Military Embedded Systems

Embedded COTS drives advances in military training systems


October 10, 2012

Curtis Reichenfeld


COTS systems are now providing high-value training at a fraction of the cost.

Embedded COTS technology is helping to transform military training systems. Open architecture 3U small form factor processing is making it possible to deploy high-performance simulation/emulation systems in SWaP-constrained platforms such as training aircraft. And advances in data storage and Video Management Systems (VMSs) are driving improvements in capturing and archiving – and the ability to later review and analyze – video and sensor data from real-world missions and training sessions in ground vehicles and aircraft.

Another boon for embedded training systems is advances in high-density Solid State Drives (SSDs) with higher capacities, faster speeds, increased modularity, and additional functionality such as encryption. These SSDs are easily removed from the deployed training platform for near-instant review of the just completed mission on a desktop PC. Meanwhile, advanced VMSs are able to support the greater number of cameras onboard today’s vehicles and route the multiple inputs to mass storage systems to ensure that all critical mission data is available for review and analysis.

One example of a leading-edge embedded COTS-based training system is Pilatus Aircraft’s Pilatus PC-21 trainer. Using an onboard rugged 3U small form factor-based open architecture subsystem from Curtiss-Wright Controls, this next-generation turboprop trainer provides an exceptional level of advanced technology, configuration flexibility, and life-cycle cost savings compared to the expense of using an actual jet for training. Its embedded processors simulate the console and controls of any jet aircraft for which the student needs training. This enables intensive core competency training, including elements such as radar proficiency, to take place on the P-21. The ability to integrate high-performance computer power in a small, lightweight mission computer also enables the PC-21 to perform sophisticated radar system emulation (Figure 1). The P-21 supports embedded simulation of air-to-air and air-to-ground radar, by emulating, for example, an F/A-18 or other jet’s cockpit and radar. This eliminates the cost, weight, maintenance, and safety issues associated with using an actual radar system.


Figure 1: The ability to integrate high-performance computer power in a small, lightweight mission computer enables the Pilatus PC-21 to perform sophisticated radar system emulation.

(Click graphic to zoom)




Solid state memory is portable, more rugged than rotating disks

SSD memory, inherently more rugged than spinning disk-based hard drives, continues to provide ever larger amounts of storage, making it increasingly more practical and attractive for use in training systems. SSD systems, such as the SANbric storage system, are made more rugged by use of a shock isolation system. Ideal for SWaP-constrained platforms, such SSD storage systems can provide up to 4.8 TB of solid state memory, while reducing memory system weight up to 5 lbs. compared to comparable capacity rotating disk-based configurations. When combined with a high-performance data recorder board, SSD memory storage can provide rugged, high-capacity, secure storage for archival and analysis of critical data.

High capacity and security

To ensure that mission data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, it’s now possible for designers of embedded training systems to specify the use of high-capacity, rugged SSDs that meet the most cryptographic standards. New 3U VPX solid state memory cards have undergone the stringent Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 Level 2 cryptographic validation at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These small form factor cards are ideal, integrating secure data storage in deployed military training systems that require the integrity of “data at rest.” This is often desired in demanding military environments such as those endured by helicopters, UAVs, and radar systems. These cards support 1 TB of SLC NAND flash memory and can be configured as a JBOD or RAID. Security of critical data is provided with NIST-certified 256-bit AES data encryption.

More cameras, more data

Training is also becoming increasingly dependent on video and display imagery. Today’s COTS VMSs handle up to 18 video inputs (HD-SDI, RGB, DVI, and so on) and up to 12 video outputs for viewing, compression, recording, or distribution over a standard Ethernet network. Real-time HD video compression ensures that no critical data is lost and that it can be more easily shared and reviewed for effective training.

COTS drives improved, more cost-effective training

As embedded training systems are becoming more sophisticated, higher-end COTS equipment is enabling designers to implement complicated training scenarios. It is also providing our warfighters with the best in vehicle training and readiness levels while reducing overall training costs.

Curtis J. Reichenfeld, Chief Technical Officer [email protected]


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