To realize the Depart ment of Defense's (DoD) vision of a ubiquitous, netcentric battlefield — connecting the warfighter with critical data in real time — embedded commercial offthe- shelf (COTS) vendors have begun to deliver innovative, open-standards-based, rugged, high-speed switches and router modules.

The principles that define the netcentric model are: 1) increase the reach of the network, 2) increase the network's richness (i.e., support bandwidth-dependent services such as video), and 3) deliver that rich data right now (i.e., in real time). The goal of these principles is to significantly improve, re - duce, and speed the "Sensorto- Shooter" decision-making chain through the use of advanced fabric connectivity, such as Gigabit Ethernet (GbE). By bringing advanced IP network interfaces to compact, rugged COTS modules, embedded vendors are helping to extend the network to every battlefield platform, from air and sea to land vehicle, and to individual soldiers. The use of these highly rugged, highspeed interconnects is enabling netcentric operations to propagate where they could not reach before, with a greater richness of data, all in near real time.

Today's embedded modules provide both a network switch and a network node, and enable the rapid deployment of rugged, intra-vehicle Intra-Platform Net - works (IPNs) using COTS products with full support of IPv4 and IPv6, in line with the DoD's vision of a Network Centric Battlefield. Furthermore, these modules are among the first rugged embedded network modules designed to use the new VITA 46/48 standards. They effectively redefine the "deeply embedded" rugged network infrastructure of the battlefield.

Performance Considerations

Gigabit Ethernet deployed within platforms is emerging as a key enabler for netcentric communications by delivering real-time data from deeply embedded ground, air, and sea sensors to the farthest edges of the battlefield.

Previously, the greatest impediment to bringing the network to the edge of the battlefield was the performance limits of slower legacy data buses (CANbus or MIL-STD-1553 interconnects), or, in some limited cases, 10/100 Ethernet links on existing platforms. These relatively slow interconnects create a bottleneck slowing delivery of the critical battlefield information needed for situational awareness. Additionally, these different interconnect technologies did not provide the common standardized methods of data transport needed for interoperability between battlefield systems and applications.

By bringing GbE interconnectivity to rugged line-replaceable modules (LRMs), it is possible to effectively reduce rich data transfer times from minutes to sub-seconds within internal switching context times as low as a few microseconds, and drastically reduce response time. This brings the battlefield network closer to the ultimate goal of real-time delivery of much richer data (video, signal processing, enemy tracking) for actionable intelligence. By bringing GbE to the inter-vehicle network, these network modules provide significant performance improvement over legacy data communications architectures. Even better, these modules are being designed to support the next-generation 10 Gigabit Ethernet, which can deliver a 100x increase in bandwidth and intra-vehicle data communications capacity.

To realize these design goals; to develop and deploy the world's smallest, densest, and most rugged switches and routers designed to meet the requirements of SWaP2-C2 (Space, Weight, Power and Performance – Cooling and Cost)-constrained defense and aerospace applications; and to ensure that network communications can perform and survive in the battlefield requires the highest level of card-level ruggedization. The netcentric switches and routers need to enable and optimize connectivity in extremely harsh environments. To survive in these harsh environments, with their extremes of cold, heat, shock, and vibration while meeting the SWaP2-C2 constraints of legacy platforms, these modules need to be rugged and based on small form-factor architectures.

The VPX3-683 switch/router card uses the VITA 46/48 architecture.

Previously, there had been no standard off-the-shelf solution that could meet the performance and ruggedization needed to bring netcentric connectivity to the edges of the battlefield network. To address this limitation, Curtiss-Wright helped lead the development (through the VSO), along with other leading embedded computing suppliers, prime contractors, and defense/aerospace customers, of new, advanced, open embedded computing standards, resulting in the VITA 46/48 standards. These standards provide a 21st-century board architecture that builds on the legacy of the long-popular VMEbus, while adding support for much greater bandwidth, serial switched fabrics, and enhanced ruggedization and cooling.

The Networked Battlefield

Another key element helping to drive the netcentric battlefield is the introduction of the next-generation Internet protocol, IPv6. IPv6 is an important part of the DoD's future strategy. IPv6 has been selected as a secure backbone for the U.S. Global Information Grid (GIG). In the defense sector, the move to netcentric operations and the adoption of IPv6 (as defined in the Senbit memo) have been key initiatives by the Department of Defense driving the use of IPv6 as a common protocol for communications in embedded defense systems. Em bedded COTS vendors are today offering network modules that provide support for both dual IPv4 and IPv6.

For customers, the use of industrystandard COTS board architectures such as VITA 46/48, and high-speed fabrics such as GbE, reduces costs and helps to ensure access to the long-lifecycle support and robust upgrade roadmaps required by long-life defense and aerospace programs.

One example of such a module is Curtiss-Wright's VPX3-683 FireBlade Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) multilayer switch/router board, which is capable of supporting operating temperatures of -40 to +85° C using advanced conduction cooling techniques (without the use of fans). FireBlade combines 24 serial GbE ports and two 10GbE XAUI ports in a 3U package. It uses the VITA 46/48 architecture and has built-in electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection to provide support for 2-Level Maintenance.

Today's new open-standards-based COTS network modules improve the operational effectiveness of the netcentric model by bringing the network out to the edge of the battlefield. In doing so, they help to make the network ubiquitous across the entire battlefield, enabling the delivery of critical data and situational awareness out to every soldier. And because these modules are small and lightweight, and feature a high level of integration and rugged design, they enable military network designers to extend the network out to places it couldn't reach before.

This article was contributed by Curtiss- Wright Controls Embedded Computing, Leesburg, VA. For more information, click here .


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This article first appeared in the February, 2009 issue of Defense Tech Briefs Magazine.

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