Page 1 of 1
This is an exciting time to be in the embedded military electronics market. A time for agile companies that can fight through or avoid internal corporate anxiety. Between world affairs and procurement changes, things could really continue to be pretty good at our end of the market. Russia is doing some saber rattling and President Dmitry Medvedev stated that, in spite of the current world economic problems, Russia will maintain the military spending increases of recent years. That’s a situation that can not go unnoticed by our government. The most recent confrontation off their shore by Chinese boats in international waters is another statement to the administration regarding the requirement for maintaining a strong, technically advanced military. Meanwhile, the DoD is about to initiate some procurement changes that will make it more advantageous for suppliers of boards and subsystems to get a greater share of this market.
The procurement changes the DoD is going to implement will probably shift more system content from primes doing ground-up open-ended builds to contractors supplying fixed-price subsystems to the primes. The biggest kink that everyone–primes and suppliers of military electronics products–may have is obsolescence. The environmental and durability requirements that the military asks for are of little to no interest to commercial market silicon manufacturers. That puts continued pressure on designers of military electronics systems to use as much ingenuity as possible in the development of boards or systems.
In the ’80’s board manufacturers would take the next-generation data provided by a microprocessor company like Motorola and design small mezzanine boards that utilized current microprocessors and also incorporated all the upgraded features of the next-generation microprocessor. This allowed board development prior to the availability of beta silicon of the next-generation product. When the beta silicon became available, system designers could then just remove the mezzanine module and drop in the chip. There would always be a few things that needed to be changed–driven both by our own issues as well as work-arounds driven by the chip supplier’s bug list. But despite those challenges, that enabled board manufacturers to get a six-month head start on product introduction and design wins.
Along came the ’90s and the microprocessor-on-mezzanine concept turned into the development of PrPMCs (Processor PMCs), taking the microprocessor off the motherboard and placing it on an open architecture mezzanine card that could be replaced. Now in this decade we find Intel’s processor road map as the backbone for proprietary mezzanine CPU modules that marry to either bus-based motherboards or in stand-alone small systems. As Intel introduces a faster model or new generation of microprocessor, a customer can upgrade systems already deployed or just enhance new incoming systems by replacing the CPU module. The recent announcement by Intel that it is placing the Atom on their extended lifecycle road map is very exiting for designers of military electronics.
Another approach to fight the obsolescence issue is through the use of FPGAs wherever practical. As FPGAs increase in size or performance you move the IP to the next generation. The flexibility that FPGAs offer also enables systems developers to employ a building block approach by just adding small hardware modules onto an FPGA carrier board along with standard IP for the modules functions. As silicon elements change on these small hardware modules you just replace them with versions based on newer silicon–without affecting the application. When all else fails there’s the Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA) (www.dmea.osd.mil), an element of the DoD whose mission it is to help with the obsolescence issue. They can provide services that range from consulting right through to fabrication.
Those of you that have been with COTS Journal for a while know that we try to stay ahead of the curve on what’s going on and what industry designers and decision makers require in order to be successful. Our editorial staff is constantly challenged to ensure that we stay focused on providing the most pertinent information regarding the embedded technology used by the military. When we started COTS Journal over ten years ago we were read almost exclusively by engineers and engineering management. We have evolved to the point where not only has our circulation increased, but we’ve also broadened the base of our readership. Now our readership includes all levels of management–where technology is key–at primes, PEO offices, subsystem suppliers and users. Knowing what technologies are available and viable is not only critical to the designers but to the people responsible for the deliverable programs and their maintenance. We’re proud that these people find the information we provide as a key resource to their decision making process.
To further enhance our usefulness we are working with major industry analyst firms to provide readers not only useful information but also a portal to these firms. Each issue will have a page where an analyst firm provides some relevant and current data about the market; and some months they may request an exchange or dialog with our readers. We’ve managed to work out this relationship, because you, our readers, are a select and respected group of decision makers that are key to the evolution of the embedded military electronics industry. Bottom line: Not only is now an exciting time for the military embedded electronics market, it’s an exciting time for COTS Journal and our readers.