C4ISR applications must provide the right people with the right information within time constraints to be effective. Of course, this must be done in conjunction with denying and disrupting the same privileges for others. The speed of acquisition along with the validity of information is crucial for decision-making. Unless conclusions can be made in good time, they offer no value.
Dynamics and OPTEMPO can change quickly, while threats can escalate or travel even faster than the speed of information. Access in near real-time by those who can influence the outcome is essential, as the provision of information enables mission success. For these applications, information needs to be acquired, validated, protected, analysed, utilised and shared. However, this does not happen in isolation or in a sterile environment.
Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware does not typically perform or cope well in demanding environments. So to ensure the quality and reliability needed, a mix of military off-the-shelf (MOTS) and COTS hardware should be leveraged.
COTS hardware offers an advantage but it lacks durability. So a degree of optimisation to the device may be necessary, including the mounting of the apparatus within a protective enclosure. When it comes down to logistics, the equipment needs to be portable, durable and readily transportable. In the field, it also needs to be robust enough to survive environmental rigours.
Understanding the limitations of the COTS hardware in military environments is paramount, and knowing what can be done to maximise usage and prevent risk is just as crucial. Complications can arise from simple issues like the (unavoidable) use of commercial connectors for data and power, which may result in total loss of operation.
Providing reliable connectivity, compatible with the needs of the equipment within the limitations of the environment, helps ensure the continued integration of the entire system and sustains its interoperability. Use of common connector types, locking connectors and patching will maintain the infrastructure required so the local equipment arrives and remains operational, ultimately making it suitable for fast and effective deployment.
Additional areas to consider include provisioning for compulsory service and maintenance, as well the availability of standard form factor components. This supports the future-proofing of equipment and upgrades in line with technology refreshes, reducing the total cost of ownership and increasing operational life.
MTBF, FMEA and MTTR calculations and existing maintenance needs should also be taken into account, as static installations are not always accessible via side or rear access points. It is worth noting that most 19-inch rackmount equipment (in particular, networking and communication apparatus) is not designed with front access in mind.
Specific adaptation, or the provision of specialist mounting and cable management mechanisms, is often required to facilitate maintenance and repair methodologies.
Of course, this is only part of the battle in aiding the advantages in performance, cost and technological advancement available from COTS components. Subtle but crucial internal ruggedisations allow for the COTS equipment to deliver its potential in an environment it had never been intended for.
Although technology continues to advance rapidly, mechanical challenges still impact the ability to integrate commercial hardware into military applications. To use COTS hardware more effectively in more demanding environments, it is important to consider all eventualities.
Technical and mechanical expertise should be readily available to predict failure modes and develop solutions proportionate to the application needs. Only then can the blend of commercial and military components deliver its true potential.
Captec is exhibiting at DPRTE on 28 March 2019. Come and visit us at stand 105 to speak to our specialists about your defence computing requirements.