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System Interconnects for Today’s Military Vehicles

The U.S. armed forces have upwards of 300,000 tactical vehicles specifically designed for military end-use, both wheeled and tracked. This includes vehicles that employ on-the-move SATCOM systems, high speed data links and multiple-mission computing systems. Also seen in the near future are unmanned cargo vehicles with autonomous driving systems that navigate via use of high-definition streaming video. Thus, the need for high-performance rugged interconnects on systems installed in military vehicles is increasing sharply.

altContinuous improvements in on-board systems are required for military vehicles, because the types of threats they face are always changing. Enemies keep adapting their high-tech capabilities, so to stay ahead and keep military personnel as safe as possible, the U.S. armed forces look to manufacturers to develop and deploy more advanced systems. The problem is by the time a new capability is deployed, the enemy has often already countered it.

OnBoard Vehicle Technology Gets More Sophisticated

Many of us recall the time when the most complicated electrical device on a tactical cargo truck was the turn-signal switch. There were also rudimentary fire-control systems in tanks many years ago, but they were standalone, and radios back then were strictly for voice communication. Crews relied on intercom systems, but data networks were just lab experiments at the time, and computers were pretty much of the mainframe variety. Connectors supporting these applications were strictly military-spec circulars, such as Mil-C- 5015 and Mil-C-38999.

Interconnect density has increased by orders of magnitude over the years, and jumping ahead to today, network technology is now embedded in almost every onboard vehicle system. So it’s no surprise that military vehicles are becoming ever-more network intensive. Most new vehicles are now equipped with at least two separate networks.

One network is usually deployed for vehicle health and maintenance, based on CAN bus technology developed for the commercial vehicle world. Depending on the implementation, periodic reports are sent automatically on a vehicle’s status via a data link or are downloaded by maintenance personnel. These systems are used for predictive maintenance to prevent breakdowns by looking at component trends.

Take for example, a fuel pump. It may be operating within specifications, but the last three reports may show a steady down-trend in fuel pressure. Analysis software can pick this up and issue an alert so maintenance personnel can address the problem before failure.

The other network typically found on vehicles today is the operational or mission network. It’s the one that links vehicle computers, data links, radios, vision, and navigation systems directly involved in missions. The networking technology is Ethernet, and most systems currently rely on 100-megabit systems. But GigE is making an appearance and has become the standard for vehicles currently on the drawing board.

The battlefield is also becoming dataintensive with high-definition streaming video, unmanned-aerial-vehicle sensordata, and vehicle tracking. There is even advanced development for driverless vehicles that rely on high-definition video recognition to follow specified routes. These systems would actually benefit from 10 GigE speeds, which would allow fighting vehicles networked via data links to pinpoint each other’s position for perfect situational awareness.

These applications are all here now and being adapted to current vehicles, although there are issues of power and actual space for the systems. New vehicles will be designed to support these systems from the ground up.