Autotestcon panelists chart design-and-test future

Anaheim, CA. The world is a messy place filled with unpleasant surprises, necessitating a powerful military to respond appropriately, according to Bob Rassa of Raytheon, convening the 2012 Autotestcon plenary session yesterday. Following a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11, Rassa turned the proceedings over to a panel led by Mike Ellis of Northrop Grumman, who serves as this year's technical program chair.

Ellis kicked off the panel discussion, titled “Requirements and Technology Enablers for supporting Next Generation Weapons,” by describing the evolution of ATE. In the 70s, he said, we had “real man's” ATE, not the small-footprint versions of today. And ATE may shrink even further, with the DoD envisioning embedded ATE, he said.

Following Ellis's introduction, Stephen Sargeant, retired USAF Major General and now CEO of Geotest-Marvin Test Systems, described initiatives such as the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, known as CATBird, for the F-35 Lightning II. CATBird is a modified Boeing 737-300 that serves as a flying laboratory for F-35 avionics, enabling the development and test of the F-35's fusion capabilities while reducing cost and risk. He concluded his presentation by recommending that test requirements an integrated and defendable part ot the acquisition strategy.

Aircraft manufacturers were represented on the panel by Chris Clendenin, director of support equipment services at Boeing Defense, Space, and Security; David J. Salisbury, director for CINS business development at Northrop Grumman; and Anthony J. Minei, deputy director for test systems, services, and support at Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics. Clendenin noted that test-equipment customers need affordability, commonality, and standardization, along with the need to emulate legacy test systems.

Salisbury commented on the link between sensors and weapons, citing the role of VEML (Video Event Markup Language) and AML (Activity Markup Language). He said cloud storage and computing will play a role in handling the data that sensors acquire. He said that COTS has a place, but there will always be a gap between commercial instrumentation and what the DoD requires, and the gap will likely widen. Minei commented that budget cuts will likely extend the life of legacy systems, adding that efforts to standardize ATE across services will gain momentum. He predicted a renewed focus on DFT, on-board diagnostics, and health monitoring.

Eric Starkloff, vice president for product marketing at National Instruments, concluded the panel session by noting that the explosion of PC technology in the 80s and 90s drove the COTS penetration into military applications. Now, he said, test equipment will become more software-centric as the equipment under test becomes more software-centric. He noted that while an F-22 had about 1.7 million lines of code, the F-35 has about 5.7 million lines (compared with more than 100 million lines for a luxury automobile). He cited NI's new vector signal transceiver as an example of a software-centric instrument. Today, he said, we deal with systems of systems, and to test one system, you must emulate the others in real-time. That, he said, is quite different from traditional stimulus-and-response ATE. Further, he concluded, it's becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between design and test.

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