Army eyes COTS for latest Paladin howitzer computer upgrades

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — U.S. Army vetronics designers are using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components in their latest electronics upgrade of the M109A6 Paladin 155-mm self-propelled howitzer.

By John Keller

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. — U.S. Army vetronics designers are using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components in their latest electronics upgrade of the M109A6 Paladin 155-mm self-propelled howitzer.

The so-called "Version 11" upgrade to the single-box Paladin Advanced Fire-Control System — otherwise known as AFCS — increases Paladin`s solid-state memory and switches to a faster communications protocol, says Peteris Jansons, deputy Paladin program manager at the Army`s Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

The memory upgrade moves from 32 megabytes of extended data output random access memory (EDO RAM) to 128 megabytes of EDO RAM. The old memory configuration was on two 16-megabyte SIMMs, which designers will replace with two 64-megabyte SIMMs, Jansons says.

The fire-control computer`s wireless communications software will change from the old FSK protocol to the newer MIL-STD-188-220. FSK, which moves data at 2.4 megabits per second, is too slow for the demands of the digital battlefield, Jansons explains. The MIL-STD-188-220 protocol has selectable data rates with a top speed of 9.6 megabits per second, he says.

The move to the MIL-STD-188-220 communications protocol will enable each Paladin to communicate directly with the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System — better known as AFATDS — which is the Army`s premiere fire-support automation system. Today`s Paladins must communicate with AFATDS via a separate communications network, Jansons says.

The Version 11 upgrade is to be completed by this April, and will be installed on all 950 U.S. Paladin howitzers, Jansons says.

The Paladin AFCS computer is based on the 133 MHz Intel Pentium microprocessor and Windows NT operating system with custom real-time extensions.

The Paladin`s AFCS computer is a ruggedized PCI/ISA-based system from Sechan electronics Inc. of Lititz, Pa. It integrates a tactical computer interface card from Litton Guidance & Control Systems in Woodland Hills, Calif., a MIL-STD-1553 1-megabit-per-second data bus interface from Data Device Corp. of Bohemia, N.Y., and a Pentium single-board computer from Teknor Industrial Computers Inc. in Montreal.

Since the early 1980s its single-box architecture evolved from a three-box design that at different times used the Intel 8086, 80186, and 80960 microprocessors.

Other Version 11 vetronics upgrades include a new 10-year CMOS battery, new Ethernet driver, new elapsed time meter, and the Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 5.

The Paladin howitzer is the U.S. Army`s primary heavy artillery piece, and will remain the Army`s primary fire-support system until the future United Defense LP Crusader self-propelled 155-mm howitzer enters service in 2005.

In a separate Paladin initiative, Army designers are readying 44 test versions of the artillery system to join the Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) "Applique" experiments at Fort Hood, Texas, to develop computer systems for the future digital battlefield.

To do this, Army technicians are using FBCB2 flat-panel displays from the TRW Systems & Information Technology Group in Fairfax, Va., and adding a row of fire-control buttons that are unique to the Paladin, Jansons says. FBCB2 displays from TRW also are going aboard other Army vehicles for the digital battlefield, such as the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank.

"We have only 44 vehicles down at Fort Hood, and to buy a unique screen for only 44 systems would be very expensive," Jansons says. "We are now part of the buy of TRW. We are trying to stay with off-the-shelf equipment as much as we can."

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