Designers of Small Rugged Computers for the Battlefield Balance Size, Performance, and Cooling

Military & Aerospace Electronics

Published in Military & Aerospace Electronics
Written by Jamie Whitney

Forward-deployed computer systems, servers, and vehicle-mounted laptop computers need to be as tough as the warfighters that use them. Industry experts note that small rugged mobile computers and network equipment for military vehicles and command posts have increasing amounts of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components so the technology can be serviced at the base instead of waiting for specialized parts or sending the system back state-side.  

Panasonic Corp. of North America, based in Newark, N.J., has been the standard-bearer of vehicle-mounted, ruggedized computers with their Toughbook series.

Scott Heckman, Panasonic’s national sales manager for their U.S. Army and Special Operations Command (SOCOM)business, notes that his customers are trending away from super-specialized computers, such that users easily can upgrade memory and other components to keep the technology on the cutting edge without buying entirely new machines.

“A lot of those purpose-built machines wind up being incredibly expensive, and because they are custom-built, it’s hard to really do technology refreshes in any meaningful way,” Heckman says. “So as the IT world advances, our software needs advance. It’s hard to efficiently or reasonably cost-effectively redevelop those systems since it’s such a low volume of product really driving or covering the engineering costs right now.”

With COTS components now relatively commonplace in the military, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and American taxpayers can get more bang for their buck on the battlefield and have changed what warfighters can expect from a ruggedized system.

“I think for a long time people really accepted a rugged (system) was going to be bulky; we’re going to be maybe a little bit behind in technology; it was going to be expensive,” says Panasonic’s Heckman. “As the markets matured, I think we’ve now seen expectations that we have current processors and current technology especially as we have to increase security postures and connectivity. It’s important that we have up-to-date specifications that are going to comply with all of the security protocols.”

Power and polish

David Jedynak, chief technology officer at Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions in Ashburn, Va., says that rugged computer systems are expected to have the same fit-and-finish expected by civilian customers coupled with ample processing power. “They want to be able to push more and more capability farther towards the edge so there’s less reliance on having to do things in non-real-time, being able to do it in mission,” Jedynak says. “More polish - things need to just work and work quickly. Boot up, shut down, all those things need to be more polished. It goes right to warfighter experience.”

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