U.S. RUGGED COMPUTER UPDATE
By Adam Baddeley, Deputy Editor, BATTLESPACE
Two programmes are driving the development of rugged computing for the US Armed forces; the Common/Hardware Software (CHS) programme led by General Dynamics C4 Systems and the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) led by Northrop Grumman although its hardware element is now dominated by DRS Tactical Systems.
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, have quickly determined what works and what doesn’t. Suites of computing systems have been pushed right to the front line, in harsh environments and across the theatre, and developing confidence amongst troops that the command and control information they are seeing, can be relied upon. Furthermore, even if the computer fails, the logistic support network will quickly repair or replace the device or the errant LRU.
“The programme is still going strong. We crossed another milestone recently by supplying over $500million (US) of contract orders for CHS3”, explained Mike DiBiase vice president and deputy general manager for the General Dynamics C4 Systems Computing Technologies Division. “A lot of the activity is being driven by what is happening in Iraq. We are supporting warfighters in units as they rotate in and out of theatre, they are getting upgrades to the equipment suite that they have.”
The funding cap on CHS3 is $2 billion. However, to support combat operations, the DoD has also used supplemental funding. Contracts from this source represent about 20 percent of funding over the past two-and-a-half years.
Supporting OIF has not resulted in any one particular category of equipment or single product. Rather, the focus is on upgrading their whole technology suite, according to DiBiase. “We are seeing quite a bit of everything but there has been a lot of focus and money spent on improving the communication equipment. There are a lot of networking devices. There has been a lot of money spent to establish their secure internet in theatre.”
Technology trends are seeing devices change over time towards smaller and lighter devices that use less power. This is not limited to hand held dismounted systems, however, but applies to vehicle mounted systems too as they need to save weight to enable further appliqué armour. “In response we have brought out a new product that actually consolidates multiple Army Battle Command System computers into one single box – the Multi-Processor Ethernet-Switched Combat Chassis (MECC). It has evolved from the previous generation system which was a 6U air breathing box, to a completely sealed V2 plus unit that has 3U cards in it. It cuts weight and gets the power down but we have also been able to secure it against the environment so that it can be hosed down, for instance.” Rather than design the board from scratch the MECC, as do other MPUs on the CHS-3 procurement contract, uses commercially sourced blades. This new MECC has been available for about six months with more than twenty delivered despite qualification only being competed in June.
In the ultra rugged domain, DiBiase reports that this year’s supplemental money has largely been for the next generation rugged hand held computers sourced from Tallatech. Devices, which are known commercially as the Tacter-31M and the Rugged Personal Digital Assistant. The USMC had previously acquired the latter in some quantity and now the Army is also using it. An earlier version of the Tacter was dropped from the CHS schedule when GD won CHS-3 in 2004 and its return shows that products can come and go over the eight-year CHS contract cycles.
Not all of CHS customers necessarily believe small is beautiful. The Tadpole Bullfrog mobile server product is used by a number of Hunstville based missile defence programmes. “It is an unusual product in that it has a seventeen inch display, a full Unix processor and has a slot for a PCI card for some of the programmes that need better graphics capabi