VEHICLE ELECTRONICS – THE WAY FORWARD
By David Maxwell
The term ‘Vetronics’ – a contraction of VEhicle elecTRONICS – has been with us for some years, but it is only very recently that the term has returned to the regular lexicon of the military vehicle community. Battlespace looks at the effect this technology has had on military vehicle design and development.
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where increasing numbers of armoured and unarmoured vehicles, used in both combat and support roles, have been fitted with extra equipment to counter a variety of previously unforeseen threats and meet the operational conditions found in-theatre. Vehicles sprouted extra armour protection against the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) – the most visible solution being the external cage of what has become known as ‘bar armour’, although direct up-armouring (particularly of the floor) has also occurred. More active Counter-IED measures involved the addition of either RF (radio-frequency) jamming devices and Electro-Optic/InfraRed (EO/IR) sensors to help identify recently disturbed earth.
The need for situational awareness of the immediate environment around the vehicle gave rise to Local Situational Awareness (LSA) systems – previously addressed in Battlespace – and the installation of Remote Weapons Stations (RWS), allowing the operator to control the weapon from under-armour protection, all of which have their own dedicated EO/IR package. In some circumstances, sniper-detection systems (such as the BBN/Raytheon Boomerang acoustic sensor) have been fitted to some vehicles. The vehicles, often operating featureless desert terrain, have been equipped with GPS sensors, to aid navigation and, of course, vehicle radio communications equipment has been enhanced.
Many of these additional capabilities were never considered when the vehicles were originally designed and produced so virtually all have been equipped via the route that, in the British armed forces, is known as the Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR). As such they have mostly been ‘plumbed-in’ with their own dedicated power and distribution systems; sometimes their own dedicated comms. As a result, the already restricted internal space has been taken-up with cabling, control boxes and display/control consoles, invariably located where they would fit, rather than where they should ideally be placed. Thus the vehicle crew has found itself having to address several displays to seen the various inputs and control the systems they serve. Invariably all this new kit has been state-of-the-art digital electronics, whereas much of the legacy equipment in the vehicle has been analog.
While this extra equipment, no doubt, did the job, vehicle weight crept up, as did the power requirements, while the crew themselves were being hemmed-in by the purely physical nature of the equipment. While providing solutions to operational problems and threats, such equipment was imposing extra stress to the crew, not always being ‘joined-up’. It was not the best use of technology and, while responding to urgent requirements, a longer term solution was needed. The size, weight and power problems, neatly reduced to yet another acronym – SWAP – had to be addressed, as well as the basic system standards used; not least in the distribution of digital video both within and outside the vehicle.
The growing interest in digital systems has seen two ways of distributing digital video: the Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) format, adopted by countries such as Canada, France and the US; and the UK interim standard, Version 1 of Def Stan (Defence Standard) 00-82 Vetronics Infrastructure for Video Over Ethernet (VIVOE), issued in August 2009.
This lays down the various mechanisms and protocols to facilitate the distribution of digital video over an Ethernet infrastructure. It specifies use of the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP), which allows uncompressed and compressed video formats including JPEG 2000 and