F-35 Joint Strike Fighter leverages COTS for avionics systems

By John McHale

FORT WORTH, Texas—Designers of the avionics systems for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft are using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) avionics wherever and whenever possible throughout the advanced fighter’s cockpit.


Avionics in the F-35 cockpit, shown at right, leverage COTS technology.
Click here to enlarge image

“Performance, affordability, and maintainability of the platform over time are big part of why COTS is so important,” says Eric Branyan, vice president and deputy program manager for the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth, Texas—systems integrator for the F-35.

COTS technology contributes to major parts of the F-35 avionics and electronic warfare capabilities, such as the electro-optic sensors, synthetic aperture radar, maps, and radio frequency (RF) systems, Branyan says. The aircraft also takes advantage of common data links such as SINCGARS and Link 16 to pass high-bandwidth data between the F-35 and other aircraft and ground stations to provide a common operating picture.

F-35 designers have found ways to manage the obsolescence headaches that accompany COTS, Branyan says. “We’ve been careful to develop the architecture so that if one part goes obsolete, we don’t have to redesign the entire system to replace it,” Branyan says.

There are different ways to approach obsolescence management such as lifetime buys of components that suppliers decide to obsolete, Branyan says.

He notes that the F-35 program makes lifetime buys when it is economical, but says the real key for the F-35 program is a Lockheed Martin-designed software middleware that enables experts to upgrade COTS hardware and software without rewriting millions of lines of code. “We built the middleware to protect us so we can make changes without overhauling the software code,” Branyan says.

The middleware enables systems designers to refresh key COTS components such as the Freescale PowerPC processors without major changes to the avionics, he continues. In the past, certifying a refresh of multifunction displays would take three to four years, now with the isolated middleware, the most recent refresh was completed in only six months, he adds.

On top of the middleware the F-35 avionics uses the Integrity DO-178B real-time operating system (RTOS) from Green Hills Software in Santa Barbara, Calif. This RTOS is already certified to FAA regulations, which is a huge advantage to Lockheed Martin, he adds.

Lockheed Martin also requires all software code to be written in the C++ programming language, which is the most common code in use today and enables faster code development, Branyan says.

COTS is also a big part of the cockpit display, Branyan says. “We use an active matrix liquid crystal display (AMLCD) from L-3 Display Systems in Alpharetta, Ga.,” he adds. The pilot’s helmet-mounted display (HMD) is provided by Vision Systems International (VSI) in San Jose, Calif. VSI is a joint venture between Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Elbit Systems of America.

“The VSI system provides the F-35 warfighter with unmatched situational awareness throughout the operational profile of the jet,” says Drew Brugal, VSI president. “By keeping eyes out while viewing all critical information and video on the helmet visor, the pilot has a significant advantage in both air-to-air and air-to-ground mission execution.”

The L-3 display uses COTS processors and standard glass, Branyan says. Tweaks were made to militarize it for the F-35 with antiglare and night-vision capability, but otherwise it is similar to what one might see on commercial television, he adds.

Three years ago, Lockheed Martin was looking at multifunction displays that were based on projection technology, which was considered leading edge at the time, Branyan says. Now the technology is plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD). Having a COTS architecture makes it easier to adapt to these shifts in technology development, he adds.

Other common standards in use on the aircraft include the MIL-STD 1553 databus for weapons systems and 1394 for high-rate data systems, Branyan says.

The communication, navigation, and identification friend or foe (IFF) suite system relies on field -programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) from Xilinx in San Jose, Calif., Branyan says. The COTS devices enable Lockheed Martin to add new waveforms to embedded software radio systems in the F-35, he adds. The FPGAs also provide vice processing capability in real-time, Branyan notes.

All the avionics systems—hardware and software—have been tested in the air in the F-35 CATBIRD test system, Branyan says. The CATBIRD also enables refreshes of key electronics during the development of the program, so that when the F-35 is deployed it will have state-of-the-art systems, Branyan says.

These systems, largely made up of COTS standards and components, enable the fifth-generation fighter jet to have stealth capability and conduct air and ground attacks simultaneously, Branyan says.

What separates the F-35 from other fighter aircraft is its ability to fuse sensor information and communications from all elements of the battlespace—land, air, and sea—so the pilot can just respond to threats without adjusting sensors, Branyan says.

The F-35 also has anti-jamming capability and can block enemy emitters as well, Branyan says. This is a key game changer for how the F-35 can engage attack targets long before the target is aware of the F-35, he adds.

The aircraft will be manufactured in three variants—a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) for the U.S. Air Force, a carrier variant (CV) for the U.S. Navy, and a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) for the U.S. Marine Corps and the United Kingdom Royal air force and navy, Branyan says.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles


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


The Innovation That Matters™ Quiz

Innovation is one of the key drivers in the Defense industry. View this short video of Leon Woo, VP of Engineering at Mercury Systems, on the role of innovation. Then, answer 3 simple questions correctly to be entered into a drawing to win an Eddie Bauer fleece jacket!

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR TWO MOST RECENT WINNERS. "Nick from SPARWAR" and "Bridget from AOC."


Military & Aerospace Photos

Related Products

F-SIM-LDR ARINC 615A Data Loader

AIT's F-SIM-LDR, or Flight Simulyzer Loader, is a complete ARINC-615A Data Loader development kit...

cPCI-1760-SW-4

AceXtreme® Bridge Device - Smart Protocol Converter

DDC’s AceXtreme Bridge Device converts avionics messages in real time between Ethernet, MIL-STD-1...

Related Companies

CES - Creative Electronic Systems SA

Has been designing and manufacturing complex high-performance avionics, defense and communication boards, subsystems ...

Boker's Inc

Boker's, Inc. can manufacture your flat washers, spacers and shims with an outside diameter from 0.080" to 12" and ma...

DLS Electronic Systems Inc

Provides EMC/EMI & Environmental testing to MIL-STD 461-A-F, MIL-STD 810 & RTCA DO-160-C-G, Boeing, Airbus FAA AC20-1...
Wire News provided by   

Most Popular Articles

Webcasts

Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Gen3 serial interconnects such as 40G Ethernet, QDR/FDR10 Infiniband, PCIe Gen3 offer significant performance benefits for OpenVPX Systems.  This webcast will outline OpenVPX Signal Integrity challenges...
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:

social activity

All Access Sponsors


Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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