It's time for clear explanations of why software is important in aerospace and defense systems

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

It's difficult to overestimate the importance of aerospace and defense software in ever-more-sophisticated military electronics. Software is perhaps the most crucial enabling technology, as well as the riskiest vulnerability in military weapons, communications, navigation and guidance, and most other applications that give U.S. warfighters a crucial technological edge over their adversaries.

Nevertheless, it never fails to astonish me the difficulty that software companies have in explaining how their tools, operating systems, integrated development environments, services, and other expertise represent the enabling technologies they truly are.

When I talk to software companies, as I did this past week at the Embedded Systems Conference in Boston, I always want to hear in a clear, concise way, what their software engineers bring to the table for the aerospace and defense systems designer and the military platform integrator.

More often than not, however, I get a tortured and long-winded explanation of software capabilities, new or upgraded tools, and why some such software widget is better than the one offered from competitors. I rarely get a straight answer to my question of how this particular piece of software can benefit the guy designing a communications system, electronic warfare suite, radar or sonar system, or avionics flight control.

For this, however, I can't always blame the folks at the software companies. Explaining why software is important is hard. You can't pick up a piece of software, hold it in your hands, turn it over, and feel its heft like you can with hardware.

Software, by nature, is an abstract thing, and explaining its importance to people like me who aren't software engineers is a daunting task. Still, it shouldn't feel like you have to be in the club to get it.

I'm sure software companies do a great job of explaining themselves to other software people. On many levels, I think it takes a deep knowledge and appreciation of the challenges of developing software that works, doesn't hog processor and memory resources, can be maintained and upgraded easily, and can't be hacked by the bad guys to understand the latest software products.

Still, I'm always frustrated when I come away from a software show, as the Embedded Systems Conference has become, because I have a nagging feeling that I've missed something. There just has to be some understandable explanation between "my software makes electronics work better," and the gory details of what the software actually does.

That's what I'm after, and it's a big challenge to get anywhere close, it seems.

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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 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, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7

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