sub-contractor. Circuit Board assembly, Cable Assembly, Wire Harness Assembly, Box Build Ass...

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions (CWDS) is a long established techno...

Dataforth Corp

Manufactures high-quality, signal conditioning, and data communications products for industrial markets. Products inc...

DDC-I Inc

Offers complete solutions for embedded software developers with a focus on mission- and safety-critical applications....

Harris Corporation

Harris provides advanced, technology-based solutions that solve government and commercial customers' mission critical...

United Electronic Industries Inc

UEI is a leader in the PC/Ethernet data acquisition and control, Data Logger/Recorder and Programmable Automation Con...

Crane Aerospace & Electronics

When failure is NOT an option...rely on Crane Aerospace & Electronics. We supply high-density, high-reliability c...

Aerospace Optics Inc

Aerospace Optics has long been recognized as an innovator in the aerospace industry. The company's VIVISUN line of ru...
Wire News provided by   

Press Releases

Model INCX-4001

The INCX-4001 consists of a high quality audio transceiver specifically designed to implement a complete fiber optic intercom.

Model PS-1210

The PS-1210 is a 1A, 12VDC stand-alone or rack mountable non-switcher (no RF noise) power supply.

Model OS-3121

Optical switches are utilized to disconnect, bypass and reroute fiber optic communications. All of these optical switches are purely optical path, there is no optical to e...

Webcasts

New Design Tools That Help You Develop Radar That Sees the Un-seeable and Detects the Undetectable

Xilinx EW/ISR System Architect, Luke Miller, has new tricks and he’s going to tell you all about them in a new Xilinx Webinar—for free. His Webinar will cover new ways to implement Radar functions including ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors


Mil & Aero Magazine

July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7
file

Download Our Apps



iPhone

iPad

Android

Follow Us On...



Newsletters

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information
SUBSCRIBE

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities
SUBSCRIBE

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
SUBSCRIBE

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.
SUBSCRIBE

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications
SUBSCRIBE

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles
SUBSCRIBE