As more mission critical defense activities operate in harsh environments facing peers and near-peers in combat, the burden to keep defense technology durable has grown. To function competitively over time, however, the newest military tools rely on fragile components: microchips, electronics, digital systems and delicate materials. There are ways to ensure a product’s reliability and durability over time, even with this latest technology.
Peer and Near-Peer Conflicts Require Advanced Technology
While an arms race is detrimental, ensuring that military technology is competitive and reliable for the future remains essential, especially when considering the changing face of conflict. In October 2018, the Editor-in-Chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics, John Keller, wrote “…It’s a different era, as US military planners tighten their focus on the possibility of peer and near-peer conflicts with military powers like Russia and China.” While Keller was specifically alluding to US defense investment in heavy armor (for extensive combat) instead of light wheeled vehicles (used for transport and investigative missions), his words remain relevant to electrical and computing engineering decisions in military technology.
Although the US defense organization is the world’s most powerful military, recent Pentagon reports have shown that previous years of decreased funding — and unexpectedly large advancements elsewhere — have put even American leaders ill-at-ease about its technological superiority. Russia, China and India have become technology powerhouses through research and acquisition. Meanwhile, other countries with smaller personnel strengths have begun investing in state-of-the-art equipment and foundational technology infrastructure that will rapidly put them ahead of other nations.
With changing alliances and the rise of these technologically advanced nations, the United States’ previously large margins of superiority have slimmed considerably. Moreover, old tensions have begun to re-ignite and newer risky relationships have become more volatile. Planners and leaders see conflict in the future among people whose technology compares favorably to the US. Consequently, US military contractors must ensure that the technology they are deploying is protected, durable and reliable through the potential peer and near-peer conflicts to come.
Armoring Military Technology
The past decades’ improvements in military electronics, computing and software engineering have created new systems of warfare: cybersecurity, biological, electrical grid and combined threats. As these threats come from peers, analyzing current constructions for vulnerabilities has created a litany of ways that military technology must be fortified.
Individual central computing stations and connected networks must be protected virtually and physically from hackers and physical harm. While there are no active biological threats, soldiers must be trained and equipped with clothing and other gear that protect under all circumstances. Grid systems, such as the electrical grid, must be updated and upgraded to withstand outages caused by physical threats, such as explosives and extreme weather, and digital threats. Finally, remote attacks by drones may become prevalent — especially considering the increasing drone strike usage of the US — but there will also be an integration of systems and warfare on frontline machines, devices, armor and artillery systems, requiring better intelligence in defense.
Although some next-gen innovation — such as autonomous vehicles, virtually controlled robot soldiers and exoskeletons — will not be deployed in most military spaces due to ongoing testing and security concerns, there will be digital and electrical engineering trends affecting newly deployed defense tools that address the concerns raised by this new warfare. These trends include powerful field computing power, IIoT and improved military communications technology. The best ways to improve the durability and reliability of these tools is through superior component selection, innovative architecture and materials and secure design.
Ruggedized Military Computers
From bases to temporary installations and mobile desks, military computers face a bevy of challenges. For conflict alone, computers must withstand vibration and shocked caused by artillery and other explosions. This is also true when mobile and crossing rocky terrain, such as when on-board transport, tanks and surveillance vehicles. One way this is accomplished is through superior component selection: using drives, logic boards and other computing essentials that minimize motion. When compounded by extreme climates, requirements expand even further. These computing systems must have wide operating temperatures and disseminate heat, like the Sealevel R1 industrial computer does through innovative thermal design architecture. Moreover, computers must be built in ways that don’t work against them. Using components that give off little heat and use low power will continue to be effective an effective methodology.
IIoT for Defense
The biggest concerns facing IIoT in the military are the physical and cybersecurity aspects. Physical material choices make these devices durable: enclosures tested and retested for safety and ruggedness. Like other computing devices, choosing components with discretion to maximize stability and longevity will also armor these products for field use. Edge network status may change IIoT in defense: by operating at the fringes of a decentralized monitoring zone, these devices are at risk for cybersecurity threats such as botnet hacking or network hacking via physical access. By building defense IIoT tools with a SecDevOps mentality and equipping them with secure, encrypted design, the devices’ risk can be minimized. Moreover, operating on closed networks with minimal entry points and token device/host authorization will protect connected systems.
From aerospace command and control to homeland defense and battlefield communications, the networks and devices must be able to operate independently and in the worst conditions. While dispatch systems are discussed in public safety, they are part of homeland defense. It is imperative that the devices that monitor telecommunications networks are configurable and able to operate in extreme climates in the most remote places. These networks may be used for defense communications if conflict ever comes home. However, even apart from these emergency services lines, military communications happen over infrastructure that must be secure, consistent and last for years to come. Only the best and most dependable digital synchronous serial devices will suffice for aerospace control networks and mission critical battlefield communications.