The introduction of next-generation mission computers for combat vehicles will enable a host of new capabilities aimed at easing the burden on the warfighter.
Disruptive technologies have long shaped the IT and commercial communications sectors, where established products and companies have frequently been displaced by the latest unforeseen innovation.
In the military sphere this has been less of a factor, with burdensome procurement processes and exacting requirements serving to constrain the developers of defence technologies from taking full advantage of the continual leaps in computer processing power seen over the past few decades.
And yet, this is finally about to change. The prevalent adoption of common and defence-sanctioned standards for military vehicles promises to bring a true upgrade path, allowing the most up-to-date kit to be fielded at a lower cost.
As military vehicles have become more sophisticated due to emerging mission demands, requiring ever greater arrays of electronic subsystems – from C4ISR equipment and EO/IR sensors to sniper detection systems and IED countermeasures – significant power demands, additional space claims, and cooling and cabling burdens must be identified and designed for.
‘If you look at the pressures on combat or reconnaissance vehicles’ electronics and sensors today, there is a vast amount of data that ideally needs to be ingested in a centralised location for rapid analysis and exploitation,’ explains Aneesh Kothari, vice-president of marketing for Systel, Inc.
‘Today’s vehicles are incredibly sensor-driven with a net-centric philosophy, resulting in a massive amount of streaming data being transported at all times.
‘In order to provide that mission computing capability in a way that is incredibly robust, traditionally that would take place over several computers. But that brings tremendous power and cooling pressures, while each system then needs to be procured and supported separately.’
Systel’s solutions leverage recent advances in high-speed and parallel processing to develop a single, multipurpose embedded mission computer, which acts as a centralised point for all sensor ingest and data fusion in the form of a SWaP-optimised single line replaceable unit (LRU).
As Kothari explains, this approach combines the CPU and GPU, Ethernet switching and storage functionality required to carry out a range of tasks, including: real-time sensor processing; video and sensor analytics, motion target processing; battle software management; storage of all sensor and post-processing data; and network distribution.
‘Given all the demands on the warfighter today, a single embedded computing capability is required to integrate all the sensor data into a central point, while at the same time providing the ability to effectively process, exploit and disseminate the data in a timely fashion to defeat what is a constantly evolving threat,’ he says.
This approach also provides a ‘rich upgrade path’, allowing new subsystems to be integrated with the vehicle much more easily while also making it possible for the mission computer to be potentially upgraded several times over the lifespan of the vehicle.
As well as providing obsolescence management, this allows new technologies to be more easily accommodated. Kothari identifies the move to 4K video and the Pentagon’s work to enable deep learning and AI capabilities for autonomous operation as being next on the horizon.
‘The hardware support of deep learning and artificial intelligence, that’s the next stage for the US Army – that’s key to addressing their current capability gaps and the overall objective of staying ahead on the battlefield,’ he explains.
‘So much information is now being presented to the soldier and the tactical leader, as the amount of sensor data has increased, and they are being overloaded with information. But you can leverage what is capable on the computing side and solve these problems by allowing much of that data processing to be done autonomously.
‘We are enabling that capability and ruggedising it in the form of High-Performance Embedded Edge Computing (HPEEC) solutions to support Multi-Domain operations.’
At the AUSA 2018 exhibition in Washington DC in October, Systel will launch its latest product in this field.
Raven-Strike™ is a fully rugged, high-performance computing solution, purpose-built for combat vehicles, which is packaged in a robust enclosure for minimal SWaP and maximum CPU and GPU core density.
The advantages of a central, high-speed mission computer such as Raven-Strike include: processing of analogue-to-digital conversion; EO/IR and other sensor capture and/or encode; FMV streaming, sensor and video analytics supporting motion target identification; and mission software processing, storage and distribution over Ethernet.
Already well known for its work providing high-performance rugged servers for military and industrial applications – Systel’s rackmount systems have been used in a number of UAV ground control stations, ground vehicle, and Minotaur-based aircraft and vessel applications for more than a decade – the company uses a proprietary ruggedisation process to ensure its products can handle the most extreme operating environments.
‘We are taking data-centre computing and bringing that into the harsh environments which the military needs to operate in. This is really cutting-edge stuff, but doing it in extreme environments to withstand all those operating demands – providing that ruggedisation, meeting those cooling demands – that’s what sets us apart.’