American semiconductor makers may get a little nervous about the prospect of extended temperature screening, radiation hardening and hermetically sealing devices for a high-reliability market that-under Defense Secretary William Perry's edict to purchase commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products-threatens to shrink. The reality is that the Department of Defense (DOD) and military- and aerospace-equipment manufacturers have never been more dependent on the miracle of modern microelectronics. And the products and systems they buy bear watching for their commercialization potential.
The DOD and its related agencies continue to invest in microelectronics. The Electronic Industries Association (EIA), for example, believes U.S. military electronics spending will grow over the next 10 years from $51.5 billion in 1997 to nearly $60 billion in 2007-despite an overall decrease in Pentagon spending, which is expected to shrink from $254 billion in 1997 to $243 billion over the next decade. Moreover, much of the spending on electronics will be in specialized hardware, software and expertise. The procurement of digital and mixed analog-digital technology will go not only into creating new systems but into the revamping of old ones as well.
Much of semiconductor development-indeed the integrated circuit itself, a development forever associated with America's Apollo space program-was spurred by military and aerospace manufacturers' needs for smaller-sized electronic modules, lower power consumption and (inevitably) higher performance. Not only ICs but also IC design techniques were driven by military requirements. VHDL, for example, the DOD-driven VHSIC hardware-description language, was initially intended as a common, "machine-readable" language for specifying the functionality of digital systems sold to the military.
Other examples include spread-spectrum RF technology and satellite-based global positioning systems (GPS). Spread-spectrum, in which a transmitter-receiver pair actually hops from frequency-to-frequency over a wide spectrum, was developed to prevent battlefield communications systems ("walkie-talkies") from being jammed or intercepted by an enemy. Now, the technology is used in IEEE-802.11 wireless LANs, and even forms the basis for forthcoming low-cost home networks based on the HomeRF specification.
GPS, in which a vehicle finds its position (latitude and longitude) anywhere on the surface of the earth by calculating the differences in the time its RF beacon takes to reach each of three triangulated satellites, had its roots in military and aerospace. The Marines, for example, used it to land soldiers on a precise beachhead, in the darkness of night, when no visual guideposts would be available. Now, it forms the basis for car navigation systems, often directing travelers to restaurants and other roadside entertainments-or for locating campers in uncharted woods.
The software-defined radio-a chameleon that changes not only its transmission frequencies but also its modulation scheme-is intended to reduce the amount of inventory the military needs to send into battle. If, by chance, the enemy deciphers the RF link in use, the frequency and modulation scheme can be re-programmed in the field. This not only avoids the need to exchange bulky hardware under battlefield conditions but also enables rapid adaptation to battlefield conditions. As it turns out, the software-defined radio is the foundation for a lot of thinking about next- or future-generation cellular telephones.
Thus, military and aerospace systems can serve as the bellwether for some of the more-dramatic commercial systems coming online in the next decade. IC-streamlined versions of threat-detection systems are now deployed for military use while advanced automotive radar and drive-by-wire systems will be commercialized soon.
Like the auto industry, the DOD worries that the design-cycle and product-life times for its machinery is grossly out-of-synch with the appearance and deployment of electronic systems. The life cycle for the F-14 fighter aircraft, for example, is something like 41 years-compared with a cycle time on the order of 18 months for new electronic systems. The solution, practiced by industry and promoted by the DOD with its COTS program, is modular packaging for electronics-a form of "plug-and-play"-and to upgrade frequently.
Electronic Combat is the defense area most aggressive in its use of commercial computing architectures-like those of Sky Computers and TI, described in this focus section. The DOD's Electronic Combat program looks for affordable, integrated hardware/software solutions to the problems of threat location, identification and overall situation awareness for fighters.
Some examples of electronic-combat projects-unlike the high-reliability products used to power satellites as detailed in the section by Analog Devices' colleagues Ragin Desai and Bob Scannell-assume the electronics are expendable. Decoys, for example, look like an attacking aircraft to the enemy pilots, and deceive the air defenses into tracking and firing on the decoys. The Air Force believes this will be useful for defusing infrared guidance systems. It foresees infrared self-protection countermeasures systems installed on all large military aircraft and surface ships before the end of this year.