On the Frontline of Military Innovation

Real-time signal processing is a driving force in the evolution of many military applications known collectively as Digital Signalling Processing (or DSP). Among others these include software defined radios, weapons navigation systems, sonar and early warning radar systems.

For designers of these mission critical military/aero solutions the need to balance power, performance and cost is a necessity. But there are also the particular requirements of speed, resolution and accuracy that DSP applications demand. It is sobering to think each generation of defence simulation and operational warfare systems increases the demand for high-performance computing and I/O bandwidth.

Since the eve of this century, the challenge for higher definition, following the evolution of the battlefield from combat with large objects (Ships, Trucks, Tanks) to smaller and well hiding threats (individuals carrying a anti air missile, armed SUV hiding in an ocean of inconspicuous cars) has driven the data bandwidth to completely new levels. This acceleration alone is able to absorb all the progress embedded computing made in the last years.

But now there is even more to come. Each day our world is more and more digitized. And the fights will also happen in this parallel world, where Big Data is king and requires huge processing power.

War will be won or lost on both the physical and virtual world, and computers for defence systems will play a tremendous role. For this they will most usually need to be housed within a compact and rugged system as these battles will not be happening in the comfort of a data center.


Advances in commercial off the shelf (COTS) embedded computing systems has made huge strides

However, for meeting the demands of DSP military/aero applications significant challenges and obstacles have remained when it comes to optimising overall performance.


In particular, until most recently designers have struggled with the I/O bandwidth in their rugged defence systems. It’s been no match for the latest generation of multi-core processor performance. Apart from causing data throughput bottleneck and reliability issues this has created a barrier to taking full advantage of the parallel processing and workload capabilities available.        

Clearly, innovative new thinking was essential for redress the balance of power in this CPU vs. I/O ‘log jam’.  This has centred round a whole new approach to the design of HPEC platforms which are at the very heart of defense simulation and operational warfare applications.


Necessity, as they say, is the mother of all invention

I am pleased to report the past two years or so has seen Kontron’s Defense and Avionics engineering team prevail. To close the performance gap a new modular, scalable computer architecture featuring mobile and rugged 3-U footprint HPEC enclosures has been designed around VPX blades.  

Each blade has been integrated with PCI Express and high-end Ethernet switches to deliver military operations the kind of enterprise class server performance and bandwidth previously only possible in data centres.

Especially designed for mobile military deployment in the harshest of environments, the Kontron StarVX and VX3058 blade HPEC system is harnessed to the latest generation Intel Xeon D-1540 64-bit processor.  Together they ensure I/O throughput speeds and keep pace with high performance processing demands.


10 times more I/O throughput than previously available ruggedized military platforms

StarVX is application ready, ably assisted by integrated parallel workload management software. This simplifies and speeds software development by automating much of the parallel sensors and deployment work. At the same time the system accommodates and boosts the performance of legacy TCP applications, allowing them to be simply transferred onto the new platform without further porting effort.          

The ability to balance throughput with high performance processing now ensures military personnel on the frontline have the information they need when they need it. At the same time, the modular, building blocks approach inherent in all Kontron embedded systems ensures military systems designers can keep pace with the sheer pace of technological change and so future-proof their designs.

This can only be good news in the constant battle to balance cost, power, performance, flexibility and reliability in order to meet the demands of mission-critical military/aero operations. And even a better omen for the digital war ahead as detection of faint signals in an ocean of noise is, again, the crux of the problem to solve, especially in Big Data. This will require computing power and programming skills that have already put to test in the physical world where HPEC prevails today.

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