As many designers familiar with military and aerospace applications know, VME has been the predominant form factor for more than 25 years. Because of its adaptability, ease of maintenance, and ruggedness, among other benefits, VME positioned itself extremely well against competing architectures years ago. Even today, in the face of upcoming VPX/VXS products, VME will have a significant role to play in the future of military and aerospace applications.
Lately, the buzz in the embedded computing industry surrounding VME has focused on VPX, also referred to as VITA 46. VPX allows the designer to use mixed backplanes with both legacy VME slots and VPX slots, opening the door to retaining the best of legacy VME technology along with incorporating the newer, higher- performance VPX technology.
The adoption of VITA 46 helped to bring to light the most current connector and packaging technology coupled with the most up-to-date bus and serial fabric technology. Just as standard PCs continuously improve, VPX is offering up the best of VME to the newer network-centric applications within military and aerospace.
VPX IN THE FIELD
Programs such as Warfare Information Network Tactical (WIN-T) and Future Combat Systems (FCS) demand architectures that can handle data-intensive applications running in harsh environments. Because of its ability to offer a reliable platform for high-density processing, many defense programs are already mandating the use of VPX. Its success can be measured by the many programs necessitating a VPX solution (see the figure).
In particular, next-generation radars, targeting and surveillance systems for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and broadband electronic warfare monitoring and jamming systems are requiring enhanced resolution imagery, higher I/O rates, faster storage, and higher-performance switch-based serial communication fabrics (10 Gigabit Ethernet, PCI Express), all of which can only be realized with high-performance multi-gigabit VPX connectors.
So what’s the benefit to the continuation of VME product development? Taking a quick scan of the current economic landscape, many defense customers are looking to upgrade and maintain existing systems. If a technology insertion can be made by simply replacing an existing VME processor board rather than replacing the processor board, chassis, and backplane with a VPX solution, cost will be reduced.
Also, not all applications require the additional performance VPX brings, so there is no reason to burden these applications with the still more expensive VPX technology. Over time, VPX technology will likely benefit from the scales of volume production, but today it is simply more expensive to engineer a VPX solution than using tried and proven VME.
WHAT'S NEW IN VME
Due to the high costs associated with upgrading, many embedded companies that play in VME markets are continuing to develop new VME products that integrate the latest processing technology. These new VME products make upgrading existing systems a logical, cost-effective, and efficient choice. While re-certification of a system may still be necessary, the ability to swap outdated boards for the newer boards helps to cut back on development time and ultimately saves engineering resources.
For example, an existing customer on a UAV program was asked to enhance its targeting imagery to HDTV resolution. To reduce the cost of replacing the numerous systems already fielded, a decision was made to stick with an enhanced VME processor. The use of the UHM P0 connector was all that was necessary to allow the high-speed video to connect to the higherperformance VME processor board over the existing backplane.
In fact, we are seeing many legacy military programs specifically ask for VME to upgrade their existing systems. The cost of replacing legacy VME chassis, I/O cards, and software makes this the most viable option for many large programs. Yet there is far more competition for VME than ever, and many embedded companies are developing VPX boards in parallel with popular VME lines, the only difference being the high-speed I/O. This opens up the range of products available to designers, whether they are upgrading existing systems or developing new platforms.
VPX, which Kontron considers nextgeneration VME, has a bright future in the defense arena. Designers now have the flexibility to evaluate both when looking at their design requirements, assessing the legacy environment and considering the types of data being processed, upgradeability for future demands, multiprocessor benefits, budgets, and time-to-market.
FRANK PHELAN, principal engineer, is responsible for business development in Kontron’s military, aerospace, and government vertical marketing segment. He has more than 35 years experience in real-time embedded computing, digital signal processing, system integration, and singleboard and DSP computer design. He also spent nine years at the Scripps institution of oceanography before he formed Universal computing in 1980, which provided system integration services and custom hardware design until 1997.