Emerging vetronics standards aim to spell VICTORY for tomorrow's combat vehicles

The U.S. and international militaries are teaming with industry to craft an emerging set of vehicle electronics standards, based on Ethernet, to enable rapid vetronics technology development, systems upgrades, and technology insertion.

The U.S. Army and the armored combat vehicles community are making another run a standardizing vehicle electronics (vetronics) for future wheeled and tracked military land vehicles in efforts to keep development costs as low as possible, to involve a wide range of military electronics companies early in development, and to ease systems upgrades and technology insertion in the future.

The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), depicted here, is an armored combat and scout vehicle that would replace the Humvee. JLTV is expected to use the VICTORY architecture.
The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), depicted here, is an armored combat and scout vehicle that would replace the Humvee. JLTV is expected to use the VICTORY architecture.

The latest initiative, and by far the most promising, is called the Vehicle Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability-VICTORY for short. This program involves several vetronics companies and Army program executive offices, and seeks to define standard interconnects for the networked armored combat vehicles of the future.

VICTORY describes an evolving standard that today focuses on vetronics command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare (C4ISR/EW) systems on combat vehicles.

Among the companies lending their names to the VICTORY program are vehicle integrators like Oshkosh Corp. in Oshkosh, Wis.; electronics integrators like General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz., DRS Corp. in Alexandria, Va., and Raytheon Co. in Waltham, Mass.; embedded computing specialists such as Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va., GE Intelligent Platforms in Huntsville, Ala., and Themis Computer in Fremont, Calif.; as well as real-time software companies like Green Hills Software in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"The VICTORY architecture is being developed to facilitate the integration of C4ISR systems into ground vehicles," explains Andrew Shepherd, product manager for vetronics at General Dynamics Canada (GD Canada) in Ottawa. GD Canada is working closely with General Dynamics C4 Systems and other branches of General Dynamics concerned with vetronics design.

The Army's Stryker, a family of eight-wheeled combat vehicles, is assembled at a General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada facility in London, Ontario. Stryker is among several relatively new combat vehicle programs following the VICTORY roadmap.

"Historically, ground vehicles have adopted a bolt-on approach for C4ISR capability which results in problems with size, weight, and power [SWaP]," Shepherd continues. "VICTORY provides a framework architecture, standard specifications, and design guidelines to enable the integration of C4ISR systems directly into the platform."

Sister division General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) in Sterling Heights, Mich., maker of the M1 Abrams main battle tank and several other combat vehicles for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, also is on board VICTORY.

Army soldiers monitor the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) and Remote Weapons System screens while on a recent Army exercise.
Army soldiers monitor the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) and Remote Weapons System screens while on a recent Army exercise.

"General Dynamics Land Systems is focused on implementing and complying with the VICTORY standard specifications as they apply to our vehicle platforms' requirements," says a GDLS statement. "We are also engaged in the VICTORY working groups to remain current and to help guide development of the standards."

Likewise, the BAE Systems Land & Armaments segment in Santa Clara, Calif., is following VICTORY closely and is adhering to its guidelines in modern programs. BAE Systems designs the Army M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle and its variants, as well as other combat vehicles.

BAE Systems engineers are at work on several upgrades and technology-insertion efforts to modern Bradley variants, such as the M2A3 and M2A4 Bradley vehicles, as well as the Engineering Change Proposal 2 (ECP2) program to improves the Bradley's power train and electrical system to enable the M2A3 fleet to host subsystems like the Joint Tactical Radar System (JTRS), Force Battle Command & Below (FBCB2), and Warfighter Integrated Network-Tactical (WIN-T).

"We are doing ECP2 and we are upgrading A3 to A4 Bradley vehicles. In that we have specific requirement to implement VICTORY," says Kumil Chon, the Bradley chief architect at BAE Systems Land & Armaments. Among Chon's chief objectives for VICTORY is to enable relatively old, or "legacy" vehicles, to accept modern technologies in system upgrades.

Benefits of VICTORY

"Right now, the standard development is really progressing along quickly," says Bill Ripley, director of business development for tactical systems at Themis Computer in Fremont, Calif. "They have done a very good job of defining what the standard needed to be and dividing it up into bite-sized pieces so it is a straightforward effort to flesh-out the standard."

The VICTORY standard version 1.0, which came out more than a year ago, defined the framework of the standard. "The first meaningful release, 1.2, was released midyear last year, and now we are up to 1.4.1," Ripley says. "That is a pretty good baseline that defines a lot of system requirements."

For vetronics subsystem and component vendors, the standard as it appears today "drawd a line in the sand and says what we need to do to develop hardware." For the vehicle integrators, "they can go look in the marketplace for a VICTORY- compliant solution," Ripley says. "They can judge our products side by side with our competitors' products and look at the features of each in a straight-up way. Then it comes down to form factor and best value. That will help drive cost down in the marketplace."

As it is for many pieces of military electronics, size, weight, and power consumption are primary factors that VICTORY takes into account. "Among the benefits of VICTORY is it can decrease SWsP, such as processors and displays," BAE Systems' Chon explains. "We encounter problems with interfaces that are not well defined, and defining interfaces as VICTORY does will enable us to integrate inbound technology much better because we will know what to expect."

Despite previous attempts to define standard vetronics architectures, recent efforts have called on the vehicle manufacturers to define interfaces among vetronics subsystems, which can result in a wide variety proprietary designs that can be difficult and time-consuming to follow.

The VICTORY program seeks to change all that by defining Ether- net-an industry-standard data networking approach that has been ubiquitous in offices and factories for decades-as the common approach for vetronics subsystems to communicate with one another.

"Before, we had to define the interfaces," Chon says. By defining Ethernet for any VICTORY-compliant device vehicle and subsystem manufacturers can concentrate on developing new capabilities rather than defining and learning interfaces. For combat vehicles that require VICTORY, manufacturers must adhere to Ethernet before they can come onto those programs, Chon continues.

"Another benefit, from a customer point of view, is it enables us to prepare for new technologies," Chon explains. "I have 1553 and CAN bus subsystems, and can translate from those other databuses into Ethernet for VICTORY because the interface is well-defined."

This kind of approach will drive a lot of system commonality for similar functions in many different military vehicles, Chon points out. This applies particularly to widespread vetronics subsystems such as the Army's Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) networked communications system.

The VICTORY standard "will drive a lot of commonality for the same functions," Chon says. "If you are running FBCB2, the interfaces would be the same and we can use the same devices that another program may be using. We are building a fundamental framework into the vehicle to integrate incoming devices with a VICTORY-compliant interfaces."

The Digital Beachhead rugged data router from Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions is for VICTORY-based vetronics architectures.
The Digital Beachhead rugged data router from Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions is for VICTORY-based vetronics architectures.

The FBCB2 is a communications system that enables commanders to track friendly and hostile forces on the battlefield. It increases a vehicle commander's situational awareness of the battlefield by gathering information in near real time based on vehicle locations being updated on the battlefield. Vehicle crews view this information on electronic displays, and communicate by text, rather than in spoken reports.

"If you took a vehicle and it had an acoustic shot-detection system, a battle command application, and remote weapons station, and then a shot rings out, the shot-detection would tell you the shot came from over there," says explains David Jedynak, chief technology officer for the COTS Solutions Group of Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va. "With VICTORY, the acoustic shot detection system would publish its message on the network as a VICTORY-compliant threat detection message. The battle command system says I heard a threat detection message and pops it up on the map, and the remote weapon station immediately points at the threat," he says. "It all happens automatically across the data bus because all these systems are joined."

Building on Ethernet

At the heart of the VICTORY architecture as defined today is the Ethernet data network. Ethernet essentially represents a common language for armored vehicle electronics subsystems. For some applications, VICTORY calls out 10 Gigabit Ethernet, for others Ethernet networking that does not have to move data that quickly.

"For some of the sensors and high-definition video, they are asking for 10 gigabit Ethernet. For others it is 1 gigabit or below," says Rubin Dhillon, senior business development manager of communications and networking at the GE Intelligent Platforms military and aerospace division. in Foxborough, Mass. "The bottom line is it calls for Ethernet pipes throughout the vehicle connecting the vetronics together where before it was proprietary links."

In addition, VICTORY is helping systems integrators come up with smooth ways to translate data flowing over older vetronics networks, such as MIL-STD-1553 and CAN Bus. What this means is a vehicle's targeting system might be able to communicate easily with legacy vetronics attached to a 1553 bus, or to engine-management controls that use CAN Bus. Targeting systems need precise information about how quickly a vehicle is moving to aim weapons accurately.

The M88 Hercules recovery vehicle helps recover heavy armored vehicles, and would be a candidate for VICTORY-based upgrades.
The M88 Hercules recovery vehicle helps recover heavy armored vehicles, and would be a candidate for VICTORY-based upgrades.

"The key thing is getting all the disparate system silos and stovepipe systems working together," says Curtiss-Wright's Jedynak. "The benefit of VICTORY is it takes all those systems and puts them on an Ethernet databus and gets them talking to each other in a modern networked way."

This is a much more straightforward way for integrate vetronics on a data network than what vehicle designers face today. "Imagine if you had an ancient computer on your desk for word processing, a more modern one for spreadsheets, and several phones for calling different people. That is what we have now for military vetronics," Jedynak says.

"A vendor like General Dynamics or Northrop might have used a sensor with a proprietary interconnect in the past, but now they are looking at IP [Internet Protocol], and are looking at switches and routers. They need to get all these electronics to go over Ethernet," GE's Dhillon says.

"At the core of VICTORY is a network, and we have seen explicit VICTORY requirements there for switches and routers, and we've seen it for sensor processing systems, and standard COTS rugged computers for a vehicle," Dhillon continues. An Internet connection alone, however, is not enough to achieve network-centric warfare in combat vehicles.

"Now that you have everything connected by Ethernet, how do you manager it all," Dhillon asks. "VICTORY talks about shared processor load, such as a four-core processor using only three cores. Built into the spec is the ability for other vetronics to use some of that processing power. Everything is modular, and everything is interconnected."

VICTORY also involves data flowing over vehicle Ethernet databuses that must be separated into different levels of security. "One big thing in VICTORY is the separation of security domains," Dhillon says. "We have Red and Black data, classified and unclassified, going over these Ethernet links. That information needs to be treated differently from something that is unclassified."

The M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, shown above, is a candidate for VICTORY-standard upgrades.
The M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, shown above, is a candidate for VICTORY-standard upgrades.

Vehicles involved

Not all U.S. Army and Marine Corps armored combat vehicles can take full advantage of the emerging VICTORY standard. Relatively old models still in service can be too difficult and costly for VICTORY implementation. Instead, designers are considering future armored vehicles, as well as upgrades to the most modern vehicles in the field for VICTORY.

Among the future vehicles most often mentioned for VICTORY compliance are the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), and new versions of the Stryker. For vetronics upgrades, programs to insert new technology into the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Abrams tank are prime candidates.

Two teams are competing to build the GCV: a team of BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, QinetiQ North America, Saft Group, and iRobot; and a team of General Dynamics Land Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. The program has entered engineering and manufacturing development.

The Army plans to buy more than 1,874 GCVs to replace Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The vehicle will have mature technologies, and will be able to accommodate future growth. The first variant of the vehicle is to be prototyped in 2015 and fielded by 2017.

The JLTV will replace the Humvee with a family of more survivable vehicles with greater payload, and will be designed from the ground up as an armored combat and scout vehicle.

Three separate industry teams, led by Lockheed Martin Corp., AM General LLC, and Oshkosh Corp., are competing to build the JLTV. Production is planned for 2015. The Army wants to buy as many as 60,000 JLTVs, and the Marines plan to buy as many as 5,500.

Production began on the General Dynamics Stryker in 2005. It has many variants, including armored personnel carrier, combat ambulance, and battlefield missile carrier. New models, and system upgrades, are prime candidates for VICTORY.

VICTORY compliance

So what, exactly, does it mean to be VICTORY compliant? As of today that is unclear, but combined industry and government standards committees are trying to come up with a test suite for VICTORY certification.

It is not clear yet if certification testing will be handled by a certification organization, or if vendors will self-certify after undergoing VICTORY testing. A widely accepted certification process eventually will emerge, but it isn't here yet.

"Today, there are no products that are VICTORY compliant," says GE's Dhillon. "Right now, it is still a Wild West, because everything is still self-assessed. Products may not be VICTORY-compliant, but we have Ethernet switches today that are VICTORY-influenced." Nevertheless, vetronics suppliers are pushing ahead and have begun introducing products designed to address VICTORY concerns.

The Army Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) in use on an Army Humvee.
The Army Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) in use on an Army Humvee.

"We have a product specifically about getting VICTORY started on the vehicle, called Digital Beachhead, says Curtiss-Wright's Jedynak. "It has everything you need to implement the VICTORY architecture. It has Ethernet, and on top of that, it has translators for CAN Bus, and some VICTORY support for digital video and audio to implement an analog audio system. It is what you need to establish a minimal VICTORY databus."

Engineers at Themis also have early VICTORY products on the market. "When VICTORY was first announced, we looked at the areas where we had expertise," says Themis' Ripley. "The first thing we decided to do was an Ethernet switch called NanoSWITCH that meets the needs of VICTORY."

The company has evolved the NanoSWITCH through several iterations. "We have done the NanoSWITCH from simple layer 2 unmanaged switch to a layer 2 managed switch with a layer 3 router, and then we added auxiliary gateway processors with interfaces for CAN bus and MIL-STD-1553, to take information from the automotive databus and convert it to Ethernet and put it down on the VICTORY databus, as well as on 1553, for electronic warfare and some legacy system that still talk 1553," Ripley says.

The Themis Computer NanoATR small-form-factor, conduction-cooled embedded computing system is being designed with VICTORY guidelines in mind.
The Themis Computer NanoATR small-form-factor, conduction-cooled embedded computing system is being designed with VICTORY guidelines in mind.

"Then we added an option for a GPS receiver for military precision position locating and attitude of the vehicle," Ripley adds. "We have a processor built in that can host the VICTORY databus executive core piece of the VICTORY databus, and time protocol PTP algorithms, and firewall algorithms." For the future, Themis engineers plan to add an inertial measurement unit and an encryptor to the switch.

Themis also offers the VICTORY-inspired NanoATR small-form-factor, conduction-cooled embedded computer for ground vehicles and aircraft. "From there, we can go in to fill other VICTORY-related systems in the vehicle," Ripley says. "For our customers, we have built a set of hardware that are compatible with all the VICTORY standards. The hardware itself plus the software is what makes it VICTORY compliant."

As for GE Intelligent Platforms, the company has introduced the secure rugged RTR8GE networking router for combat vehicles, with RF data links for communicating with other vehicles and military assets during network-centric operations. GE has introduced the RTR8GE together with partner Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Dhillon says GE plans to introduce VICTORY-compliant rugged networking equipment for combat vehicle applications sometime later this year.

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June 2015
Volume 26, Issue 6

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