Flat panels move into C3I applications

Oct. 1, 1997
LONGMONT, Colo. - Much attention focuses on how system designers should use flat-panel displays in demanding military environments such as aircraft cockpits. But flat panels also are moving into less-rigorous environments such as fixed-site and mobile command posts for applications related to command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I).

By Chris Chinnock

LONGMONT, Colo. - Much attention focuses on how system designers should use flat-panel displays in demanding military environments such as aircraft cockpits. But flat panels also are moving into less-rigorous environments such as fixed-site and mobile command posts for applications related to command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I).

Here, the emphasis is on replacing large cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors with lighter, smaller, and less power-hungry flat panel versions. These advantages are proving to be significant for applications in large aircraft, shelters, ships, submarines, and land vehicles.

CRT monitors, mostly in the 19-inch size, are common throughout the services in many C3I situations. Until recently however, designers had little choice when considering a monitor for the computer systems used in these applications. Now, ruggedized 16-inch and 20-inch liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are available, with an 18-inch size anticipated by next year. Such displays feature 1,280 by 1,024 pixels of resolution with higher resolutions under development.

U.S. Army officials are helping to boost the availability of large flat-panel monitors through a program called CHS-2 (Common Hardware/Software-2). Now in its second phase, one of the program goals is to develop a series of ruggedized printers, PCs, workstations, and associated monitors - CRT and flat panel. Members of the entire C3I community can purchase equipment through the CHS-2 program.

These ruggedized components are designed and tested to meet the requirements of Mil-Std-810E, which calls for testing to environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, sand, dust, altitude, shock, and vibration. The CHS-2 specification is not as rigorous as the environmental specs required for fighter cockpits or tanks. The CHS-2 guidelines enable designers to use less-rugged - and less expensive - equipment where it is appropriate.

The idea is to develop an inventory of ruggedized computer components that program managers can mix and match to meet their particular needs. Managers analyze up front to determine if the CHS-2 specifications meet or exceed requirements for a specific mission. If the CHS-2 specs do not meet mission requirements, program managers have the option to go ahead with the standardized CHS-2 equipment, or select equipment tested at a more demanding environmental level.

GTE Government Systems of Taunton, Mass., is the prime contractor on the CHS-2 program. Codar Technology, Inc. in Longmont, Colo., a subsidiary of NAI Technologies Inc., was chosen to develop ruggedized monitors, workstations, and PCs. This effort recently led to pre-production approval of a new 16-inch LCD monitor. A 20-inch flat panel monitor that has also received pre-production approval is in first article testing - the next step to achieving CHS-2 certification for full production.

"We are currently using offshore display suppliers because the North American suppliers are just not cost competitive for these larger sized displays," explains Maury Koelemay, Codar`s manager for strategic marketing. Codar sources the 16-inch active-matrix LCD from DTI in Hineji, Japan, an IBM/Toshiba joint venture, and their 20-inch display from NEC of Mountain View, Calif.

"We are also looking to introduce an 18-inch SXGA display, sourced from Sharp [of Camas, Wash.], when it is available perhaps in the first quarter of 1998. Mitsubishi Electronics America [of Sunnyvale, Calif.] is also talking about a 20-inch display," adds Al Morris, Codar`s product manager for flat panel displays and PCs.

Flat panel benefits

The biggest reason that C3I program managers are choosing to replace CRT monitors with flat panel monitors is the savings in size, weight, and power consumption, Codar officials say. To their detriment however, flat panel monitors are more costly, have less luminance, and can have a hard time displaying some types of images or data.

Sometimes the cost payback for moving to flat panels is fairly easy to justify. For example, U.S. Air Force EC-135 surveillance aircraft are typically outfitted with eight to 10 computer stations. Koelemay estimates that upgrading 10 stations to flat panel monitors would cost about $80,000 to $100,000 more than the equivalent CRT monitors. But at about one-third the weight, he figures it only takes 10 flights to recoup the added cost of the flat panel monitors through fuel savings.

Weight also plays a big factor in mobile ground C3I shelters. For example, small shelters can be designed as drop-in units that ride on the back of a rugged utility vehicle such as a Hum-Vee. Larger shelters can be as big as a semi-trailer. In all cases however, the shelters must conform to the strict weight limits of the platform vehicle.

Mission planners often find that their equipment weighs too much. So to reduce weight, they can use a honeycombed shelter material, alloy racks, or flat panel monitors. Replacing two 19-inch CRT monitors with flat panel versions can save 100 pounds. "The alternative is to eliminate equipment, which can compromise mission effectiveness, Koelemay notes.

Clearly, not all situations warrant a flat panel monitor. With semi-stationary shelters for instance, weight and space constraints are not so critical. On programs such as the Patriot Tactical Control Station, program managers are opting for CRTs over flat panel monitors.

Another major challenge with flat panels is their ability to display mission data. CRTs feature scanning electron guns which can readily accommodate different input formats. Flat panels, on the other hand, have fixed pixel formats, typically 1,280 by 1,024 for the larger displays. Consequently, mission planners must determine how to map incoming data to the fixed format of the flat panel, and acquire electronics for scan conversion, scaling, zooming, and interpolation of the data. For standard computer of video sources, such electronics are readily available, but for more obscure formats, development efforts can be required.

COTS switch links Navy ship tests

By John Rhea

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. - A master switch controller (MSC) employing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology has been delivered to two U.S. Navy labs by Purvis Systems Inc., Middletown, R.I., to link the shore-based research equipment with combat systems of ships deployed at sea.

One system is being used at the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren, Va., for Aegis cruisers, and the other at the Combat Systems Department of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I., for submarines.

Switching between the various laboratories at both sites enables experts to configure tactical equipment to match the configurations of deployed combat systems and to share simulation equipment among tactical systems.

The Navy`s problem was that switching became so extensive at the facilities that each site contained literally thousands of switch points, Purvis officials say. Furthermore, many of the switches were old systems, such as the AN/USQ-62, FSQ-157 low-level serial switch, T-bar, and matrix. The MSC employs an X-Windows graphic user interface, which enables several laboratories to be configured with a point and click.

In a parallel effort, Purvis engineers installed multiport switches, also COTS modules, to interconnect equipment with Mil-Std 13297, -1553B, and -1773 interfaces. These switches are customer-configurable and can be controlled either manually or by a host computer. They are transparent to the interfaces being switched and can be used for real time.

Purvis experts cite benefits to the Navy such as reduction of wear-and-tear on equipment due to continuous re-cabling, redundant hardware configurations without duplicate hardware to prevent downtime in event of equipment failure, equipment protection and personnel safety due to the isolation of equipment from power sources, and the ability to create plural connections to broadcast data to multiple destinations or to tap the data path for analysis and data recording.

Click here to enlarge image

Engineers at Purvis Systems are developing a flexible new data link to connect shore-based research sites with combat ships deployed at sea.

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