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Secure Network Communications: One of the Top Five Most Compute-Intensive Defense Applications

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article image The ultra low power Kontron VX3230 is ideal for dedicated processing tasks supporting a broad range of high-bandwidth.

New and evolving technology initiatives such as Brigade Combat Team Modernization, JTRS (Joint Tactical Radio System) and WIN-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical) rely heavily on secure communications and sharing vital information on the battlefield, linking ground command centers to individual soldiers mobilized via land, sea and air. Representing an incredibly diverse set of application requirements, these complex systems frequently require greater communication bandwidth, broader functionality and smaller footprints – at the same time accounting for the military’s supreme need for security, mobility, flexibility and ruggedness.

Military design is deeply entrenched in VME and CompactPCI platforms, but is also evolving significantly based on the need for increased bandwidth and faster, more sophisticated signal processing. Designers are not abandoning these tried and true platforms, but embracing new and compatible architectures offering new standards of performance built solidly around the military’s keen eye on using technology to its fullest potential. For example, significant portions of the WIN-T program are using the MicroTCA architecture, offering ideal native support of Internet-protocol based network topologies found in the network-centric nature of WIN-T. Platforms such as Computer-on-Module (COMs) are going further in extreme military design, offering rugged and extended temperature options in tandem with small mobile and power efficient design tenets. VPX extends legacy VME beyond its own inherent signal processing capabilities, adding high frequency signal processing along with a reliable fabric solution that facilitates on-board checking and retransmission.

WIN-T has a key role in defining and advancing secure network communications for military applications, being implemented in increments that bring greater levels of networking capabilities to various deployed units and ground commands. Increment 1, defined as “networking-at-the-halt,” is a rapidly deployable system that provides roll-on/roll-off mobility; this in turn delivers Internet-based connectivity to the Warfighter, satellite and line-of-sight connectivity, and DISN (Defense Information Systems Network) services down to the Battalion level. Increment 2 is defined as “networking-on-the-move” – the first step in developing a mobile infrastructure on the battlefield – and extends a communication network down to the Company level. On-the-move broadband networking capabilities use satellite and radio links, focusing on Brigade Combat teams and allowing them to operate on-the-move.

Increment 3, which is at its earliest stages, provides full network mobility and introduces an air tier of connectivity. The result is a multi-layered architecture that includes traditional line-of-sight, airborne through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), other airborne platforms and satellites. Building on previous Increments, Increment 3 enables the full objective mobile, tactical network distribution of C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, and Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) information via voice, data, and real time video. Soldiers have more robust connectivity and greater network access via military specification radios, higher bandwidth satellite communications (SATCOM) and line of sight (LOS) waveforms, an air tier (LOS airborne relay), and integrated Network Operations enabling video teleconferencing and other collaboration applications.

For embedded designers, creating this versatile mix of tailorable, networked organizations means developing or upgrading capabilities, and eliminating platforms whose size, weight and power constraints limit performance or battle-readiness. Designers are challenged to build in greater amounts of bandwidth, smaller form factors and proven ruggedness far beyond technologies found in earlier military initiatives.


xTCA (ATCA and MicroTCA) is gaining significant ground in high-performance military network computing due to its standards-based, rugged, high bandwidth performance in a small footprint. In particular, the secure network approach to warfare is an ideal fit for the features of the ATCA and MicroTCA platforms, characterized by high processing capacity, extremely high communication bandwidth and high availability designed into a small form factor.

For example, MicroTCA’s high bandwidth for both communications and computing results from up to 12 compute blades on a single backplane, potentially all using a multi-core processor. A 3U or 4U system could integrate as many as 24 cores designed into MicroTCA’s very small footprint. MicroTCA designs can also tap as many as 21 high speed serial connections on the backplane, with each connection delivering bandwidth of 2.5 gigabits per second. A broad range of communications bandwidth capacities is possible – ranging from 40 Gbps to >1Tbps – based on how each system is implemented.


Ruggedized COM ExpressTM modules bring the latest technology in the smallest size to COTS-based military networking applications. Unmanned vehicles, field devices such as Software-Defined Radios used by individual soldiers, and embedded devices enabling secure communications systems are benefiting from the compute-power and reliable performance being delivered by these compact components.

Based on the compact Intel® Atom solution, COMs balance performance with the SwaP (Size, Weight and Power) issues critical to mobile networks and ideal for small mobile and extremely energy-efficient devices such as man-wearable systems. Designed today for use in extreme conditions, COMs offer industrial temperature ranges of -40 to +85°C as well as the necessary tolerances for high reliability in terms of shock and vibration resistance.


VPX has a solid foothold as the future of rugged military systems, due to its ability to provide high frequency processing as well as a reliable fabric solution that facilitates on-board checking and retransmission. VPX builds on the processing capabilities of VME, combining robustness and excellent EMC – fundamental strengths of the VMEbus architecture – with new high bandwidth connector capabilities for high speed differential signalling over the backplane, and offering support over wider operational temperature ranges with cooling methodologies. For example, 10 GbE takes in a fast data rate and dispatches it to several processors that manage the workload in parallel. Designing in this kind of functionality highlights VPX as an ideal platform for network-centric military systems, leveraging more I/O per slot and higher computing density from available processors and chipsets.

VPX packs these features in a smaller 3U form factor, well-suited to many of the new real-time, data intensive and network-centric applications that require reliable performance in harsh environments.

Moving Forward

Secure, networked communications are designed to both equip soldiers and ensure their safety throughout the base of military operations. Designers are answering this critical and compute-intensive challenge with a growing technology arsenal – effectively leveraging more I/O per slot, achieving higher computing density from current processors and chipsets, and delivering better power-to-performance ratios that bring safety and technology leadership to our modernized battlefield.

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