Multinational Tactical Communications

One of the big challenges facing the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is that radio systems from different countries don’t communicate with each another. Coordinating disparate radio systems in joint international operations will be a major focus of the Tactical Communications Conference, which will take place in April in London.

Defense has a brief interview with one of the conference’s featured speakers, Dr. Vigneron, who is the Canadian Representative to the VHF/UHF Waveform Standardization Group at NATO.  The interview gives us a brief taste of his presentation.

Anyone familiar with this field knows that one of biggest headaches is integration of old legacy systems. Dr. Vigneron reports that there will be a “long transition period,” since many of the older systems are broadcast-oriented and not true networks. Dr. Vigneron specifically cites slow switching as a characteristic problem.

Then there’s the sensitive question of national sovereignty versus international needs. Dr. Vigneron estimates that any given national system will be using multinational waveforms 10-20% of the time.  Of course, individual countries have the option of adopting the multinational standard, which most European nations have done for air-to-air and air-to-ground systems.

From Dr. Vigneron’s interview, one gathers many of the problems will be institutional rather than technical.  NATO will set the multinational standards for its members, but how will compliance be enforced?  Which legacy systems will be retrofitted and which will be replaced?  How will crypto functions be shared among sovereign nations? Will the richer countries’ desire to upgrade standards be hampered by the poorer nations’ lack of resources?

Hear Dr. Vigneron opinions on the challenges of integrating tactical communication systems across national borders by clicking here.

Does your rugged computer need legacy Wi-Fi?

Some computer manufacturers are eliminating IEEE 802.11b protocols, claiming that it will improve 802.11g.  Since 802.11n is the fastest WLAN standard, why have any legacy Wi-Fi at all?

You need a, b, and g, because not all hot spots are running n. For example, if you’re operating an MQ-1 Predator by a wireless control system, while sipping a Frappuccino at Starbuck’s (you have your fantasies; I have mine), your computer better accommodate legacy Wi-Fi networks.  If you know that your computer will be solely dedicated to a network that only supports 802.11n, then you don’t need connectivity for the older standards.

By the way, when you use your computer to conduct major combat operations from the local coffee house, be careful where you sit; data throughput dramatically decreases the further away you sit from an access point.

Rugged computers on the flight line

Long-lasting battery power, light weight, and good wireless connectivity are capabilities often demanded by forward-placed warfighters for their rugged computers. GCN’s (Government Computer News)  “Rugged Computing on the Aircraft Flight Line”  describes how these features are also critical for the maintenance of jets, an activity not usually associated with the front-lines.

GCN does a good job of explaining how application requirements should drive the specs of a computer. For example, one Air Force base uses tablets with scanning capabilities, so that work control documents can be scanned while maintenance technicians were still on the aircraft. This saved time and increased productivity.

Since AMREL does so much customization, we are accustomed to the kind of analysis displayed in the article, i.e. examining an application’s requirements to determine a computer’s specs.  For examples of fashioning a computer to an application’s needs, visit AMREL’s Customized Solutions.

Custom Rugged Computer Quiz

Mobile_mesh_networkAt AMREL, we see a lot of other people’s mistakes. Clients frequently come in with tales of woe, asking us to clean up messes made by them or their previous customization company. Some errors are specific to the customization process; others are true for rugged computers in general.

Of course, we’re happy for the business, but we think a little bit of knowledge can save everyone a lot of headaches.  So, before you begin your journey through customization, take this short test to see if you’re ready.

Part One: True or False

Please indicate which of the following statements are true.

1) Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is a valid way of comparing quality of parts from different companies.

2) Customizations must be done by third parties.

3) The manufacturer’s warranty never includes customization.

4) Low-volume customizations are too expensive to be practical.

5) The warranty and purchase price reflect the true cost of the computer.

6) A signed obsolescence agreement with your vendor ends your worries about End of Life issues.

7) No such thing as “Customized COTS.”

Part Two: Name three wrong things the narrator did in the following story

“I needed a customized application for rugged computers. It was quite tricky.  My team sat down, created a solution, and wrote the specs for it. We weren’t sure which rugged computer company to use, so we picked a large one, assuming they had the best capabilities. They explained to us that our specs weren’t practical. For one thing, the solid state hard drive required by our specs was much more expensive than we expected. We had to eliminate some of our wireless capabilities and other features in order to meet our pricepoint.”

Part Three: In one word, what is the most important thing to look for in a supplier of customized rugged computers?

For the answers to these questions, click here.


AMREL Joins EDGE® Innovation Network

American Reliance, Inc. (AMREL) announced that it has joined the EDGE® Innovation Network, an initiative of industrial, academic, and government leaders that use cooperation to accelerate the delivery cycle of new capabilities to warfighters and first responders.

AMREL is best known for its ROCKY line of rugged, mobile computers, trusted by warfighters for over 20 years.  AMREL has customized its ROCKY platforms for common robotic control, handheld multimodal biometrics, mobile mesh networks, hybrid off-grid energy systems, and battlefield medical applications.

“Our involvement in the EDGE Network will be a win-win experience” explains Richard Lane, Vice President of Strategic Business Development. “This brings new opportunities to the company for collaboration, while allowing us to offer our expertise in rapid prototyping and customization of our rugged mobile computer line – as well as introducing our hybrid battlefield energy systems to the Defense and Public Safety industries.”

Pete Palmer, EDGE Innovation Network director, said, “The EDGE bridges gaps between end-user needs and current capabilities by rapidly identifying, prototyping and promoting new solutions. By applying the EDGE process, the government can quickly and cost-effectively review innovative products that can be delivered to users within months rather than years.”

Sponsored by General Dynamics C4 Systems, the EDGE has successfully delivered innovations including a Soldier Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Receiver to the U.S. Army. Currently, there are over 10 projects in development. Worldwide, there are currently six EDGE Innovation Centers and over 160 members.

“AMREL participation in the EDGE Network is an expression of our basic business model,” says Mr. Lane. “We succeed in highly competitive fields by actively seeking feedback from end-users, and matching their needs to the latest innovations. Teaming with strategic partners to rapidly deploy ‘best of breed’ technologies is a familiar role for us.”

UCAVs vs. 5th Generation Jet Fighters

AMREL computers serve as Operator Control Units for many unmanned vehicles, so I pay close attention to that application.  Recently an article on Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) caught my interest.  In a posting titled “UCAVs: The Future of Air Warfare,” a self-described Muslim think tank argues that Pakistan can counter the perceived threat of advanced Indian jet fighters with UCAVs.  I found this article interesting, because:

  1. It is an excellent, well –sourced introduction to UCAVs.
  2. Even though the arena of battlefield robots is dominated by a few nations, unmanned vehicles are a worldwide phenomenon. This article makes clear that industry observers need to pay attention to more than just the usual suspects.
  3. The application of unmanned vehicles has primarily been in asymmetric warfare. This article demonstrates a strategic use of robots in a traditional state vs. state conflict.

Some comments posted on this article have attacked the authors’ nationalistic and religious beliefs, which for our purposes here are irrelevant.  More pertinent are the criticisms of Pakistan’s economic and technological ability to field a fleet of UCAVs.  Anyone can stick a sensor or even a weapon on a plane from a hobby store and call it a UCAV. However, that is a far cry from transforming UCAVs into meaningful defense assets. For example, Russia is a global leader in military technology.  Yet, Defense Industry Daily notes that Russia wants to buy Israeli UAVs, because their own production/engineering resources as well as miniaturization capabilities are inadequate.

Even more questionable than Pakistan’s technological capability is the central thesis.  The think-tank’s author specifically proposes that UCAVs can successfully operate against 5th generation jet fighters, which can be defined as “…the fighter aircraft which are newest and most advanced as of 2011.” Does anyone really expect unmanned vehicles to seriously challenge the most advanced manned fighters deployed this year? Sure, UCAVs may eventually render the occupation of jet fighter pilot obsolete, but during the current generation?

Let us know what you think. Just how soon are our Top Guns going to be seriously threatened by UCAVs?


Do you need a Solid State Drive (SSD) for your rugged computer?

For this question, we can give you an absolute, definitive answer: maybe.

If you are among the rarified few who have no problems with budgetary constraints, this is a no-brainer; SSDs are clearly superior.  Fewer moving parts, greater high-temperature endurance, lower power consumption, and just general all around superior ruggedness are a few of their virtues. Not only will your mobile computer solution suffer less damage, but operators will deal with fewer reboots induced by physical shocks.

On the other hand, if you’re like the rest of us, and live in the real world of limited financial resources, you should consider traditional spinning drives. They are MUCH cheaper, and have been successfully used in rugged solutions for years.

Before you determine the specs for your hard drive, take a clear-eyed look at the true needs of your application, and consult your rugged computer professional.  If you do decide to use SSDs, keep in mind that single-level cells (SLC) are more expensive, faster, and reliable than multi-level cells (MLC).

Got a question about rugged computing? Send them to