Applications for Military Embedded Systems in 2019

The massive military defense budget of the United States ensures that it has access to the latest technology that uses embedded systems and computing to support troops in the battlefield. Embedded systems in military applications have different requirements than the ones we use in civilian life - they must be highly secure to prevent reverse engineering or data interception, ruggedly designed to withstand harsh conditions in the battlefield, and implement components sourced from a trusted entity to prevent unauthorized software from being loaded onto the devices.

Let's take a look at some of the most critical military applications of embedded systems and how engineers today are building innovative products that satisfy these high-tech requirements.

Intelligence Gathering Operations

Military commanders need correct information to make the best decisions. Military intelligence is the practice of collecting useful information and analyzing that information to make the best decisions possible, and it's something our military leaders do each day with the help of embedded systems.

Military intelligence operatives collect intelligence by reading published journals and newspapers from foreign countries, and many countries have developed the capability to eavesdrop continuously on the entire radio spectrum, including broadcasts of radio and television programs, military traffic, telegraph and satellite traffic, and radar emissions. The United States military maintains a set of surveillance satellites capable of intercepting cell-phone and pager traffic.

Embedded systems are used to control and secure all of these devices, and the analysis of the massive volumes of data collected through these multiple channels is also handled by computers. Embedded systems allow these devices to operate smartly, facilitate remote control, and help to secure the devices from malicious software attacks.

Surveillance and Reconnaissance UAVs

A study conducted by international market research firm MarketsandMarkets has projected that the global market for military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will grow from $20.7 billion in 2018 to $52.3 billion by 2025, making it one of the primary areas of investment and embedded systems deployment for military forces around the world.

UAVs are deployed in war zones around the world for military surveillance and reconnaissance missions as well as for combat. They can also be used to deliver or transport goods in war zones without risking human life, as well as for inspection, mapping, and remote sensing. The most rapidly growing segment of the UAV market is that of extended visual-line-of-sight (EVLOS) military drones. These small-sized drones enable military leaders to visualize areas of interest from a safe distance, minimizing risk to human lives.

Communication

To understand the full scope of UAV deployment in the military, we need to look at the computer and physical systems that allow UAVs to perform successfully in all of their roles. The support architecture for UAVs includes communications infrastructure and data processing capabilities that allow these vehicles to function at their maximum potential in the battlefield. Together with the ground control segment and the UAV itself, these features comprise the overall Unmanned Aerial System (UAS).

Looking ahead, we're seeing a growing demand for interoperability between ground command-and-control stations and the UAVs they operate. Securing communication channels between the UAV and the ground segment while maintaining the flexibility to transfer control to another ground segment can help increase the versatility of UAVs in the battlefield. There is also a need for UAVs that can communicate in real time with aerial or ground forces that are deployed in the battlefield, increasing the timeliness and accuracy of information.

With an increased desire for communication comes an increased need for security. Manufacturers of UAVs will need to build hardware that effectively segregates classified sections of gathered data, ensuring that post-processing data transmissions contain only data that is not considered classified. Increased compatibility between UAVs and the receiving platform will help to ensure the security of data passed between them.

Military UAVs can be deployed for a number of applications, including surveillance, intelligence gathering, delivery or transportation, and even combat. UAVs rely on secure and robust embedded systems with diverse capabilities, including secure data transmission and interoperability with ground control facilities and command centers.

Computing

As embedded systems increase in power, companies are finding new ways to bring more powerful embedded computing to the forefront of military applications. One newly released embedded computing server, designed for use in aerospace, defense, and harsh-environment applications, features a 16-core processor made by Intel and 10-Gigabit Ethernet channels in a package that's scarcely larger than a few cubic inches.

The product was designed to operate at temperatures between -40 to 85 degrees Celsius - that's between -40 and 185 Fahrenheit - and even offers 2 terabytes of high-speed data storage with an SSD.

Embedded engineers are building systems for military applications that can deliver more power than ever before while withstanding a battery of harsh-environment tests, including extreme temperatures, impacts and vibrations, environmental exposures, and traditional hardware and software bench testing. As a result, military forces will be able to deploy even more powerful computers and embedded technology into the battlefield.

Cyber Security

Domestic issues such as CAN bus hacking have recently highlighted the growing importance of embedded systems security, but during military operations when real lives are at stake, the need for robust and reliable security measures for embedded systems is even greater. Embedded systems in military applications may be used to collect and transmit classified, mission-critical and top-secret data that should be protected from interception or attack at all costs.

With increasing demands for security features, sensors, and processing power within embedded products that face size, weight, and power constraints, embedded engineers are creating innovative new methods of designing and building products for military applications. Many engineers are using ball grid arrays in place of traditional dual in-line or flat surface-mount packaging for their designs. Ball grid arrays provide more interconnection pins than the alternatives, facilitating 3D hardware-stacking that saves space while delivering the same speed and performance.

Secure embedded devices are self-encrypting, with many using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit in XTS block cipher mode to codify and store data. A two-layer approach is also possible, with encryption on a solid-state drive acting as the first layer and file encryption acting as the outer layer. The use of multiple layers of encryption mitigates against the possibility that a single vulnerability or exploit could be used to penetrate both layers of encryption.

Military procurement departments will look to source products manufactured in secure, domestic environments to further mitigate the security risks associated with embedded systems in the battlefield.

Vehicle Electronics

Based on how the introduction of UAVs has changed the very nature of warfare today, we should not be surprised that unmanned ground vehicles are being prototyped for the United States military.

A major United States defense contractor was recently awarded a contract to integrate its existing autonomous vehicle technology into the military's existing fleet of palletized load system (PLS) vehicles. These vehicles are typically deployed in convoys to transport weapons and supplies to soldiers in the battlefield. Deployment in hotly contested areas has historically meant serious risk for the soldiers who operate these vehicles, but the introduction of autonomous technology will remove live soldiers from the vehicles and enable their deployment without risking human lives.

These innovations will also add versatility and productivity to the existing vehicle fleet, especially when it comes to operating in adverse weather conditions or at night, when the safety or awareness of a human operator would be compromised.

Summary

As embedded technology continues to move forward, we're seeing a trend towards increased deployment of computers in the battlefield. Unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, computing and communications equipment, and cyber security are all major areas of innovation for military embedded systems in 2019.

In addition, the United States Department of Defense recently selected 15 embedded technology companies to compete for billions of dollars in research & development contracts over the next nine years with the goal of accelerating war-fighting innovation and maintaining United States technical superiority in the battlefield. With that level of investment, it's clear that a lot of big innovations are in the pipeline for military embedded systems.