Army forced to buy obsolete FPGAs to keep systems running at White Sands Missile Range

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M., 14 Feb. 2014. U.S. Army weapons test and evaluation experts are buying obsolescent field-programmable gate array (FPGA) processors to keep systems functioning at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., for as long as possible in today's tight defense budgets.

Feb 14th, 2014
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WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M., 14 Feb. 2014. U.S. Army weapons test and evaluation experts are buying obsolete field-programmable gate array (FPGA) processors to keep systems functioning at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., for as long as possible in today's tight defense budgets.

The Army Mission Installation and Contracting Command (MICC) at White Sands Missile Range announced plans earlier this month to buy 300 Xilinx Spartan IIE FPGAs from electronics distributor Avnet Corp. in Richardson, Texas. Xilinx introduced the Spartan II FPGA family in early 2000, and the technology is nearly 14 years old.

Avnet Electronics is the only remaining Xilinx authorized distributor that carries the required units, which the Army refers to as Xilinx Chip XC2S600E-6FG456I FPGAs. The value of the upcoming sole-source contract has yet to be negotiated.

Related: Army opts for obsolete electronic technology to keep soldier and ground systems running

White Sands tests and evaluates a wide variety of military weapons and warfighting systems and training for wartime applications.

Legacy military electronics often are designed with specific components in mind, and upgrading parts like FPGAs can involve costly system redesigns of the kind that Army commands often cannot afford today. Sometimes the only way to replace worn-out parts is to use parts for which the system was designed originally. Unfortunately this can mean using obsolete parts.

The Army's need to procure obsolete electronic parts, which not only offer only limited capability but also are difficult to find, underscores the dangers of compromised military capability as a result of sequestration and other continued downward pressure on the U.S. Department of Defense budget.

Related: Navy puts out word to electronics distributors; needs 500 discontinued Xilinx FPGAs

The seven-member Xilinx Spartan II FPGA family offers densities ranging from 50,000 to 600,000 system gates. System performance is supported beyond 200 MHz. Features include block RAM (to 288K bits), distributed RAM (to 221,184 bits), 19 selectable I/O standards, and four delay-locked loops (DLLs).

Xilinx introduced the Spartan-IIE family originally as an alternative to mask-programmed application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), and as programmable hardware that enables design upgrades in the field with no hardware replacement, Xilinx officials say.

FPGAs have programmable gates that enable users to change their functionality without removing them from their systems. Xilinx today is many generations ahead of the Spartan II in its FPGA technology.

Related: Extending usable life in the face of obsolescence

For more information contact Avnet Electronics online at www.avnet.com, Xilinx at www.xilinx.com, or MICC White Sands at www.wsmr.army.mil/contracting.

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