Unstable and uncertain world drives military technology investment

Two major wars and significant global instability ensure a need for spending on defense technology, says Peter Cavill, general manager for Military and Aerospace Products at GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms in Towcester, England.

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By John McHale

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Two major wars and significant global instability ensure a need for spending on defense technology, says Peter Cavill, general manager for Military and Aerospace Products at GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms in Towcester, England.

Cavill made his remarks during the second keynote address at the Critical Embedded Systems (CES) MediaFest 2008 at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas in Scottsdale, Ariz., last month.

“Uncertainty regarding today’s threats and tomorrow’s emerging threats is driving the U.S. imperative to maintain its technology advantage,” Cavill told attendees. “The U.S. defense and intelligence budget remains solid and homeland security and other opportunities are also growing.”

The expanded importance of nation building and peacekeeping are driving the international demand for defense and intelligence capabilities, Cavill added.

“While the U.S. economy has slowed, it will remain resilient,” Cavill says. “Current and emerging threats will continue to drive budget stability.”

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Retrofits of platforms such as the Stryker program are driving the spike in the 2008/2009 U.S. Department of Defense budget, says Peter Cavill, general manager for Military and Aerospace Products at GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms.
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Defense spending is projected to be up for 2009, but is set to level off after that, Cavill continued. “However, this is likely to be mitigated by global events and expenditure on refitting and upgrading equipment used in war zones.”

Driving the 2008/2009 spending peak will be resets of the U.S. Army M1A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Stryker Light Armored Vehicle III, and M1 Abrams main battle tank programs, Cavill says.

While retrofits will get funding, flagship programs will likely be vulnerable to cuts, he says. Another trend is increased electronics miniaturization driven by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) size, weight, and power needs, Cavill added.

Examples of opportunities in the U.S. lay in programs such as: the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-22 jet fighter, and UAVs; in Asia in fighters and trainers; and in Europe in UAVs, the Future Rapid Effects System, and retrofits, Cavill noted. Within these applications the critical embedded systems opportunities lie in display processing, mission computing, radar/sonar, fire control processing, etc., he added.

Cavill then commented on how much the embedded supplier landscape has evolved during the last few years.

“The embedded industry consolidation has resulted in 58 percent of the market served by four to five broad line suppliers,” Cavill says. “Defense original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly seeking a one-stop-shop supplier—simplifying procurement and making system integration and interoperability issues easier to manage.

“Smaller players will need to focus on differentiated niche products to survive and grow or develop partnerships or seek acquisition by a major supplier,” he added.

The technology challenges for embedded components can be traced to the increasing “mismatch between the needs of the defense OEM and the commercially driven component market,” Cavill says.

He noted that the European Union Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) in electrical and electronic equipment directive has increased the pace of obsolescence and its adding cost. The shortening lifetimes for many application specific components will force embedded suppliers to invest in long-term product lifecycle management and obsolescence mitigation to remain competitive, he explained.

Cavill also addressed the news that P.A. Semi was bought by Apple.

P.A. Semi makes a high-performance processor—the PWRFficient—which has the low-power attributes needed for rugged military embedded applications, and is seen as the low-power alternative to PowerPC and Intel chips.

Many companies have designed product lines around the P.A. Semi device, and are concerned that Apple might not see the need to continue producing it because of the low-volume market it represents.

Cavill believes the future supply of the P.A. Semi chips is “highly unlikely.” He says the question is whether the market will start to move toward “Intel and/or AMD. Intel committed to long-term support of selected parts, but power/performance not for rugged applications. This may require a breakthrough in cooling technology.”

Cavill added that AMD technology may be more focused on the needs of embedded applications. He briefly addressed the emerging standards in the embedded community, stating that VME is dominant and should remain so for several years. Cavill added that “VPX and VXS appear to be gaining market traction.”

Regarding MicroTCA, Cavill says this standard is unlikely to succeed “unless the market is prepared to agree to yet another standard.” Cavill concluded by saying that “success in the embedded market will be driven by win-win partnerships between COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) suppliers, OEMs, and the end-users.”

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