United Kingdom engineers struggle integrating modular military avionics into older platforms

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 16 March 2009. Officials at the United Kingdom's Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) say the current Ministry of Defense (MOD) procurement model is counter-productive to integrating open architectures and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) military avionics.

Mar 16th, 2009

By John McHale

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, 16 March 2009. Officials at the United Kingdom's Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) say the current Ministry of Defense (MOD) procurement model is counter-productive to integrating open architectures and commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) military avionics.

"For platforms with only 10-20 years until their planned out of service date, the cost-effectiveness of implementing a modular avionics architecture is becoming increasingly difficult to argue in a cost-constrained environment," says Chris Nicholas, Supportability & Mission Systems Team Leader at Dstl, an agency of the MOD. The continued extensions to these service dates have placed greater demands on "legacy avionic systems and architectures in terms of obsolescence mitigation and supporting new functionality."

He made his remarks last week during the Avionics 2009 conference and exhibition in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in a presentation titled "Capability Agility for Air Platforms: Novel Solutions for Avionics and Mission Systems."

Unlike block upgrade system widely used by the U.S. Department of Defense, the MOD uses "mid-life upgrades (MLUs) "that result in long intervals between capability changes and an increasingly heavy obsolescence burden," Nicholas says.

Some MOD aircraft programs have "avionics and mission systems that are over 40 years old," and often cannot afford upgrade solutions, Nicholas says. The MOD needs solutions that address "obsolescence and provide room for growth," Nicholas says.

Dstl has therefore been working to identify, de-risk, and demonstrate an affordable solution that addresses obsolescence and upgrade requirements in a manner that is compatible with incremental acquisition, Nicholas says. "Technologies and processes that form part of this solution concept include software emulation, modular and incremental certification, and various commercial communication developments."

Nicholas and his team call their concept "capability agility," in other words giving the MOD more flexibility in dealing with military avionics components that go obsolete. Some ways they suggest include re-using the existing hardware architecture instead of investing in new hardware, re-using legacy software instead of re-writing and recompiling code, us modular driven development instead of labor-intensive testing and analysis, and modular and incremental system certification as opposed to complete system re-certification., Nicholas says.

One area that hardware re-use applies is with the Mil-Std 1553B databus, which only has a maximum throughput of 1 megabit per second, says Dan Cook, an engineer with Dstl Supportability & Mission Systems. Designers faced with the expensive possibility re-wiring an aircraft to get faster technology. Cook also spoke during Nicholas' presentation.

Cook and his colleagues recommend an alterative approach of re-using the existing 1553 infrastructure with Extended 1553, which is designed by Edgewater Computing Systems in Ottawa, Ontario. The Edgewater solution employs Dstl's "hardware re-use approach to deliver data rates of up to 200 megabits per second," Cook says.

Dstl engineers are working on a proposed Technology Demonstrator Program to integrate the various component technologies into an integrated solution to use at the platform level, Nicholas says. The program will integrate Extended 1553 with software emulation technology and associated input/output devices in support of mid-life upgrade requirements for a legacy United Kingdom platform, he adds.

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