Military Embedded Systems

DoD continues refurbishing trend


May 09, 2008

Bob Smith


DoD continues refurbishing trend

The mission of the DoD logistics community is to provide worldwide, integrated logistics/supply chain and distribution management, depot-level maintenance management, and strategic prepositioning capability in support of operating forces and other supported units. However, the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages (DMSMS) issue continues to relentlessly plague DoD planners, but technology reengineering/obsolescence management are helping provide a remedy.

The mission of the DoD logistics community is to provide worldwide, integrated logistics/supply chain and distribution management, depot-level maintenance management, and strategic prepositioning capability in support of operating forces and other supported units. The goal is to maximize their readiness and sustainability and to support enterprise and program level total life cycle management. However, the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages (DMSMS) issue continues to relentlessly plague DoD planners, but technology reengineering/obsolescence management are helping provide a remedy.

Prolonged conflicts and limited funding

Because of the Iraq war and its debilitating effect on available funding, new systems cannot be acquired as fast as desired, thereby delaying the deployment of new, technologically advanced replacement weapons. As a result, the DoD is extending the service life of its mature platforms by leveraging emerging technology. This provides solutions to immediate mission needs caused by DMSMS and provides the armed forces with functional weapons and communications and IT systems.

This turmoil results from a significant evolution in the world's political climate during the past 15 years. Starting with the end of the Cold War and the demise of the traditional "super power" paradigm, enemies have become less centralized, often combating any type of formal political sponsorship. The U.S. military has responded accordingly by fighting guerrilla forces or terrorist groups on a smaller, more focused scale. In turn, funds have been redistributed to support these efforts, including the war in Iraq, occupation in Afghanistan, and other areas of U.S. military deployment around the globe. The end result is that there is little funding left for research, development, and procurement activity involving new weapons.

Therefore, the demand for new and advanced platforms, while current, remains a "want" as opposed to "must-have" capability. Instead, the military has aggressively embraced an initiative to refurbish mature platforms and to refit them to today's standards.

Government-mandated initiatives to refurbish aged weapons systems to save time and money have emerged as the "new" logical solution in the DoD community for supporting the war fighter. However, to extend the service lives of aging platforms, the industry must work diligently to resolve component obsolescence and reliability issues while also addressing the decreasing product life cycle for high-tech components.

In parallel with this premise is the need to introduce state-of-the-art repair methodologies that reduce cost and improve reliability. This is especially true in today's war on terrorism with its higher "up-tempo" environment and increased wear and tear on many critical components. These include Air Force, Navy, Army, or USMC systems such as avionics, flight control, and communication equipment that currently require repair or reengineering to solve DMSMS issues and extend their useful life. By making these repairs, or through the use of reengineering applications, outdated systems can be modernized via technology refresh, thereby enabling them to accommodate the military’s new tactical demands.

Technology life-extension alternatives and the DoD

At the moment, there is a small community of aftermarket suppliers that focuses on supporting these life-extension alternatives. The DoD frequently turns to these mid-tier solution providers to fulfill their needs because many of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have disappeared, been acquired by other companies, or are focusing their attention on other system-acquisition initiatives. These smaller, mid-tier companies are more willing to do the retrofitting and modernization at a lower price and margin, thereby allowing the military to keep aging platforms in the field much longer. The reason they can do this is primarily because they do not have to maintain large-scale R&D and production programs like their OEM brethren, and can therefore offer more "bang for the buck."

Many times, larger companies will partner with these smaller, more nimble integrators to take advantage of these cost efficiencies and to stay involved in the overall hardware process because the military is not buying as much new equipment.

Case study: Military electronics and obsolescence

An example that clearly illustrates life-extension alternatives is the replacement of the Bulk Storage Unit Circuit Card Assembly (BSU CCA), shown in Figure 1, for one of the military services. The BSU CCA was used in a portable telephone switchboard system that was initially designed in the early 1980s. The BSU CCA itself was reengineered in the mid 1990s as a replacement for the original tape-cartridge-based memory CCA.


Figure 1

(Click graphic to zoom by 2.0x)




The operating software for the portable telephone switch is stored in a custom 2 MB solid-state flash cartridge that was hot swappable into the BSU CCA. The dynamic telephone network configuration data was also stored in this flash cartridge. The BSU CCA itself was controlled by an onboard Intel 8751 microcontroller that had 4 KB onboard assembly-language-based software. The 8751 microcontroller software was designed so that the 8751 interacted with the portable telephone switch's Z8 processor via a unique communication protocol over the switchboard's backplane. The BSU CCA communication with the processor was implemented with a memory mapped register set, 128K x8 SRAM and 1K by 8-bit wide input/output data FIFOs, all on the BSU CCA. The switchboard's design predates the proliferation of industry standard circuit card specifications and standards and the widespread introduction of COTS technology into military electronics.

The mating connector for the solid-state cartridge and the cartridge itself became obsolete, and by 2003 the CCA had become a critical military supply issue with stock levels depleted. The BSU CCA suffered from an increasing attrition rate through the many years of the telephone switchboard’s operation. The BSU CCA solid-state memory cartridge was handled daily by service technicians in a manual process that called for a second physical solid-state memory cartridge to be swapped into the BSU CCA to affect a backup of the telephone network's dynamic data every four hours.

In 2004, the service contracted to design a replacement: the Memory (MEM) CCA (see Figure 2). The primary design objective was to eliminate the memory cartridge while retaining the ability to have portability of the saved telephone network configuration data. The service also requested the new design provide a different means for reprogramming and testing the new CCA in the field at the point of use. Reprogramming the legacy solid-state memory cartridge installed on the BSU CCA required that the solid-state cartridge be removed from the BSU CCA and shipped to a maintenance facility. Once there, the memory cartridge would be installed in a unique programming interface box driven by a DOS PC application. The process was then reversed, and the BSU CCA with its reprogrammed memory cartridge was shipped back and reinstalled into its host equipment.


Figure 2

(Click graphic to zoom by 2.0x)




The design for the replacement for the BSU CCA combined COTS integrated circuits and USB technology to provide a cost-effective solution. The new MEM CCA replicated the communications protocol with the host processor in the telephone switch by rehosting the Intel 8751 assembly language software in a third-regeneration 8051 variant, the Atmel AT89C51RD. The replication of the hardware-based memory-mapped registers and FIFOs in the BSU CCA was accomplished in a Xilinx 512 macrocell CPLD and 512Kx8 SRAM. All of the BSU CCA's 54 series gated logic was incorporated into the Xilinx CPLD. To replicate the BSU CCA's dedicated integrated circuit 1Kx8 input and output FIFOs, a FIFO controller was designed into the CPLD. To complete the replication, the 1K memory blocks were partitioned out of the Cypress 512Kx8 SRAMs on the MEM CCA.

To meet the requirement of portable storage of the telephone switchboard's dynamic configuration data, USB 2.0 technology was added to the MEM CCA with a Philips ISP1161. The ISP1161 and new C language USB drivers, written for and hosted by the AT89C51RD, were designed so that the dynamic data could be written in and out of commercial USB memory sticks. The protocol, designed for reading and writing this dynamic data out to the USB memory stick, featured data error detection and correction features and also implemented shadowing of the same data with an onboard Intel 8 MB x 8 flash memory device on the MEM CCA itself. In this way, switchboard operation would not be dependent on the highly portable USB memory stick.

The ISP1161 and new C language USB drivers written for the AT89C51RD also provided the MEM CCA a slave USB port. The MEM CCA's slave USB interface and new PC application, written in LabView and run on a laptop or desktop Windows platform, provided the desired ability to test and reprogram the MEM CCA at its point of use anywhere in the field. The telephone switchboard's host processor software was stored into an Intel 8 MB x 8 flash memory device on the MEM CCA. The protocol for reprogramming the telephone switchboard's host processor software incorporated ping-pong buffers in the onboard flash memory that ensured the MEM CCA would always be programmed to support the switchboard host processor.

The MEM CCA also incorporated a new power architecture compared to the BSU CCA it replaced. The power architecture took advantage of powering the MEM CCA through the slave USB port when hosted by a PC platform. Through this, the MEM CCA could be tested by the PC-based LabView application without the need for a separate power supply. In addition, the power architecture incorporated power switching and detection such that the MEM CCA could be left in the telephone switchboard and tested while the switchboard's power was off. When the switchboard's power was reapplied to the MEM CCA, however, any testing or reprogramming in progress would be abandoned by the MEM CCA and its primary role of uploading the switchboard host processor's operating software would be supported.

The MEM CCA is totally interchangeable with the BSU CCA. Since reprogramming can be an almost daily requirement, the new design has eliminated the root cause of the reliability problem because of wear and tear on the connectors. However, as an added benefit, the process of reprogramming has been greatly simplified by utilizing state-of-the-art USB technology. Under the production contract for the MEM CCA, nearly 500 field modification kits and additional spare MEM CCAs have been shipped. These modification kits have been installed worldwide to resolve the DMSMS reliability issue that led to supply line problems.

The replacement of the BSU CCA with the MEM CCA is a perfect example of effective DoD "tech refresh" in action. The replacement of depleted DoD inventory through an aggressive repair and reengineering program will continue to serve as a cost-effective and efficient way to resolve the growing DMSMS dilemma.

Reengineering and the DoD's bottom line

While not the only avenue open to the DoD, the reengineering approach has proven itself beneficial. Now system designers can design out the mechanism that led to higher failure rates in the first place, rather than simply building replacement CCAs to the original legacy design (which would have required redesign because of multiple obsolescence issues). It is expected that reengineering will continue to grow exponentially in the DoD, in direct relationship to the dwindling amount of new weapons system development dollars.

Bob Smith is senior vice president and general manager, Acquisition Management and Engineering Group (AMEG), Dynamics Research Corporation. Prior to joining DRC, he served as an aviation officer and UH-60 pilot and maintenance officer with the United States Army. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from the United States Military Academy and a Master of Science degree in Engineering Technology from Murray State University. He also attended the Stanford University Executive Education program and is a retired Army reservist. For more information, contact Bob at [email protected].

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