THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 21 May 2013. It's ironic that one of the few growth areas in the U.S. defense industry these days involves making things smaller, but this is the world we live in. While demand for military aircraft, tanks, and ships appears to be on a steady decline, small is where it's at.
I know you're dreading it, but I'll say it anyway: SWAP (you can uncover your ears now). It's that ubiquitous term you can't escape that refers to electronic systems that are small in size, weight, and power consumption. Strange that SWAP never seems to mean electronics that are large, heavy, and use a lot of power, but I digress.
Why the obsession with small SWAP? A lot of it has to do with sophisticated electronics small enough for unmanned vehicles. Another is placing computer power, displays, communications, and sensors on an already overburdened infantryman. Overall, however, today's focus on small, lightweight electronic systems that don't use much power has to do with bringing as much capability to the forward edge of battle as possible.
That's at the heart of SWAP directives from the top, and industry has got the message loud and clear. In fact it seems that every discussion we hear about military technology today is in the context of SWAP.
The topic of SWAP has become so pervasive that people are sick of hearing about it. I'm as guilty as anyone with other SWAP-related blog posts just this month alone. Still, the importance of SWAP, and the way SWAP issues are transforming the aerospace and defense electronics industry are profound and ought not to be ignored -- even at the expense of inducing nausea at the mere thought of the term.
Pretty soon, I predict, the term SWAP will be so much a part of the fabric of the aerospace and defense electronics industry that we no longer need to mention it; SWAP issues simply will be assumed as part of any new technology development.
Believe it or not, we've seen all this before with other all-consuming industry terms. Don't believe me? Remember COTS?
That term, short for commercial off-the-shelf, came into fashion two decades ago in the first term of the Bill Clinton Administration. Clinton's secretary of defense, William Perry, essentially coined the term to describe military technologies borrowed from the commercial electronics industry and adapted to military applications. The idea then was for the U.S. military to quit re-inventing the wheel and draw from an ever-deepening well of commercially developed technology.
COTS described a revolutionary concept back then; today it's a no-brainer. Graphics processors adapted to massively parallel embedded computing, commercial flat-panel TV technology in combat information centers, radiation-hardened versions of PC microprocessors, and the list goes on.
Trendy terms like SWAP often spawn cottage industries. In fact, I'm a little surprised that we haven't seen an industry magazine or Website emerge called something like SWAP Journal (no offense intended to my friends Pete Yeatman and Jeff Child ... okay, maybe just a little tweak ).
Such a development most likely is inevitable, though. The right people can't resist a good business opportunity, and if anything is hot right now it's SWAP.
In the meantime, SWAP stories are coming out at least weekly, sometimes even every day. One of the latest I saw is government research concern for Common Data Link (CDL) radios small enough for those hand-launched aerial drones.
That would mean full-duplex, secure, streaming imaging capability for what we used to know as model airplanes. Technology is headed in the same direction for warfighters on the ground. A networked sensor platform; that's what the infantryman is becoming.
What might SWAP mean for tomorrow? Perhaps mechanical fleas designed not only to spy on the adversary, but also to render him combat-ineffective after he does mad with itching.
Perhaps then SWAP will become a verb, and we'll describe a defeated enemy as SWAPped.