Navy pursues "network-centric" vision for shipboard electronics

Today`s preliminary moves into COTS-based components and subsystems aboard the Navy`s surface combatants are pointing the way to widespread future use of commercially developed computing and networking in the fleet

Mar 1st, 1998
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Today`s preliminary moves into COTS-based components and subsystems aboard the Navy`s surface combatants are pointing the way to widespread future use of commercially developed computing and networking in the fleet

By Edward J. Walsh

U.S. Navy planners are shifting shipboard computer architectures fully to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment for all frontline ships - the surface combatants, carriers, submarines, and amphibious-assault ships that carry Marines. Toward this goal, experts in the Tactical Computing Division of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Arlington, Va., were to award a contract this month for UYQ-70 display consoles that eventually will represent the baseline for displays aboard surface ships, submarines, and E-2C Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.

The award for UYQ-70 "family," which Navy officials first purchased in 1994 and which are now built at the Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems Division in Eagan, Minn., underlines the shift by the surface Navy towards COTS-based shipboard computing.

The `Q-70 provides processing for functions such as display management and the transfer and integration of data from combat command and control systems. This level of processing capability is expected to force Navy planners to confront challenging questions about the direction and scope of their program to shift completely from proprietary Navy systems to commercial hardware and software for their newest ships and combat systems - a process that now is already in progress.

Emerging shipboard computing architectures will enable naval planners to achieve their ultimate goal of designing and building future warships as a highly integrated "system of systems," say computer requirements experts in the Surface Warfare Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) in the Pentagon. The integrated computer systems aboard these future surface combatants will be the centerpiece for a vision of future combat operations that Navy leaders now refer to as "network-centric warfare."

The Lockheed Martin-led `Q-70 team consists of DRS Technologies of Parsippany, N.J., Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass. (as a result of the Raytheon acquisition of Hughes, which came in second in the initial competition for the `Q-70 in 1994), Hewlett Packard Co. of Palo Alto, Calif., and Barco Chromatics Inc. of Tucker, Ga. Officials of Litton Data Systems of Agoura Hills, Calif., also are leading a team, made up Litton subsidiaries PRC Inc. in McLean, Va., and Ingalls Shipbuilding, Inc. of Pascagoula, Miss., as well as L3 Communications in Denver and Advanced Acoustic Concepts Inc. of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

The March award for the UYQ-70 will be the second buy of the system. When Navy officials first awarded the `Q-70 contract four years ago to what was then Unisys Electronics Systems, they signaled a decisive turn in the debate over the configuration of shipboard systems. The `Q-70 buy represented at that time what was the Navy`s largest-ever move to COTS equipment for shipboard displays. The award of the UYQ-70 to Unisys (which Loral and then Lockheed Martin subsequently acquired) also delivered a major shock to leaders of what was then Hughes Aircraft Co. in Fullerton, Calif., who with their UYQ-21 and UYQ-4 family of proprietary, Navy-unique displays, had for years been the Navy`s primary shipboard display supplier.

The `Q-70 is an integrated computer and display system for surface ships, submarines, and aircraft. Variants include Aegis display-system console and Aegis command-and-decision system consoles; an acoustic- display console for processing and display of surface-ship sonar data; a downsized variant for the New Attack Submarine (NSSN) that also can fit aboard Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) attack boats and Trident ballistic missile submarines; and a downsized variant for the E-2C Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.

The `Q-70 also will be the baseline display for the Cooperative Engagement Capability planned for delivery to Aegis ships, aircraft carriers, and Wasp-class (LHD-1) and LPD-17 amphibious assault ships, and for the ship-self defense system for carriers and the Wasp, Tarawa (LHA-1), and Whidbey Island-class (LSD-41) amphibious assault ships.

Form, fit, and function

The key challenge in putting new consoles aboard ship is building them the same size as the consoles they are replacing, as well as providing for similar power, bulkhead, and deck connections, says Dave Watson, an acquisition manager for tactical computers in NAVSEA. The `Q-70 has form, fit, and function compatibility with the Hughes UYQ-21 suite of consoles still widely in service.

Processing for all the `Q-70s comes from the Hewlett Packard 743i 100 MHz VME single-board computer. Most of the variants are configured for fiber distributed data interface (FDDI) and alternative-path FDDI for networks to tactical systems, as well as Ethernet and asynchronous transfer mode links.

Designers from DRS Technologies are responsible for display-component integration. Experts from Barco Chromatics are upgrading older `Q-70 units. Barco officials have been supplying graphics controllers, video frame grabbers, rugged color monitors, and flat-panel displays on the `Q-70 since the original 1994 contract award. Barco engineers are replacing their BARCO CX4000 three-VME-board graphics controller set with a single VME board to provide the ability to mix graphics, radar, and real-time video data. Barco `Q-70 integrators also supply their 19-inch RGN 651 and RGN 639 color displays.

Lockheed Martin officials say the `Q-70 development approach blends knowledge accrued over years of developing closed-architecture Navy-proprietary shipboard computers. Hughes (now Raytheon) last year was added to the Lockheed Martin team. The Lockheed Martin `Q-70 team has "a legacy of knowledge about Navy systems and the way the Navy operates," says Harvey Taipale, a Lockheed Martin engineer. He stresses that company `Q-70 designers know they must bring more to the table than simply COTS components. "You don`t just throw something together; the devil is in the details," Taipale says.

More than a decade ago, engineers from Unisys - before that company became part of Lockheed Martin - developed the Naval Tactical Data System computers for surface ships. Unisys designers also built the "UYK" family of Navy-standard shipboard computers, beginning with the UYK-7s, which went aboard the first Ticonderoga-class (CG-47) Aegis cruisers and aboard many other surface-ships in the early and mid-1980s. The currently fielded UYK-43 was introduced in 1983.

Litton Data Systems, which is leading the Litton `Q-70 team, also has a history in Navy shipboard computing. As a result of its acquisition of the SAIT unit of Science Applications International Corp. in San Diego, Litton is a subcontractor to Hewlett Packard for the Navy`s tactical computer (TAC-4) standard workstation, for which Hewlett Packard acts as prime, and is responsible for TAC-4 ruggedization.

Engineers from Litton and its SAIT predecessor have delivered more than 1,300 rugged racks, and also build the Army`s lightweight computer unit. Litton PRC, meanwhile, supports the Navy`s IT-21 initiative, and won a Navy contract last September for the battle-force tactical trainer in a joint venture with Tracor Systems Engineering Inc. of Rockville, Md. The joint venture is called Battle Force Engineering Associates. The battle-force tactical trainer is a surface ship tactical scenario-generation system.

Fear of COTS

When Navy leaders started looking for ways to switch shipboard computing to COTS technology, the pressures to substitute COTS systems for the Navy-unique UYK-series computers disturbed many NAVSEA combat-systems managers. These venerable machines had been developed over many years to provide real-time deterministic processing necessary anti-aircraft warfare. Many NAVSEA experts believed COTS was a shortsighted way of achieving easy cost cuts. The antipathy towards the COTS mandates, in fact, sometimes bordered on paranoia: one senior Navy laboratory official who had expressed skepticism about COTS suggested as late as last year that managers who did not toe the party line on COTS did not do their careers any favors.

"There were very good reasons for the traditional disciplined approach to systems development" that produced the Navy-unique UYK family, says Taipale of Lockheed Martin. He stresses, though, that commercial markets have reduced the cost and time necessary to develop the Navy`s electronic systems, subsystems, and components.

Designers in the Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems group, while still part of Unisys, proposed several modifications that would have put upgrades to the venerable UYK-43 computer on the road to COTS.

Lockheed Martin engineers have demonstrated non-real-time Joint Maritime Command Information System (JMCIS) software on the Q-70; in another venue on the `Q-70 they have demonstrated real-time air-traffic control software developed for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Yet there remains an inherent weakness in moving the `Q-70 to combat units in the fleet - particularly in upgrades involving existing software code. Real-time mission-critical Navy combat-systems software is written primarily in proprietary CMS-2 code that does not currently run on the `Q-70 or on any other commercially based system. Reengineering the CMS-2 code to port it to a commercial computing architecture will require additional development, testing, and certification.

One approach that Lockheed Martin engineers are looking at is an open- systems module (OSM) to support the incremental shift from the UYK- 43 generation to a COTS-based open architecture.

OSM represents an interface between the UYK-43 and commercial systems, including the UYQ-70, says Mike Bukovich, the Lockheed Martin OSM manager. OSM also interfaces with local-area networks, FDDI, and commercial systems such as TAC-4 workstations that will be part of Aegis baseline 6. The OSM hosts as many as six 6U VME printed circuit cards, which Navy officials purchase from a range of commercial vendors including the Motorola Computer Group in Tempe, Ariz. (Motorola MVME-177, a 68060 processor), Huerikon Corp. of Madison, Wis., and Hewlett-Packard (the 743i RISC processor). Lockheed Martin builds a VME disk drive as an ordering option.

OSM provides a "shared memory" function, which enables COTS-based local area networks to access UYK-43 data as a means of switching UYK-43 legacy software to new architectures, says Dale Wandersee, systems integration engineer at Lockheed Martin. One approach consists of using the UYK-43 as an input/output controller. In this way, processing power comes from OSM single-board computers that make use of the UYK-43`s 64 I/O ports to communicate with ship systems, while commercial networks communicate with UYQ-70s and other systems. The use of the OSM thereby permits retention of the UYK-43 legacy applications, while also introducing new, high-speed commercial technology.

System of systems

The switch from the custom UYK-43 architecture to COTS-based open systems is part of a landmark Navy vision called "system of systems," which represents a whole new way of conducting naval operations. This approach, which emphasizes wide- and local-area networking, fundamentally transforms how naval officials develop and buy not only ships and shipboard systems, but also the computing systems that manage them. The ability to network processors, mass memory systems, displays, and communications equipment throughout the ship may help Navy designers walk away from stand-alone computers and point-to-point data links, and achieve new levels of system performance without new costs.

In addition to leveraging the capabilities of processors and other computing elements, NAVSEA officials have required that all their acquisition programs - weapons, sensors, and communications - filter through a systems-engineering process that will ensure widespread networking connectivity.

NAVSEA leaders have appointed a full-time systems engineer, Joe Cipriano, who until last fall held a similar post in the program executive office for theater air defense. NAVSEA officials, in fact, say that systems engineering has become the driving force behind how they henceforth will define and purchase ship systems - not only for computers, but also for missiles, guns, sensors, navigation, and communications.

For the surface Navy, engineers are designing the new network-heavy computer architecture, called ADCON 21, for the next-generation land-attack destroyer called DD-21. Navy officials expect to take delivery of the lead ship of the class by 2009.

The ADCON 21 concept continues to evolve as a complete break with the MIL-SPEC hardware and software history of Navy computing. ADCON 21 is to be the "computing backbone" of the ship. Program officials say that it will rely on a pool of reconfigurable COTS general-purpose processors, each able to perform the tasks of any of the others. An ADCON 21-laboratory demonstration is set for 2001, and engineering-manufacturing development is to begin around 2003. Carrying out the detailed design for the system will be the yet-to-be-named SC-21 industry team.

The DD-21 will be the first of a family of surface combatants to emerge from the Navy`s SC-21 program, which sometime between 2010 and 2020 is also to yield a new cruiser (CG-21) and perhaps a new amphibious assault ship. The Navy`s vision of ADCON 21 would connect weapons, sensors, battle-management systems, communications, computers, intelligence-gathering, and shipboard machinery in an integrated network.

DD-21 networking

The networking scheme for DD-21 is to be far more extensive than the connectivity planned for the one surface combatant shipbuilding program now in progress, the Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) Aegis destroyer. DD-21 networking also is to go farther in the direction of integrating systems than the next big shipbuilding program, the San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious assault ship.

The SC-21 computing vision is also providing direction for a next-generation aircraft carrier, the CV(X); Navy leaders expect to take delivery of the first CV(X) by 2012.

Yet leaders of existing programs also are moving incrementally in the direction of the new architecture by inserting COTS technology for networks and processors for systems control during periodic planned upgrades.

The LPD-17, now in detail design by a team led by Avondale Industries in Avondale, La., is developing a shipwide-area network (SWAN). To a limited degree - and for the first time aboard a U.S. combat ship - SWAN will combine combat systems data with non-tactical data such as machinery control on one network. SWAN also will handle data related to C4I - better known as command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence.

Designers of the final vessels of the 50-ship Burke class also are taking bold steps in the direction of COTS computers and tactical networking. These ships, which will get a baseline-7 software upgrade to the Aegis combat system, will have a COTS architecture of single-board computers. That specific architecture has yet to be defined.

Navy leaders are aiming their current efforts at enabling future ships to operate together as elements of combined surface, undersea, and airborne battle forces. These combined maritime forces, when their shipboard electronics are networked together, themselves would represent integrated systems. Joint-service command-and-control networks and integrated combat systems would link battle groups and amphibious groups with joint-force commanders, with Army and Marine Corps units ashore, and with Air Force surveillance aircraft.

Information Technology 21

The Navy`s Information Technology 21 initiative is also guiding the direction of shipboard computing. Information Technology 21 mandates to the greatest extent possible a shift away from Unix-based systems in favor of Microsoft Windows NT. The shift away from Unix all but ends - except for high-performance applications where Unix is essential - the Navy`s TAC-4 standard workstation buy.

Navy officials also are working on finding a middle ground between all-out COTS and Mil-Spec computers. Toward this goal, Navy leaders are collaborating with experts in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., on the high-performance distributed computing effort known as HiPer-D at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Dahlgren, Va.

The HiPer-D Dahlgren testbed has more than 40 commercially purchased computers, including TAC-4s from Hewlett-Packard and systems built at companies such as Digital Equipment Corp. (soon to become part of Compaq Computer) of Maynard, Mass., Silicon Graphics Computer Systems of Mountain View, Calif., and Sun Microsystems of Mountain View, Calif.

In January, leaders of the HiPer-D program released a report on a major August 1997 demonstration called T-3 to determine how well "mainstream" commercial computing products can handle real-time combat-systems data, explains Mike Masters, a HiPer-D engineer at NSWC/Dahlgren. The T-3 was the third major HiPer-D computing demonstration; the first took place in May 1995 and the second in October of that year.

The HiPer-D program, which DARPA officials started in 1991 to assess the potential for using non-real-time COTS-based processors for real-time functions, revealed that even extremely powerful COTS-based computers did not have the real-time throughput that weapons control and other combat systems functions require.

The program now aims at managing how Navy planners can incrementally introduce COTS-based computers aboard ships as commercial suppliers incorporate the necessary real-time features. Driving that trend, Masters says, are commercial applications such as telecommunications, process control, embedded device control, and multimedia.

The T-3 demonstration aimed at achieving a degree of data exchange between non-real-time software programs and mission-critical Navy anti-aircraft weapons-control software. The demonstration ran two major non-real time programs: the main program for the Navy`s JMCIS, and a JMCIS subordinate program called Advanced Power-Projection and Execution (APPEX).

The T-3 measured the degree to which all shipboard-computing applications can share resources, Masters says. The goal, he says, is to move away from Navy-unique system designs that most often are obsolete upon fielding, and toward flexible designs that program managers can upgrade periodically to keep pace with evolving mission requirements.

Systems designers can even adapt such systems to enhance mission performance after they deploy. The T-3 demonstration enabled the NSWC team to evaluate an open-design approach and have full interoperability between the real-time and non-real-time computer programs by running the JMCIS and APPEX data on TAC-4 and other HiPer-D machines. The lessons learned from that demonstration set the stage for a T-4 demonstration next August in which the JMCIS and APPEX functions will run on non-real time HiPer-D computers, while real-time systems will handle time- critical combat functions.

Future directions

Navy leaders are applying the surface Navy systems-engineering thrust that now steers processing enhancements for combat systems to the primary combat-systems and C4I interface - the radio frequency (RF) apertures that emit and receive data.

Leaders in the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Washington are sponsoring an ambitious effort to develop a technology testbed for an advanced multifunction RF system. Working on the project are RF scientists from the Navy, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. Included on this team are RF scientists who were with Northrop Grumman and Hughes before their acquisition by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, respectively.

This testbed aims at developing a dual-aperture array - two transmitters and two receivers - at two levels of bandwidth: 1 through 5 GHz and 5-25 GHz. Both will be able to simultaneously transmit and receive multiple RF signals - radar, electronic warfare, identification/ friend/foe, and communications - on multiple frequencies, says Bobby Junker, director of ONR`s Information, Electronics, and Surveillance Department. ONR officials hope to have a conceptual design for the dual-aperture system ready by this summer. The program is targeted at the DD-21 destroyer, but could be applied to other new ship programs.

The key technology is a "low parasitic" heterojunction bipolar transistor (HBT) demonstrated at a processing speed of 500 GHz last April at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). The HBT, which is engineered to reduce parasitic capacitance to current flow dramatically, is expected to permit logic speeds of 100 GHz-about 300 times faster than the highest performing commercial workstation now available - when integrated with new wideband-gap semiconductors fabricated from silicon carbide and gallium nitride. The HBT also provides the direct-digital synthesizing necessary to achieve "true time delay," Junker says. That permits simultaneous transmission and reception of multiple RF signals.

Researchers from UCSB and Cornell University now are working under ONR grants to develop the low-parasitic HBTs; USCB experts also are developing gallium nitride wide-bandwidth high- efficiency, high-power transistors. Cree Research of Durham, N.C., is under contract to the laboratory to develop silicon carbide power-field effect transistors. By March, ONR officials expect to award contracts to Hughes Research Laboratory and TRW`s Electronics and Systems division in Redondo Beach, Calif., for development of the direct- digital synthesizers.

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The Navy`s future high-performance distributed shipboard architecture, better known as HiPer-D, will rely on high-speed interconnects from Myrinet switching technology.

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Future U.S. Navy ships, such as the new aircraft carrier depicted above, are making ever-more use of COTS electronics.

Myrinet is a leading candidate for future Navy shipboard networks

U.S. Navy planners are evaluating the speed of several networks for their potential in handling real-time weapons and control information aboard combat ships through a program called high-performance distributed - or HiPer-D.

The clear frontrunner for future Navy shipboard tactical networks is a relative newcomer to real-time networking applications - Myrinet switching technology from Myricom Inc. of Arcadia, Calif.

HiPer-D program officials, headquartered at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Dahlgren, Va., also evaluated Ethernet, FDDI, and ATM switching approaches.

During an initial HiPer-D demonstration in 1995, the Myrinet switches, which linked several Sun Microsystems Sparc workstations demonstrated order-of-magnitude improvements in network connectivity over the competing switching approaches explains Mike Masters, a HiPer-D engineer at NSWC/Dahlgren.

The Myrinet switch, which is capable of reprogramming and managing network packet functions independently of host computers, is far more flexible at transferring information than FDDI, which is in wide use aboard surface ships, Masters says.

Myrinet, in fact, is the interconnect technology of choice for ADCON-21, a network-heavy computer architecture concept for the Navy`s next-generation land-attack destroyer called DD-21, say some officials in the SC-21 program.

The Myrinet technology originally was developed by a research group led by Chuck Seitz, now president of Myricom, while he was at the California Institute of Technology with some funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va. DARPA is a co-sponsor of the HiPer-D program.

Myricom engineers now provide switching components to Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and other Navy systems integrators. - E.J.W.

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