Military Embedded Systems

Military moves applications to Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture


October 06, 2010

Duncan Young

GE Intelligent Platforms, Inc.

The Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) is an ideal platform for air traffic control, battlefield command, C4ISR surveillance systems, and naval combat systems, potentially displacing many less reliable commercial-based solutions.

The Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) was developed as an embeddable computing architecture to provide a wide variety of digital voice and data services with future expansion capability, plus 5-nines (99.999 percent) reliability. It offers an architecture optimized for highly data-intensive applications based on IP and Ethernet. AdvancedTCA’s extended 8U form factor of 11.02 x 12.68 inches (280 x 322.25 mm) is larger than equivalent VME or VPX modules, giving the space and thermal characteristics needed for high-end, server-class performance on a single blade. This makes it an ideal platform to host large, cooperative, shared applications across many locations with many users such as air traffic control, battlefield command, C4ISR surveillance systems, and naval combat systems, potentially displacing many less reliable commercial-based solutions.

IP-centric architecture

Despite very effective continuous improvement programs lasting a decade or more, many existing 6U VME- or CompactPCI-based systems have reached the limits of their architectural capability and are now due for major upgrade or replacement. During this time, AdvancedTCA appeared to have been sidelined by military systems integrators, yet many of the values of military users and telcos are convergent: reliability, longevity of supply and support, scalability, and upgradeability. However, now AdvancedTCA’s IP-centric architecture and massive performance potential have made it a serious contender for next-generation surveillance and combat systems in the protected environments of naval submarine and surface warships or wide-bodied aircraft such as the new P-8 Poseidon multimission, antisub-marine warfare aircraft.

AdvancedTCA’s application space

But do not expect to see rugged, conduction-cooled AdvancedTCA compete with VPX (VITA 46) or VPX-REDI (VITA 48) anytime soon. The extended 8U PICMG 3.0 blade form factor would require considerable stiffening plus mechanical separation into smaller areas to keep vibration resonances outside the specified ranges for rugged equipment. Power dissipation of >250 W per slot will also demand more exotic cooling regimes such as air or liquid flow-through. AdvancedTCA’s application space is in benign or protected environments and its real strength for this market lies in its consistent and well-defined infrastructure, offering real plug-and-play between products and vendors at all levels. Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) provides shelf management and hot-swap capabilities using predefined Ethernet channels, while fabrics or networks such as InfiniBand or 10 GbE plus their switches have predefined slots and configurations for ease of integration. Using primarily Intel-based processors, AdvancedTCA is well supported with industry-standard operating systems such as Linux and Windows.

IP-based sensor processing

Large cooperative systems and applications shared among many users use IP for communication and data distribution between nodes. The raw data rates of most sensor types such as sonar (hull-mounted, towed, and dipping), Electro-Optical (EO), signals intelligence, and radar allow for compression and packetization at the sensor for downstream processing, often distributed throughout a system or network of systems. Packets can be streamed from sensors to wherever they are required: for display as raw images, for processing into tracks and targets, to fuse together sensor images, or to collate multiple sensor inputs into a tactical battlespace display.

Generally, AdvancedTCA has three blade types: fabric switch, processor, and I/O. Processor and I/O blades use Advanced Mezzanine Card (AMC) modules to add functionality and connectivity such as external network ports or packet processors. The 8U size of an AdvancedTCA blade is capable of supporting multiple server-class processor devices. An example of this is the A10200 SBC from GE Intelligent Platforms with dual Intel Xeon NEBS-certified 5600/5500 quad- and six-core processors running at 2 GHz, plus 64 GB of DDR3 SDRAM (Figure 1).


Figure 1: The A10200 dual Xeon AdvancedTCA SBC from GE Intelligent Platforms




Network enabled battlefield vision

AdvancedTCA’s success in the telecommunications industry can be applied directly to the future network enabled battlefield, where the Army’s vision is for every soldier to have secure, 4G cell phone-like functionality. This will offer streaming video via personal, local, and remote sensors, plus access to real-time analytical and tactical planning services, GPS, maps, voice, text, data, and training exercises. As well as the network infrastructure required to support such services, the demands of security will render some additionally challenging dimensions:

  • Maintaining service in high-EMI environments
  • Setting and sustaining security levels and access controls for streaming video throughout the network and across national boundaries without introducing undue delays
  • Protecting content with encryption
  • Protecting the network against attack

AdvancedTCA – with its proven track record, functionality, and processing capability – can play a significant role in this network enabled battlefield vision.

To learn more, e-mail Duncan at [email protected].