General Dynamics MPU serves as tactical operations center on Black Hawk helicopter

Feb. 1, 2002
Engineers at General Dynamics Communication Systems custom-designed a multi processor unit (MPU) with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment that serves as the tactical operations center for battlefield commanders

by John McHale

TAUNTON, Mass. — Engineers at General Dynamics Communication Systems custom-designed a multi processor unit (MPU) with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment that serves as the tactical operations center for battlefield commanders in transport on a U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

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The helicopter serves a command center and has no weapons, says Chris Marzilli, vice president of marketing at General Dynamics Communications Systems. The MPU gives a commander the tactical and situational awareness during transport that he could only have before by flying on something like a U.S. Air Force C-130 turbo-prop utility aircraft, Marzilli says.

General Dynamics experts worked with officials at the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., on the project, Marzilli says. Prior to the General Dynamics work the tactical operations center would still be brought together by a local area network (LAN), but would be so big and spread out it would have to be situated on a large aircraft, he explains. "Space and size were everything," Marzilli says.

The MPU contains six modules, each one dedicated to a tactical function — one for air, defense, fire support, combat support, global communications, and FBCB2 or the Army's Force-21 Battle Command Brigade and Below program, Marzilli says. The FBCB2 module was produced by General Dynamics Canada, formerly Computing Devices Canada, in Nepean, Ontario, he adds.

The MPU is suited for airborne, shipboard, and ground-based tactical operations centers with the requirement to fuse and display "stovepipe" software programs of mixed vintage and operating systems, General Dynamics officials say. The unit provides a versatile, configurable platform that consolidates as many as six powerful single-board computer (SBC) modules into a single chassis.

The success of the Black Hawk MPU has also prompted the Army to look at putting similar devices in their ground vehicle applications, Marzilli says.

General Dynamics engineers used a CompactPCI mid-plane design, with five Sun SPARC boards and one Intel Pentium-based board for the Black Hawk MPU, Marzilli says. However the MPU can use any combination Sun and Intel SBCs, depending on the user requirements, he adds.

Each module operates as a logically-independent stand-alone workstation, retaining its own keyboard, mouse, and monitor connections, while extending native motherboard I/O to external chassis interface connectors, company officials say. An internal 10/100 BaseT Ethernet switch in the MPU connects all the modules together on an internal LAN, while a second Ethernet port remains available on each module to connect to an external LAN.

The design was customized in terms of how it fit on the helicopter platform and for ruggedization, but the main computer components were COTS, Marzilli says. CompactPCI is ideal for this application because it of its high availability and hot swapping capabilities as well as being more general purpose than VME, he adds.

The MPU has eight industry-standard, 5-1/4 inch half-height mass storage bays to enable a variety of removable hard disks, CD-ROMs, tape, and other devices to be factory-installed and associated with the SBC modules as desired, General Dynamics officials say. The mass storage bays may be populated with either EIDE or SCSI devices (up to Ultra Wide SCSI) depending upon user requirements. The front-facing bays are located behind a protective door that provides filtered air to both the mass storage devices and the balance of the MPU components. Two banks of SCSI ID switches are also located behind the door to enable individual identification of the drives on the SCSI bus, company officials say.

The MPU design uses a power management system that enables auto-sensing operation from either 95-132 or 185-264 Volts AC at 47-440 MHz. The MPU can also operate from 20-33 Volts DC. Three high-speed fans ensure that the volume of front-to-back airflow is sufficient to cool all the internal mass storage devices and processor modules over the entire operational temperature range, General Dynamics officials say. Front panel-mounted LED Indicators provide information on AC and DC input power status, battery status, and condition, power supply fault, battery/charger faults, fan fault, temperature fault, and power management faults. An internal lithium-ion backup battery provides as much as 10 minutes of operation upon loss of primary AC or DC input power.

An mounting tray with quick connect/disconnect ATR-type ratcheting locks and blind-mate ARINC-style connectors provides an easy way to remove or replace the MPU from its rack mount, company officials say. Delrin runners and stainless steel locating pins guide the MPU chassis in or out of the mount while twin torsion cranks are turned to smoothly draw the chassis in or out. Recessed handles on each side of the chassis are also provided to help with remove and replace operations, company officials say.

For more information on the MPU or General Dynamics Communications Systems contact the company by phone at 508-880-1854, by fax at 508-880-1623, by mail at 400 John Quincy Adams Road, Taunton, Mass. 02780-1069, or on the World Wide Web at

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