The U.S. Department of Defense funding is likely to be one of the ongoing casualties of the government’s budget restraints. Uncertainty around government spending has many program managers pulling back on important battlefield management systems (BMS), according to research firm and consultancy Frost & Sullivan. As defense budgets tighten, research and development (R&D) on BMS improvements are expected to remain stagnant –- putting U.S. developed BMS at a disadvantage.
One of the ways defense contractors are coping with budget constraints is by moving from military-specification (mil-spec) components to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices. Government contractors have been transitioning to COTS in an attempt to save costs associated with mil-spec devices and by sourcing from a market with a high level of price competition. Companies with BMS offerings that can be easily upgraded to integrate with commercial off-the-shelf technologies and capabilities will gain firm standing within this market space, the consultancy added.
At the same time, Frost & Sullivan points out governments hostile to the U.S. are also advancing their systems. While COTS may offer compelling cost-savings, contractors over time have discovered a number of problems with COTS devices. The first problem in sourcing from the COTS market: electronics components destined for consumer applications don’t have the same tolerances as those designed for rugged or high-stress uses. Even components comparable to mil-spec devices have been known to fail in military boards.
“The old MIL temperature range of -55C to +125C is no longer acceptable and no longer a design target for the semiconductor companies,” explains Dan Deisz, director of design engineering for semiconductor manufacturer and distributor Rochester Electronics LLC. “Chip companies today are designing semiconductors targeted at the industrial markets as their worst-case temperature/voltage requirements.”
To fill the COTS performance gap, companies such as Rochester Electronics have been authorized by original component makers (OCM) to manufacture and distribute obsolete semiconductor products. When a key component is declared end-of-life, authorized distributors purchases the remaining devices directly from component makers and stores and handles them per OCM standards.
In the event these parts are no longer available, continuing manufacturers of essential semiconductors source the die, masks and IP of EOL components from OCMs. The authorized continuing manufacturers can re-manufacture these components to exact original specs. If these tools aren’t available, engineers can use reverse engineering to re-create the components to the original’s form, fit and function.
Responsible sourcing of these devices is essential, market experts say. Battle management systems are critical distribution points of information that serve as the eyes and ears of U.S. military operators, according to Frost & Sullivan. Innovation in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), as well as command and control (C2), are changing the way battle management decisions are communicated to units on the ground and on the move. This is literally a matter of life and death for U.S. troops, and system failure is unacceptable.
Sourcing directly from authorized distributors and continuing manufacturers ensures a component will be 100 percent authentic. Although non-authorized distributors may acquire EOL parts, they are not always handled per OCM specs and in many cases can be outright counterfeit. Sourcing through authorized channels is the only way to guarantee authenticity.
George Karalias, is director of marketing & communications at Rochester Electronics