The Internet of Military Things for Aerospace and DefenseBy ZM Peterson • Dec 29, 2020
Those small microcontroller boards that everyone uses for prototyping and educational tools? The same board form factor, software/firmware architecture, and many of the same components are suitable for building advanced aerospace and defense technologies that are connected, autonomous, and reliable. The internet of military things is a new design paradigm bringing these ideas in IoT to military systems.
This is more than a pipe dream. The Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) is the Pentagon’s vision to connect its weapons platforms and communications systems into a seamless ecosystem, which they called the "internet of military things". We can expect some of the first systems ordered under this program to begin delivering battlefield-ready capabilities in 2021. The software and hardware architecture that underpins this interconnectedness is still being designed and standardized, but innovative design firms like NWES are at the forefront building custom military IoT systems for aerospace and defense companies.
Current State of Military IoT
The state of the internet of military things can be divided into what JADC2 describes as three "waves" that will unfold over the next 10 years. As new military IoT systems are developed, standardized, and connected, the goal is to give warfighters modular hardware and software systems they need to quickly deploy advanced battlefield solutions.
The current state of the electronics industry and its relation to aerospace & defense could be described as Wave One. Currently, the foundation has already been laid in the electronics industry for building advanced hardware, firmware, and software for military IoT systems. The design requirements for IoMT products are grounded in the various design, testing, manufacturing and quality standards on other electronics products. Unconnected military electronics have been around for decades, but many new components, design methodologies, platforms, and telecom infrastructure enable these devices to be connected and scaled in ways that were not possible only a decade ago.
Wave One involves building on the current COTS capabilities in the electronics industry to construct extensible hardware and software ecosystems that can be connected and deployed quickly. As an example, the custom military IoT systems from NWES use standard wireless protocols with a COTS MCU to build a network of connected devices. By using a small, standardized form factor in IoT products, this platform can be interfaced with custom addon boards, sensors, and other peripherals. Read a case study to see how this platform is being used by a major aerospace and defense OEM.
Wave Two involves creating the next generation of modular hardware and software toolkits for military IoT systems that can be deployed and connected quickly. This wave of JADC2 will build on the existing COTS capabilities in the electronics industry for modular systems development. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) envisions that JADC2 could be operational within the next five years under a concept called Mosaic Warfare. DARPA’s vision is somewhat different from the DoD’s vision, but the overall long-term goals do converge to create systems-of-systems that can be manufactured and brought together on-demand, depending on particular mission requirements.
Modular systems like this OpenVPX rackmount SBC are key to bringing IoT connectivity to rugged embedded systems for aerospace and defense.
The longer term goals in Wave Three, Defense acquisition and its priorities are expected to have evolved to the point where the military’s inventory of capabilities includes many more small, tailorable systems that can be produced quickly. These systems can then be brought together on an as-needed basis. This set of connectable military IoT systems enables rapid deployment of custom solutions without the need to rebuild hardware systems or rewrite large blocks of firmware/software. This type of solution is geared towards extreme battlefield readiness with advanced technologies.
Internet of Military Things Design Requirements
Today’s generation of IoT products are not so easily adapted to rugged military systems as they were simply never designed to be deployed in harsh environments with exacting quality and reliability standards. Over the last 20 years, COTS electronics components have integrated more features into standard packages and are suitable in highly reliable military systems. This trend is continuing with a new class of SoCs and ASICs for advanced application areas and will enable the full internet of military things vision outlined by JADC2.
- Embedded AI and edge computing. The customized IoT platforms from NWES and industrial-grade IoT platforms from Gumstix are two examples of extensible systems with on-device AI computing capabilities. These can be built with extensible, modular form factors that allow integration with other systems.
- Extensible architecture and form factor. Military IoT systems must bring connectivity to standard computing and bus architectures used in existing embedded systems. Examples include 3U/6U OpenVPX backplanes based on VITA standards (Eurocard format) and OpenVPX form factor SBC for modular rackmount systems. These modular addons are critical for expanding military IoT capabilities into existing embedded computing systems.
- Compatibility with existing and new networking protocols. Connectivity is required in any IoT product, and military IoT systems can build on the back of existing network protocols over radio, copper, and fiber. In addition, military IoT systems may need to operate over non-civilian protocols, such as satellite or using software-defined radio.
- Extensible firmware/software architecture. Military IoT developers can take a cue from the open-source community when developing code for hardware platforms. Development is most efficient when based on extensible software libraries as the foundation for new military IoT applications.
- Security. This is one area that is critical for battlefield success and for protecting critical assets. According to AFCEA, as of 2019, 26 percent of all IoT attacks exploited an embedded software vulnerability that was left unpatched. New products need to be kept secured and updated periodically to prevent these types of attacks, which are only expected to increase in number going into the future.
Multi-domain operations concept for AI in the internet of military things. [Source: RAND Corporation]
New technologies like AI, edge computing, photonics, bio-electronics, and even quantum computing may even play a larger role in military IoT products once we reach the end of JADC2. Companies like NWES, Gumstix, and other producers of military-grade IoT products are working to develop the extensible hardware, firmware, and software architecture required for battlefield IoT deployment and cyber dominance in the future.
At NWES, we provide PCB design and layout services to startups, large enterprises, and aerospace and defense electronics companies. We also design modular embedded systems that are demanded in the internet of military things ecosystem. Our customizable product line includes advanced RF systems, high speed backplanes, power systems, and AI-capable IoT platforms. We’ve also partnered directly with EDA companies and multiple ITAR PCB manufacturing firms, and we help our clients get through the PCB manufacturing process with ease. Contact NWES for a consultation.