The aerospace and defense market, as a whole, is in the midst of some profound changes. According to the Deloitte 2017 Global Aerospace and Defense Sector Outlook,1 “On the defense side, resurgence of global security threats, expected increases in U.S. defense budgets, as well as higher defense spending from other major regional powers such as Japan and India will likely promote global defense subsector revenue growth in the near future,” the authors noted.
In concrete terms, the authors said they expect commercial aerospace to remain nearly flat in terms of revenues while the defense sector is likely to grow at a much faster 3.2% rate after multiyear declines in defense budgets in the United States.
Providing a window into one aspect of that market is AUTOTESTCON, which bills itself as the world’s premier conference for the military/aerospace automatic test industry and as a forum to share new technologies and discuss innovative applications. Sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), this year’s event, which includes exhibits of products and services, will be held Sept. 11-14 in Schaumburg, IL. The keynote presentation will be made by John Johns, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for maintenance plans and now policy director, global relations, at Northrop Grumman Technology Services.
With his experience overseeing the U.S. Department of Defense’s $80 billion military equipment and weapons maintenance program, Johns’ insights are being targeted at those seeking to discern directions for the industry with a new administration in Washington.
Those in industry, mindful of military and political developments as well as technology trends, offered a spectrum of opinions regarding the state of the industry and the issues likely to be top-of-mind at AUTOTESTCON.
“Effective support is key to mission readiness and success, and we continue to see a great interest in test solutions that provide commonality of support equipment across aircraft platforms and at all maintenance levels,” said Stephen T. Sargeant, Major General, USAF (Ret.) and chief executive officer at Marvin Test Solutions. However, extended product lifecycles make support increasingly challenging as well, he noted. “Even if acquisition budgets increase, it makes sense to streamline logistics in order to direct resources as efficiently as possible,” he said.
Another broad consideration is standardization. “Most engineers have recognized the benefits of standardizing hardware in your test system, but often that thought process ends with instrumentation,” noted Ben Robinson, product marketing manager for modular instruments at National Instruments. That same line of thought should extend to the rack and power infrastructure considering that the pieces of a test system need to work together, be safe, and adequately support the instrumentation, he said. “We’ve heard anecdotes that it can sometimes take more than a dozen purchase orders to put together a rack-based test system, and in many cases, that complexity is not warranted or valuable,” Robinson added.
Organizations need to focus within their operations on developing strategies for complying with Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) clause 225.204-7012, according to Rob Mixer, chief engineer—software security, also at National Instruments. DFARS requires contractors to implement NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-171 standards not later than Dec. 31, 2017. “The DFARS requirement for defense contractor compliance with NIST SP 800-171 applies to test systems, not just traditional IT systems,” noted Mixer. Compliance can be a challenge, he added.
The changing technology landscape also will demand new and different responses. For instance, Herman vanEijkelenburg, director of marketing, Pacific Power Source, noted that growing adoption of Ethernet and LXI for new ATE systems is leading to a replacement of GPIB and other older technology.
And, interestingly, at least one observer sees a re-emergence of customers wanting to build their own test solutions. According to Brian Price, executive vice president at
Astronics Test Systems, there is a growing segment of customers that want to build their own specific test solutions, typically where a COTS solution doesn’t meet their specific test requirements. “In some cases, this is due to having specific product requirements, cost considerations, or proprietary product information that needs to be kept in-house,” noted Price. In addition, as mature test systems begin to be refreshed, “We see more customers interested in moving their solutions to a new PXIe format,” Price said. He said PXIe offers customers a smaller footprint, a more flexible form factor, and new modern instruments with longer support.
Meanwhile, “Requirements from commercial technologies like 5G and automotive radar are driving RF test equipment like NI’s second-generation vector signal transceiver to support RF bandwidths of up to 1 GHz or more,” said Charles Schroeder, vice president for RF and wireless communications at NI. “With wider bandwidth RF instrumentation, engineers in the aerospace and defense industry are better able to address applications like radar prototyping, spectrum monitoring, electronic warfare, and more,” said Schroeder.
Given the extensive amount of research on autonomous vehicles and deployment of drones in many aspects of warfare, testing of these systems and the line-replaceable units in these devices will be increasingly important, too, explained Bob Stasonis, sales and marketing director at Pickering Interfaces.
Companies also offered a preview of what they will be bringing to the event.
“In discussions with our customers, we see that the military/aerospace market is in the beginning of a transition to modern, open, and growth-oriented test platforms,” explained Price. Indeed, he noted, Astronics is focused on developing solutions in these specific areas including modern radio test solutions. “While radio test is not in itself new, customers are putting emphasis on being able to test new multiwaveform radios while maintaining support for their legacy equipment,” Price said. For example, he said, test solutions need to support legacy SINCGARS radios, new multiwaveform protocols, and future battlefield requirements, such as LTE.
Among the items the company plans to showcase are the ATS-3100 RTS (Radio Test Solution), a PXIe-based radio test solution built on Astronics Test Systems’ newest platform, the ATS-3100, providing the functionality of multiple instruments on a single, software-defined platform. The company also will highlight its CTS-6010 Tactical Radio Test Set (Figure 1). The flexibility of the software-defined CTS-6010 allows for rapid addition of capabilities as new test requirements arise. The company’s newest software release has added capabilities for transmit EVM and receive sensitivity (BER) testing of wideband digital radios including the Harris PRC-117G and PRC-152A over their full frequency range.
Courtesy of Astronics Test Systems
PXIe and .NET platforms
According to Joan Gibson, solutions business manager for A/D and Government Solutions at Keysight Technologies, the company is focusing on exhibiting two specific products: the M9383A PXIe Microwave Signal Generator (Figure 2) and the Test Automation Platform Developer’s System (KS8400A).
Courtesy of Keysight Technologies
Gibson said the M9383A was introduced in June 2017. “It is the industry’s first scalable PXIe microwave signal generator with frequency coverage up to 44 GHz and modulation bandwidth up to 1 GHz, and it is designed to support MIL-ATE test requirements,” she said. It also provides flexibility to upgrade performance as technology changes, she said. “In addition to the M9383A, Keysight offers a broad portfolio of PXI instrumentation to support MIL-ATE applications,” Gibson added.
The Test Automation Platform (TAP) Developer’s System, based on the Microsoft .NET platform, provides a fast and flexible test sequence and test-plan creation platform to address automation and automation-centric solution needs. According to Gibson, it can be used standalone or in combination with higher-level test executive software environments. “It is not another programing language, it is a platform upon which you can build your test solutions with a modular software approach,” she stressed. TAP also provides results and timing analytics to help engineers easily view, debug, and optimize their tests.
In addition, she said, Keysight’s Radio Test Solution offers hardware and software building blocks for testing analog and digital radios from 10 Hz to 27 GHz. It has high density/throughput and an open flexible and scalable modular architecture “for efficient and complete test development and execution,” said Gibson.
According to CEO Sargeant, at AUTOTESTCON Marvin will be showcasing its test solutions for O-Level, I-Level, D-Level, and manufacturing test—including the MTS-3060 SmartCan Universal O-Level Test Set, the MTS-209 Common Armament Systems Test Set (Figure 3), and the MTS-1888 Series Laser Source Simulator (Figure 4) as well as the GENASYS Switching/Digital Subsystems, legacy ATE replacement products, and the ATEasy Test Development and Test Executive software, now in its Version 10 release.
Courtesy of Marvin Test Solutions
MTS test solutions are designed to support the testing of both legacy and SMART weapon systems as well as providing an upgrade path to meet emerging and future requirements. “With more than 25 years of experience in functional ATE, providing systems, applications, and specialized instrumentation, we are uniquely positioned to help our customers solve their most demanding test challenges, make test easy, and ensure their success,” said Sargeant.
Courtesy of Marvin Test Solutions
At AUTOTESTCON 2017, NI will showcase the new ATE Core Configurations (Figure 5), which the company said can help simplify the design, procurement, assembly, and deployment of smarter test systems at a lower cost and shorter time to market by empowering test organizations with a platform for standardization. These 19-inch rack-based configurations include core mechanical, power, and safety infrastructure to help users accelerate the design and build of automated test systems in aerospace and defense test and are available in various rack-unit heights, with scalable power profiles to match the needs of nearly any application and geography. “Test organizations can benefit from integrated safety features such as thermal shutoff, emergency power off, optional uninterruptible power supplies, and IEC 61010 certification,” Robinson said.
Courtesy of National Instruments
Pacific Power Source will be focusing on its expanding line of precision programmable AC and DC power sources for ATE test applications—in particular single- and three-phase output AMX Series models (Figure 6) used to support avionics frequencies to 5 kHz.
Courtesy of Pacific Power Source
The company also will highlight its AFX Series. “The higher power density available from Pacific Power Source’s AFX Series (Figure 7) allows more power to be installed in a small amount of rack space,” said vanEijkelenburg. It also allows upgrading of older ATE platforms for higher power demands using the same or less space than older power sources, he added.
Courtesy of Pacific Power Source
According to Stasonis, one of the key products Pickering will be sharing at AUTOTESTCON is a new four-slot USB/LXI Modular Chassis, Model 60-105 (Figure 8). “This chassis complements our recently released two-slot USB/LXI Modular Chassis since they both offer a small, lightweight form/factor ideal for portable, benchtop, and space-restrictive applications,” he said. The chassis are designed for desk or rack mounting and feature remote control via USB or LXI Ethernet. Remote control over a network enables the switching function of a test system to be located as close as possible to the target equipment, said Stasonis. The new four-slot chassis supports between one and four Pickering 3U PXI modules. Possible systems include switching matrices up to 2,208 crosspoints or up to 36 channels of programmable resistor/sensor simulation.
Courtesy of Pickering Interfaces
Both the two-slot and the new four-slot chassis are USB 3 compatible and have a fully compliant LXI interface. “These communications standards enable the chassis to be controlled directly through standard interfaces found on most personal computers and tablets that support HTML5,” said Stasonis.
The company also is focusing attention on its high-density modular LXI reed relay matrix range (Model 65-22x). Originally designed to test semiconductors at wafer and package levels, the reed relay matrix (Figure 9) solution combines Pickering’s LXI modular matrix chassis (Model 65-200) with a new plug-in matrix module that provides access to all signal connections on 200-pin connectors. According to Stasonis, the range includes four modules covering matrices of up to 1,536×4 in increments of 128 (Model 65-221), 768×8 in increments of 64 (Model 65-223), 384×16 in increments of 32 (Model 65-225), and 192×32 in increments of 32 (Model 65-227).
Other companies haven’t yet disclosed their plans for AUTOTESTCON to EE-Evaluation Engineering. However, Teradyne said it will demonstrate its PXI Express-based High-Speed Subsystem (HSSub), which aims to address defense and aerospace ATE requirements that are common across most recent designs. Teradyne’s newest acquisition, Avionics Interface Technologies, will be demonstrating its own bus test instrumentation for MIL-STD-1553 and ARINC 429 (a data transfer standard for aircraft avionics) and is expected to introduce a new Shared Memory product.
Recent relevant product introductions suggest what other companies may be highlighting at AUTOTESTCON. For example, Rohde & Schwarz is likely to exhibit its new R&S SMA100B analog signal generator, introduced in June, which offers a frequency range up to 20 GHz. The R&S SMA100B is designed for the RF semiconductor, wireless communications, and aerospace and defense industries.
Visit www.evaluationengineering.com for more updates as the event nears.