MINITURISATION OF MIL-SPEC COMPONENTS
By Mark Owen, Product Manager, TT electronics AB Connectors
Throughout the world, military organisations are establishing programmes to modernise their operations to improve situational awareness, flexibility, agility, lethality and survivability. Electronics plays a vital role, and component manufacturers are helping defence equipment OEMs reduce the weight, size and cost of their systems, whilst meeting the ever-increasing performance demands of these programmes.
Weight is a particularly vital consideration for dismounted soldiers, typically carrying their own body mass in equipment. Programmes like the US DoD’s “Nett Warrior”, “Soldato Futuro” in Italy, Finland’s “Finnish Warrior” and Australia’s “Land 125”, all involve using electronics to help soldiers know where they are, communicate better with their comrades and commanders, and locate and neutralise the enemy.
The burgeoning amount of equipment carried by soldiers today extends to head-up displays, targeting systems, GPS, tactical computers and communications equipment. All of these need power, necessitating a variety of batteries that can make up a third of the weight a soldier carries. All this equipment needs to be connected together enabling sub-systems to communicate through serial buses, wireless personal networks, and out to networks carrying data within the unit and with headquarters.
As a result, today’s soldier needs to be fitted with an array of cables, harnesses and connectors. These, too, add weight, occupy space and increase the cost. Furthermore, the networked battlefield demands faster data throughput, greater bandwidth and overall increases in performance. Again, this can be achieved through greater standardization.
The same considerations apply throughout the defence industry. Size, weight, performance and cost are equally crucial factors for OEMs equipping unmanned vehicles, fighting vehicles, aircraft and naval systems. Interconnect standards are even more relevant when it comes to specifying systems that need interoperability – not only between legacy, present and future equipments, but also between different nation’s forces and other branches of the military.
Considerations for OEMs
In choosing electronic interconnect, OEMs need to consider and balance a number of key factors, including: the intended operational environment; required level of environmental protection (temperature range, humidity, dust…); the amount of EMI shielding or type of shield termination; size, form-factor and weight limitations; material, coatings and finishes. On top of this, there are the applicable commercial or military standards, which may or may not encompass the preceding constraints.
In the past the challenge was been compounded by demand to fulfil urgent operational requirements for new equipment. The time taken to develop and approve new military spec components that address these issues is leading some equipment manufacturers to specify commercial off-the-shelf –COTS – devices instead of the full mil spec component. In these increasingly cost-conscious times, military equipment OEMs have leveraged the availability of commercial products to deliver smaller, lighter, non-qualified military connectors to market – and fast.
In many cases, however, COTS components barely meet the requirements of defence OEMs. At best they can provide a solution that works – just. There is the further downside that OEMs are unlikely to find a second source amongst COTS devices that have identically marginal specifications.
Proprietary components tick more of the boxes than COTS and provide essentially the same disadvantage of single sourcing. Achieving full military specifications remains the goal.
The quest to miniaturise Military connectors
In the case of connectors, saving space and weight has to be reconciled with the requirement for robustness and reliability across a broad span of environments. Miniatu