U.S. military officials often express frustration that it takes too much time to select, purchase, test and deploy military electronics. They want the very latest in communications technology from the commercial sector, but the technology is often already out of date by the time it finds its way to the warfighter. Compounding the issue, most of the electronic systems are built using commercial silicon that follows a typical life cycle found in the commercial industry (three to five years). Given the long selection-to-deployment process, the military requires its systems to last much longer.
System vendors take military lifetime expectations into consideration during design and some, such as GE Intelligent Platforms, offer services that can extend the life cycle of commercial-based technology well beyond its commercial viability. However, every electronics system eventually hits its end of life (EOL). EOL notifications for core electronics systems—such as the network infrastructure—represent an increasing challenge for the military and the system vendors that serve it.
Today, network switches are found at the heart of most systems connecting the various sensors, computers and displays throughout military vehicles, aircrafts and ships. Intelligent switches give systems designers control over how networks are set up, operated, managed and secured. This is achieved through software APIs and user interfaces that are specific to a switch vendor's implementation, so a network switch EOL can be a major impact.
GE's intelligent Ethernet switches are based on a highly flexible, customizable and scalable management suite called OpenWare. Based on Linux, OpenWare is designed by GE and maintained by a team of highly skilled networking experts. Although network switches must operate using industry standard protocols and interfaces, military forces often use modified protocols to meet unique security or performance requirements. Because OpenWare is 100% controlled by GE, we are able to make these modifications in most cases.
OpenWare's flexibility also helps to extend the life of existing military systems. There has been a recent rise in the EOL of legacy VME and cPCI switch boards as vendors refresh their product lines with newer form factors such as VPX. GE decided to maintain legacy form factor switch boards to help customers extend the life of their existing platforms. More importantly, however, our team is able to modify the OpenWare interface and API so that it mimics the management interface of the switches being replaced. The aim is to make the migration process as seamless as possible. Today, OpenWare-based switches are saving military system designers significant time and cost.
The military continues to look at options to shorten time to deployment and system refresh cycles. This will take time. In the meantime, creative approaches are needed to extend the life of existing platforms—and GE is very well positioned to offer the necessary support.