Upgrading combat vehicles with versatile vetronics

Modern militaries look to technology firms to inject existing ground combat vehicles with robust, yet cost-effective electronics and electro-optics innovations.

The needs of warfighters in the field continue to grow-in number, complexity, and urgency-in the face of ever-increasing and changing threats. Assymetrical, unconventional warfare is growing the need for innovative electronics and electro-optics solutions on the ground, particularly in combat vehicles.

Aerospace and defense technology companies are partnering with global military organizations to deliver increased power, functionality, and capabilities in the hands of awaiting soldiers.

Moving target

Several initiatives are driving electronics technology for military ground combat vehicles today, explains Gregory Powers, business development manager at TE Connectivity in Berwyn, Pa. Moving to an open architecture, increasing bandwidth, and reducing the size, weight, and power (SWaP) are among the most pressing issues.

"These initiatives have many implications, such as increased performance, speed to market, upgradeability, scalability, reparability, and expanded vendor base," Powers explains. "Top-level trends-including high-definition video, distributed embedded computing, intensive sensor suites, and hybridization of vehicles-are creating a demand for accelerated evolution."

Vehicle electronics, or vetronics, are linked and must be integrated carefully to provide optimum performance, Powers says. "The most important request coming from the defense community is for rugged, end-to-end connectivity solutions, including high-performance, embedded or inside-the-box computing interconnect and box-to-box connectivity, such as input/output (I/O) and harnessing."

General Dynamics engineers develop mission-tailored vehicle C4ISR solutions to minimize size, weight, power, and cost while maximizing operational efficiency and providing for evolving system capabilities.
General Dynamics engineers develop mission-tailored vehicle C4ISR solutions to minimize size, weight, power, and cost while maximizing operational efficiency and providing for evolving system capabilities.

Inside-the-box, high-pe formance, high-density interconnect-including TE's Multigig RT2 (VITA 46 VPX) connector, Fortis Zd backplane connector, and Mezalok (VITA 61 XMC 2.0) connector-are being "ravenously designed in and deployed," Powers says. "These high-performance digital connectors are required to keep up with escalating processor power and communications data rates. With all the inside-the-box horsepower, box-to-box demands have also risen." High-speed data streams, information storage, and video are driving the demand for higher-performance copper and fiber-optic cable assemblies.

TE's connectors are complemented by radio-frequency (RF), fiber- optic, and power interconnect technologies, such as VITA 67 multi-position RF modules, VITA 66 fiber-optics modules, and VITA 62-specified Multibeam XLE, which "round out the ecosystem and provide designers a comprehensive solution set," Powers says. "These standard building blocks are really application-agnostic and are being designed into virtually all state-of-the-art systems, including force protection applications, such as improvised explosive device (IED) defeat and counter-fire radar, shipboard electronic warfare suites, airborne radar, motion control systems, satellite avionics, and more." TE's rugged connectivity solutions are employed in myriad vetronics applications, including motion control of remotely operated weapons systems and electronic warfare pods, RF connectivity for force protection systems, and fiber-optic connectivity for secure vehicle communications.

Modern means

Military organizations worldwide are overwhelmingly opting to modernize existing ground combat fleets, rather than acquiring new vehicles. The aerospace and defense community is focused on vehicle upgrades, adding capability, capacity, and functionality to existing platforms, reveals Doug Patterson, vice president, military and aerospace sector, Aitech Defense Systems Inc. in Chatsworth, Calif.

Existing fleets are gaining IED protection, RF jamming, general upgrades resulting from component obsolescence, and capability enhancements based on current and future perceived threats, Patterson explains. All these systems are power hungry; they put a strain on the existing power system and it doesn't have the capacity. "Adding additional systems onto an existing platform is not always a viable option," he explains. "Program managers and prime contractors are looking for innovative ways to successfully meet the mission requirements within a usable power budget.

"Today's technology is really stepping up to the need," Patterson adds. "Upgrades are addressing the limited power budget of combat vehicles." In fact, Aitech is introducing a new series of small-form-factor PowerPC and ARM products designed to address the need for smaller size, added functionality, higher performance, and lower power. The company provides board-level and enclosure-level products for multiple ground vehicle systems, from tanks to armored personnel carriers to mobile gun systems, in applications like mission computing and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

"If you look down at the power and performance of your cell phone with all the capabilities that are inside-Wi-Fi, WAN (wide area network), GPS (global positioning sys- tem), operator interface, DSP (digital signal processing)-like performance, and aggressive power management-that's what the military needs. Smaller, lighter, higher performance, and less power-that seems to be the common theme."

SWaP-C sensitivity

U.S. Army officials started the Vehicle Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability (VICTORY) initiative "to correct the problems created by the 'bolt on' approach to fielding equipment on U.S. Army vehicles," as described on the Victory-Standards.org website. Aerospace and defense companies, including Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va., and GE Intelligent Platforms in Huntsville, Ala., are integral to the effort.

"It's not very sexy and it's not a lot of compute power, but it's very important," acknowledges Rubin Dhillon, industry manager focused on networking and communications, Defense & Aerospace at GE Intelligent Platforms. "It's a network to connect all the electronics within a vehicle, which enables the military to become vendor agnostic and put multiple vendor systems in a platform. It's going to save the military a ton of costs right at a time when they're trying to save costs and to modernize systems. It's going to open up competition amongst multiple vendors, and it's going to limit the size, weight, and power."

Dhillon describes the size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) benefits of the VICTORY architecture: "Right now, a combat vehicle has multiple systems-a weapons system, defense system, targeting system, etc. Each of those systems, especially if they come from different vendors, will come with its own display. It's expensive and takes up a lot of space. With the VICTORY initiative providing an open-architecture platform, you perhaps would have one screen for multiple systems. We are trying to help build the network architecture that would facilitate this."

The Army has already published the first iteration of the VICTORY specification. "It is still very broad. It says: This is what we're trying to do, this is how we'd like all the electronics to communicate with each other, and this is how we'd like you to make them interact with each other so we don't get a situation where we design in just one vendor," Dhillon says. "Opening up the architecture of vetronics is the most important development."

Dhillon is seeing momentum behind the VICTORY initiative. "We are starting to see the requirements flow through various programs, and we're also seeing it deployed gradually," he says. "Instead of completely ripping out the existing vetronics architecture and replacing it with this open-architecture model, there is a gradual approach where they'll keep some of the existing vetronics and have some devices in there that will translate to the new network. So they can do a partial upgrade if they need to, but the goal of this whole thing is a completely network-oriented open architecture way of building vehicles in the future.

"The technology they are using is IP networking; it's the same as what you would find in the Internet. So, security concerns are there, of course, when you're using that type of network," Dhillon adds. "That's where we have decided to focus." GE Intelligent Platforms engineers are working with partners, such as Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale, Calif., to build firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and so on. "We are bringing the same types of technologies that would be deployed by Fortune 500 companies into military vehicles.

"In the end, they have to modernize the equipment, but they are going to have to do it with less money-and this is really the best option that has been put on the table so far," Dhillon mentions.

Marines work on an Atnavics Radar Vehicle, which identifies targets as friend or foe during Ground Based Air Defense operations.
Marines work on an Atnavics Radar Vehicle, which identifies targets as friend or foe during Ground Based Air Defense operations.

Modernizing tanks

The U.S. Army TACOM Lifecycle Management Command has authorized the modernization of tanks that have been in the Army's inventory for up to 20 years. General Dynamics Land Systems, a business unit of General Dynamics in Sterling Heights, Mich., won a $31 million Army contract to upgrade 24 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks and 22 M1A2 System Enhance Package (SEP) Version One (V1) tanks to the M1A2 SEP V2 configuration, which is considered the most technologically advanced and most survivable digital tank available worldwide.

The M1A2 SEP V2 is a digitally connected tank with an electronic backbone, improved processors, high-resolution color displays, increased memory capacity, a day and night forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sighting system, auxiliary power, a tank-infantry phone, and an open architecture designed to accommodate future technology insertion without a time-consuming and costly re-design.

"Abrams production helps preserve a strong national industrial base of approximately 882 suppliers, 64 percent of which are small businesses, as well as a strong national defense," says a company representative. Work will be performed in Anniston, Ala.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Sterling Heights, Mich.; Lima, Ohio; and Scranton, Pa., through roughly 30 Nov. 2012.

GE Intelligent Platforms is providing graphics and communications products and rugged, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) PowerPC processors to General Dynamics for the tank modernization effort. "The new general-purpose processor (GPP), designed to accept two on-board mezzanine modules, is able to meet the requirement in a single VME slot and will allow for improved capabilities in both crew operations and vehicle diagnostics," says a spokesperson. "The hardware platform benefits are coupled to well-recognized COTS operating software and advanced diagnostic firmware to substantially increase operational capability."

Upgrade efforts

National Guard officials are also cognizant of the need to infuse fielded vehicles with modern technology. BAE Systems in York, Pa., won $646 million from U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command to purchase upgrade materials for and to modernize 353 Bradley Fighting Vehicles for National Guard units in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Kansas, South Carolina, and Ohio. BAE Systems, serving as the systems integrator, is upgrading Bradley Operation Desert Storm M2A2, M3A2, and M7 Bradley Fire Support Team vehicles to Operation Desert Storm Situational Awareness (ODS-SA) configurations.

The Bradley ODS-SA upgrade is intended to deliver optimal situational awareness, network connectivity, and enhanced communication hardware to meet mission requirements in close-combat, urban, and open-combat scenarios.

The "Bradley Fighting Vehicle has served alongside Army Soldiers, helping them to accomplish their missions for more than two decades," Joe McCarthy, vice president and general manager of Combat Vehicles at BAE Systems, enthuses. "The Bradleys we are producing today provide the National Guard with enhanced survivability and interoperability on today's digital battlefield."

Work began last month at the Red River Army Depot in Texas and at BAE Systems operations in York and Fayette, Pa., and Aiken, S.C.; final delivery is expected in April 2014.

Soldiers stand with their combat vehicle during a joint training exercise for theater aeromedical evacuation system and ground medical components.
Soldiers stand with their combat vehicle during a joint training exercise for theater aeromedical evacuation system and ground medical components.

Promoting protection

Self-protection is a central characteristic of current combat vehicle designs, whether retrofits to existing platforms or new vehicles built from the ground up. Modern vetronics increase the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of ground forces, lending to enhanced situational awareness and, ultimately, improved survivability.

The U.S. Army, prompted by casualties in Iraq, acquired roughly 20,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored fighting vehicles designed to survive IED attacks, ambush, land mines, and similar threats. Today, the need exists to upgrade the popular combat vehicle.

Serco Inc. in Reston, Va., won a 15-month, roughly $73 million contract to upgrade C4ISR equipment and systems on MRAP vehicles. Serco engineers will enhance the integrated communication systems on U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corp, and U.S. Navy MRAP vehicles used by warfighters to "stay connected through the interoperability of ground-based and airborne equipment," says a representative. Serco teams will analyze, install, and test the systems on-site, throughout Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Qatar to enable immediate use of the vehicles upon completion.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Joint Program Office contract falls under the U.S. Navy's SPAWAR Global C4ISR Installation indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract vehicle.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces personnel will gain the off-road mobility and crew protection offered by the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) from Oshkosh Defense, a division of Oshkosh Corp. in Oshkosh, Wis. The company won a contract to deliver 750 M-ATVs, between Jan. and Aug. 2013, for UAE Armed Forces ground operations.

"The UAE continues to expand its role, in partnership with its allies including the U.S., in regional security and peace-keeping operations," says John Urias, executive vice president of Oshkosh Corp. and president of Oshkosh Defense.

"No vehicle has been more effective in supporting ground operations, from urban security patrols to combat in harsh desert and mountainous terrain," according to Serge Buchakjian, senior vice president and general manager of International Programs at Oshkosh Defense. The Oshkosh M-ATV was first fielded in Afghanistan in 2009.

Oshkosh Defense has introduced its M-ATV Tactical Ambulance, designed to "serve military medics and handle fast and easy loading of patients for safe recovery and evacuation on the battlefield," Buchakjian describes. Oshkosh engineers worked closely with military medical professionals to design this latest member of the M-ATV family of vehicles. The ambulance is built to meet an international need for a more protected battlefield ambulance that can travel more extensively off-road, to reach and treat casualties in hostile environments across rugged terrain.

Optical awareness

U.S. Army officials sought to fill an urgent need among route-clearance patrols for increased situational awareness, enhancing the ability to detect potential dangers sooner and engage time-critical targets faster. They found their solution from Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, Md., issuing a $21.4 million contract, under the Remote-Vehicle Optics Sensor System (R-VOSS) program, for the company's commercial GyroLink system.

GyroLink provides a real-time, full-motion video (FMV) network capable of transmitting video between military vehicles across significant distances. Members of a route-clearance patrol can use monitors inside combat vehicles to wirelessly view imagery from other VOSS-equipped vehicles, explains a company spokesperson.

"GyroLink is a plug-in system that deploys with the VOSS on military vehicles," explains Jay Pitman, director and general manager in Lockheed Martin's Gyrocam Systems business. Installation of the equipment, produced at the Lockheed Martin Gyrocam Systems facility in Sarasota, Fla., began in July on existing MRAP vehicles.

Marines drive an M-ATV mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle in a convoy en route to a forward operating base at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.
Marines drive an M-ATV mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle in a convoy en route to a forward operating base at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.

Lessons learned

Norwegian Government officials, incorporating lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan, seek a new vehicle fleet offering enhanced protection, survivability, situational awareness, intelligence, and interoperability. BAE Systems in Sweden won a roughly $750 million contract from the Norwegian Government to upgrade and build CV90 armored combat vehicles for the Norwegian army.

BAE Systems engineers will upgrade Norway's existing 103-vehicle CV9030 fleet, in service since the mid-1990s, as well as build new vehicle chassis for 144 CV90s in different configurations, including a variant equipped with an improved sensor suite. All told, the project will deliver: 74 infantry fighting, 21 reconnaissance, 15 command, 16 engineering, 16 multi-role, and two driver training vehicles.

"This is one of the largest Army investments and an important part of the Norwegian army modernization plan," explains Petter Jansen, managing director at the Norwegian Defence Logistics Organisation.

Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace in Norway is providing the Kongsberg Protector remote weapon station, which will be fitted to all variants, and the data and information system, including the integration of weapon systems, sensors, communication, and security systems.

Adaptive autos

Military personnel around the world currently require and are anxiously awaiting an in-vehicle infusion of modern electronics and electro-optics technologies and added capabilities.

Militaries just can't keep going with what they've got now, GE Intelligent Platform's Dhillon explains. "Today, you have got this hodgepodge of systems that keep getting bolted onto existing vehicles. It's an incredible amount of cost-not only in acquiring and maintaining systems, but also in weight and the fuel that goes into keeping these vehicles moving.

"If you look at the initiatives of essentially any force around the world, they are looking for ways to modernize equipment, but cut costs at the same time," Dhillon observes. "A modular approach, the VICTORY- type approach, is the only way to achieve that. You build one common platform, and all the systems within that platform interface over the same network. You can put in systems that make it an ambulance today, bring it back to base, quickly reconfigure those systems so that it becomes a troop carrier, or reconfigure those systems so it becomes some sort of attack craft the day after. Historically, the Army would have to build individual vehicles for that type of scenario. Now, you can have modular systems that plug into a common network, and just an amazing cost savings."

The role and importance of combat vehicles is growing, as is the demand for enhanced equipment. "As vehicles become ever more electronically intensive, vetronics deployment must escalate," TE Connectivity's Powers insists. "Vehicles are now C4ISR platforms and an integral part of the networked battlefield. The vehicles need to communicate, act as sensor nodes, act to defend themselves, and at times, target and strike an enemy.

"Displays, motion control, force protection, targeting, mission planning, signals intelligence, communications, and similar data-intensive applications portend a very strong future for increased deployment of vetronics, and the need for the enabling technology of high-performance, rugged components," Powers adds.

High-performance computing in a Humvee?

The current combat vehicle is a space- and weight-limited computing environment in which engineers struggle to meet seemingly mutually exclusive performance and size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements. The vetronics goal is to deliver the highest performance in the smallest form factor.

Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va., has expanded its line of Multi-Platform Mission Computer (MPMC) subsystems with the ultra-compact MPMC-9105 VMC (Versatile Mission Computer), designed for SWaP-constrained vetronics and avionics applications.

The low-profile COTS subsystem is packaged in an environmentally sealed enclosure and designed to meet "challenging thermal management, intensive processing, and I/O requirements, ranging from low-power systems to high-performance computing (HPC) solutions," says a representative.

MPMC rugged mission computers are designed to enable system designers to add "leading-edge processing and I/O functionality into space- and weight-limited platforms," says Lynn Bamford, vice president and general manager of Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions. "Sealed to protect against contamination and humidity, cooled without fans, and powered with Intel's latest Core i7 processor, this I/O-rich system is field proven to quickly add reliable high-performance computing to any platform."

The MPMC-9105 VMC, designed for the harsh environments common of aerospace and defense computing applications, meets or surpasses the MIL-STD-810F Test Method Standard for Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests, and for electromagnetic interference (EMI) per MIL-STD-461 Requirements for the Control of EMI Characteristics of Subsystems, says a representative.

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Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2015
Volume 26, Issue 2

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