Military transition to optical interconnects proceeding at slow-but-sure pace

By Skyler Frink

PRODUCT INTELLIGENCE, 28 Nov. 2011. As the amount of data being processed grows, so does the speed at which the data needs to be processed. Optical interconnects, which use light rather than electrical signals, are becoming increasingly popular with military systems designers.


"They're making a lot of demands today," says John Lee, Vice President of sales and marketing at Timbercon Inc. in Lake Oswego, Ore. "It's growing exponentially."

Of course there are many reasons for this switch, but one stands out above the others. "The main reason to use optical interconnects is for high speeds," says Jose Silver, an Applications Engineer at Glenair Inc. in Glendale, Calif. "It's a technology where you can maximize your data per second." At current levels of technology, optical interconnects can transfer more than 40 gigabytes of data per second.

While copper wire is cheaper than optical equipment, and costs of short-range optical interconnects have been trending downwards at a rapid pace, the differences in performance are clear. With products on the cutting edge of technology, whether copper or optical interconnects should be used, is an obvious choice.

 


 

One technology that demonstrates the benefits of optics are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). "Drones send a lot of information," says Timbercon's Lee. "The only real way to do it is through optics." For unmanned vehicles, using a connection that can deliver 10 gigabytes per second from 500 meters away is extremely useful, and something optics have already achieved.

In the defense industry security is a primary concern; this is an area where optical interconnects have a leg up on copper. While electrical signals are vulnerable to electromagnetic interference (EMI), optical interconnects are not. Optical interconnects do not require shielding, which allows for smaller, lighter devices.

Electromagnetic fields, which copper connections can emit, can represent an opportunity for electronic eavesdroppers -- even from normally innocent devices such as keyboards. While shielding can help mitigate this, electromagnetic fields remain a serious security risk in any field that requires maximum security. While optical connectors do give off stray signals, they are not nearly as easy to detect or gather information as are copper connectors. "The beauty of fiber is it's very hard to tap into those signals," Lee says.

As with any new technology, optical interconnects require training to install and maintain. "Our biggest hurdle is education," Lee explains. "There's a lot of people that know copper but don't know fiber at all."

The major difference between optics and copper involves contamination. Optical connections must remain clean, because dirt and dust can severely limit the amount of light -- and hence the amount of data -- traveling through cables.

Introducing optical interconnects into systems that already use copper can be a daunting task for many companies is how to integrate optical interconnects when they already use copper, yet a recent technology has helped solve the problem. "There's a new adaptor that can convert copper signal to an optics signal," says Glenair's Silver. These adaptors, called media converters, can change a copper signal into an optical signal at the blink of an eye.

Adopting the new technology has been slow, however. "We have a lot of legacy connectors in the field," Lee says, adding that the U.S. military has been slower than most with the switch to optical interconnects, though the U.S. Air Force has been an exception, and has already been making the switch to optics.

The Air Force has moved to fiber, Lee points out. "It's lighter, smaller, has no EMI, and doesn't cause sparks." Sparks and EMI can be extremely dangerous. "In the military they're catching up," Lee says. "Warfighters today have a huge appetite for data; if we don't have that type of bandwidth, we won't be giving our war fighters everything we can."

The military is slowly but surely shifting to optics, but Lee says he is worried about potential cuts to the U.S. Department of Defense budget, which he says could slow any transition of copper to fiber.

While the U.S. military has yet to switch over, most modern technology is moving toward the use of optical interconnects. "Everybody wants more speed, more bandwidth, and smaller devices," Silver explains. "I think optics have a long future ahead of them."

Company list

AboveNet Communications Inc.
www.above.net

Agilent Fiber Optic Products Division
www.agilent.com

Airborn
972-931-2818 www.airborn.com

Alcatel-Lucent
www.alcatel-lucent.com

Amphenol Backplane Systems
www.amphenol-aerospace.com

DiCon Fiberoptics Inc.
www.diconfiberoptics.com

Glenair Inc.
818-247-6000 www.glenair.com

ITT Interconnect Solutions
www.ittcannon.com

KVH Industries Inc.
1-401-845-2443 www.kvh.com

Lightwave logic
www.lightwavelogic.com

Molex Inc.
www.molex.com

Optical Interconnect
866-493-3588 www.opticalinterconnect.com

TE Connectivity
www.te.com

Timbercon Inc.
800-221-6992 www.timbercon.com

Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.


Military & Aerospace Photos

Most Popular Articles

Related Products

General Micro "Horizon" C299

The C299 Horizon is a third generation, 6U cPCI SBC module based on GMS’ upgradable CPU technolog...

Rugged Mobile Communications Server

Advanced communications server designed to be deployed in environments where it needs to meet cer...

API DC Link Power Film Capacitors

High reliability DC link capacitors for power inverter applications which require superior life e...

VPX3-453 3U VPX Virtex-6/8640D Digital Signal Processor

The Curtiss-Wright VPX3-453 is a high performance 3U VPX DSP and FPGA processor card that combine...

UAS, UAV and Ground Based Robot Antennas

Cobham Antenna Systems have designed and developed a range of antennas for use on UAV, UAS and gr...

Low size, weight, and power (low SWaP) stabilized imaging systems for small manned and unmanned systems Alticam 09MWIR2

Designed for small unmanned aircraft systems. Gyro-stabilized gimbal system featuring mid-wave in...

Electronic Warfare VPX Products

The VPX product line includes three products: Modular Quad IF Up and Down Converter, Modular Dire...

Interpoint™ MTR Series™ 50 Volt

The MTR Series™ MTR 50, 28 volt dc-dc converter offers up to 30 watts of output power from single...

Interpoint™ MFP Series™ Down-Leaded Point of Load

The new down-leaded version of its Interpoint™ MFP Series Point of Load (POL) converters are avai...

DIGITAL TRANSCEIVER MODULES

DTM-Data link modules ranges of products are very compact and plug in solutions for unmanned air ...

Related Companies

General Micro Systems Inc

Since 1979, General Micro Systems has been providing the most diverse line of single-board computers in the industry....

Elma Electronic Inc

Who we are...   About Elma Electronic Systems   The Systems division of Elma Electronic Inc. supplies the

API Technologies Corp

Who We Are API Technologies is a dominant technology provider of RF/microwave, microelectronics, and security technol...

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc (X-ES)

 Extreme Engineering Solutions, Inc. (X-ES) is a leader in the design, manufacture, and support of standard and ...

Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions

About Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions (CWCDS) is a long establish...

Crane Aerospace & Electronics

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

Delta Digital Video

Designs and manufactures video compression and scan conversion products for aerospace applications. Develops standard...

GE Intelligent Platforms

Provides embedded computing solutions. Products include single-board computers, networking products, avionics interfa...

Advanced Microwave Products

Designs and manufactures microwave transmitters and receivers for military, UVS, UAV, UGV, and surveillance applicati...

UAVDirect

UAVDirect is a provider of unmanned aerial vehicles specifically designed for aerial photography, aerial cinematograp...
Wire News provided by   

social activity

Webcasts

Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Tight Pentagon budgets mean military systems must stay in the field for longer than ever before. This doesn't mean obsolete technology, however. Today's military electronics are being upgraded constantly, an...
Sponsored by:

Digital signal processing for signals intelligence and electronic warfare

Military & Aerospace Electronics presents an expert Webcast on the design considerations for blending general-purposes processors (GPUs), general-purpose graphics processors (GPGPUs), field-programmable ...
Sponsored by:

Advantages of Intel Architecture Products and Wind River Solutions in Military & Aerospace Applications

This webinar explains the individual advantages of the Intel Architecture hardware, available for long-life supply, and the WRS software portfolio.  There are extraordinary advantages of combining such ...
Sponsored by:

All Access Sponsors

View the 2014 Buyer's Guide Now!


Mil & Aero Magazine

September 2014
Volume 25, Issue 9
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

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers
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