Leveraging military and commercial test technology

Military personnel find test equipment to be essential. For example, “As the U.S. Marine Corps improves the technology used in the fleet, it needs to keep up with the ways to test it,” said Gunnery Sgt. James Mumaw, the calibration chief at Combat Logistics Company 35 (CLC-35) at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, as quoted in a Marine Corps news article.1 

“Failed radio cables and connectors in the ‘90s had to be sent to the manufacturer or to the Marine Corps depots for repair,” he said. In Figure 1, Sgt. Dillon McDonough, a quality assurance representative with CLC-35, is shown checking an attenuator using a network analyzer. He and three colleagues inspected more than 837 pieces of equipment during 2013, up 28% since the previous year.

Figure 1. Sgt. Dillon McDonough checking an attenuator using a network analyzer Photo by Christine Cabalo

An accompanying article in this issue (page 14) provides an overview of the test instruments and systems available to the military services and their suppliers and contractors. Many such products will be exhibited at AUTOTEST, to be held Sept. 15-18 in St. Louis. But many instruments, such as network analyzers of the type Sgt. McDonough is working with in Figure 1, can serve commercial as well as military applications. AUTOTEST focuses heavily on the military, but as the event organizers have pointed out, “The conference also has an expanded focus into commercial areas that share a common technical base, including aerospace, vehicle and automotive, and commercial factory-test applications.”

Tom Sarfi, director of product management at VTI Instruments, said that at AUTOTEST his company will be exhibiting ATE and mechanical test products for the expected military audience, but he commented, “Our mechanical-test solutions have use cases in commercial areas. We are highly recognized in jet-engine test, and that includes commercial avionics customers, but the same products also have application usage in combustion (transportation) and gas-turbine (energy) test markets.”

And Bob Judd, director of marketing at United Electronic Industries, said, “We have had considerable interest in our DNx-MIL platforms from a great many nonmilitary customers. Since our products are largely COTS, based on our standard industrial electronics, our pricing is such that we can offer commercial entities all the benefits of a fully militarized system at affordable prices.”

Indeed, Stan Pierson, director of product marketing at Aeroflex Test Solutions, said Aeroflex will highlight test systems for LMR, tactical, airborne and CSAR applications; highly-flexible synthetic instrumentation; wideband signal analyzer/generators for RF signal recording and playback; and a complete suite of avionics test instruments and simulators. Such products serve customers with constrained budgets but who continue to need quality test solutions and test applications.

Consequently, Pierson said, customers require “creative and cost-conscious solutions that are more focused on the specific test scenario. Use of SDR concepts and techniques in our test instruments allows Aeroflex to meet our customer requirements for budget, schedule, and utility.” The general concept goes for commercial as well as military customers.

Kevin Leduc, senior sales manager at Astronics Test Systems, said many of the products his company will bring to AUTOTEST will address military test, but he also cited an example of a recent digital test system that the company produced to test satellite payloads. He added, “We will be bringing our radio frequency interface unit (RFIU) testers that are used in confirming the correct operation of communications equipment and in the production, installation, and/or commissioning as well as the monitoring of RF, microwave, and radar signals. They can be used for base-station, satellite-antenna, or other ATE applications.”

In addition, Leduc said, “Our ATS3000A radio tester (Figure 2) will be featured at the show. It is a software-driven, synthetic radio test solution capable of testing a multitude of radios, and it is the first really affordable communications test solution used by both military and commercial wireless users/maintainers.”

Figure 2. ATS3000A software-driven synthetic-radio tester

Courtesy of Astronics Test Systems

Also at the show will be the company’s wire integrity tester, which, Leduc explained, “was developed to address the safety concerns about the aging aircraft wiring systems. It satisfies the needs of both military and OEMs to identify and locate intermittent hard and short faults in unpowered systems.”

Major General Stephen T. Sargeant, USAF (Ret.), the CEO of Marvin Test Solutions (MTS) and vice president of strategic development for The Marvin Group, said, “In the case of our aerospace customers, we are finding that commonality and standardization are becoming just as important to them as our military customers in this time of sequestration. We also are seeing that the capitalization in test equipment they made over the past 10 to 20 years now has reached obsolescence in many cases.” 

He said his company’s GENASYS will replace a widely deployed test system that is no longer supportable. “Our innovative approach to overcoming obsolescence, coupled with our unrivaled long-term support, is causing existing and new customers to turn to us to modernize or replace their systems, even when incumbents compete,” he noted.

Sargeant added, “Both our GENASYS and TS-700 platforms are capable of overcoming obsolescence by providing commonality of equipment and standardization across all of the organizations we supply. These PXI-based platforms are highly modular, scalable, and versatile, offering solutions for aerospace and manufacturing organizations including transportation and medical.  Finally, our TS-900 provides small and medium-sized manufacturing organizations with a semiconductor design, development, and production test capability that was previously out of their reach.” The PXI-based TS-900 includes a 20-slot 3U PXI chassis (offering up to 512 100-MHz digital I/O channels with a PMU per pin) plus an integrated modular test interface.

Also addressing semiconductor test applications with a PXI-based system is National Instruments. At its annual NIWeek event last month, NI debuted the NI Semiconductor Test System (STS) series, which supports automated test of RF and mixed-signal devices. Despite the turnkey flavor of the new system, which, for example, integrates with handlers, Luke Schreier, senior group manager of test systems, emphasized that the systems are based on the open-architecture PXI platform and are fully accessible to the customer. The approach, he said, is particularly beneficial for customers with RF and mixed-signal test needs.

NI also introduced new software-designed instruments at NIWeek, including an eight-channel oscilloscope; a 26.5-GHz high-performance RF vector signal analyzer; a 12-bit, 2-GS/s, 2-GHz intermediate frequency digitizer; and a 12.5-Gb/s, 8 TX/8 RX lane high-speed serial instrument. These instruments target automated test and research applications in aerospace/defense as well as wireless and mobile, semiconductor, and automotive industries. NI is not planning to exhibit at AUTOTEST, but some of its partners, which address both military and commercial applications, will.

As Leduc at Astronics put it, “The expanded focus [at AUTOTEST] on commercial test is timely as Astronics continues to design solutions that serve both military and commercial markets. We focus on testing situations where failure is not an option, whether military or commercial.”


Cabalo, Christine, “Calibration lab keeping tools in check,” Marines, The Official Website of the United States Marine Corps, Dec. 2, 2013.

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