Imagine that: COTS component lifecycle support that sees integrators through design and production

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Rapid obsolescence and a perceived lack of support continue to give commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and subsystems a black eye, and over time have led to a lack of faith in COTS products among prime aerospace and defense contractors.

And who could blame the contractors for their skeptical attitude toward COTS? No wonder many of them still want to design and manufacture their own components rather than patronizing COTS suppliers. The primes have to develop and maintain military systems over long lifecycles sometimes lasting decades, while component suppliers typically are concerned with moving on the next generation of technology.

Put these two interests together, and it can be a recipe for disaster. A major airborne radar program, for example, was brought to a screeching halt when the supplier of the system's embedded computers obsoleted those parts before the system was even deployed.

Think about it. A major systems integrator goes through the long and laborious process of designing, testing, and qualifying an airborne radar system. This can take years, as this one did. At long last, when the system was ready for production, and the systems integrator was ready to start buying those embedded computers in bulk, the manufacturer had stopped making them. How many component manufacturers, after all, are going to keep making a specific part for years or even decades. Technology moves much faster than that.

Well, put yourself in the shoes of the systems integrator. It's not always their fault that military systems development takes so long. Designing a complex military system like an airborne radar is complex. Qualification takes time, too, to ensure the system works correctly in all conditions. Is it too much to ask that component suppliers involved on the program support the systems integrator for the duration of the program?

Well, Aitech Defense Systems in Chatsworth, Calif., put themselves in the shoes of their customers and came up with a solution called COTS Lifecycle+ that is such a no-brainer that it's a wonder this didn't gain widespread acceptance long ago.

It's a simple as this: Aitech will guarantee support for its embedded computing products for 12 years from product introduction. In most cases, that's ample time for systems integrators using Aitech products to get their platforms designed, qualified, and produced.

A simple enough solution, and I think we're going to see a lot more of this in the future.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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