By John Rhea
QUANTICO, Va. — Leaders of the U.S. Marine Corps are winding up an evaluation of a new rugged test system that infantrymen can carry in the back of a Humvee to within 15 miles of the battlefield.
This transportable test system, from ManTech Systems Engineering Corp. in Chantilly, Va., is to test gun controls on light armored vehicles, radio transmitters, and other electronic equipment.
The so-called Third Echelon Test System (TETS) should be operational early next year, says Steven Shrout, automatic test equipment systems specialist, at the Marine Corps research facility at Quantico Marine Base, Va.
TETS is part of a Defense Department-wide effort to bring electronic testing equipment as close to the front lines as possible to avoid the logistics problems of shipping back entire electronic units for repair, Shrout adds.
The tester is significant because it weighs less than 500 pounds — far less than comparable testers from other services. It consists of four 100-pound test units built around the 192-channel M910 VXI digital test instrument from Teradyne Inc. in Boston. Each unit`s molded composite case weighs 18 pounds.
The U.S. Army`s Integrated Family of Test Equipment (IFTE) used during the Persian Gulf War, for example, is carried toward the front lines in a tractor trailer. The U.S. Navy`s Consolidated Automatic Support System (CASS), meanwhile, is sized for use on aircraft carriers.
Shrout notes, however, that efforts are under way at those services to reduce the size of their deployable test equipment.
The design of TETS is based on the VXI chassis, an extension of VME and a standard architecture for automatic test equipment, says Maggie Cadogan, product specialist at Teradyne, whose engineers supplied 12 units to ManTech under a $5 million low rate initial production contract awarded last year.
Controlling the instrumentation is a ruggedized laptop personal computer running Windows NT. Thus the hardware and software embody commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology.
The VXI architecture is also sufficiently open to permit migration of the testing techniques to other platforms and to integrate commercial testing tools, Cadogan adds.
The initial tests were in the spring of 1998 at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, N.C. The TETS program was approved in June for delivery of 227 systems over five years.
Paul Faulkner, ManTech vice president and TETS program manager, describes the tests as "unrestrained loose cargo, free to bounce around in the Humvee."
Initial Marine Corps users will be the Communications and Electronics School at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, Calif., and the Test Instrumentation Repair School in Biloxi, Miss. Faulkner estimates the price at $200,000 per basic system and $300,000 for those with optional capability for radio frequency testing.
Field deployment later will be to air wing communications squadrons, communications battalions associated with ground forces, electronic maintenance companies, ordnance maintenance companies, and reserve units.