Today, fourth generation aircraft, from the A-10 to the F-18, are equipped with smart (MIL-STD-1553 and MIL-STD-1760) weapons technology and enhanced legacy weapons. Yet, maintainers are still required to use the same or similar armament circuits preload test sets (ACPTS) combined with big-box test equipment fielded to verify that these sophisticated armament and munitions systems are full mission-capable (FMC). This test approach falls short in delivering the capabilities needed to support today's smart weapons because existing test equipment can't fully or accurately test the armament and aircraft interfaces. The testing shortfall creates an armament test gap.
AUTOTESTCON 2013 kicked off its third conference day with a panel discussing, "Automatic Testing for the Next Decade -- Keeping Pace with the New Military," where six aerospace experts talked about where test efforts should be focused in light of tight budgets and changing needs for technology amidst this armament test gap. The timely topic was discussed with a breadth of cross-industry panelists -- from the large defense primes, to the automated test-equipment developers, and a full system solutions provider.
Michael Ellis -- Northrop Grumman Corporation
David J. Salisbury -- director, CINS business development, Northrop Grumman Corporation
Steve Sargeant -- Major General, USAF (Ret.); chief executive officer, Marvin Test Solutions; and vice president, strategic development, The Marvin Group
Chris Clendenin -- director, support equipment systems and services, Boeing Defense, Space, and Security
Anthony J. Minei, deputy director, enterprise test solutions, Lockheed Martin Training and Logistics
Eric Starkloff -- senior vice president, product marketing, National Instruments
It's easy just to talk about reducing ATE (automatic test equipment) lifecycle cost and total cost, but with reductions in the DoD workforce drastically reducing the number of maintainers, all of the experts on this panel agreed that it's becoming an imperative reality. Test equipment must evolve to common, streamlined platforms that can be operated by fewer maintainers at a lower cost. David Salisbury from Northrop Grumman summarized the challenge well: "Sustainment costs have reached unsustainable levels," he said.
Salisbury expanded with data from the Navy, which, before standardizing on the CASS (Consolidated Automatic Support System) system, yearly endured:
What ever happened to the concept of synthetic instruments? There was a big push by the military for that. The idea being you use generic instruments such as digitizers and signal sources, then developed the tests and measurements entirely in software.
With so many obsolete and rare to find components used in avionics and military products, even the test system infrastructure is also not updated and standardised to the currently available state of the art technologies.
Steve Sargeant is the CEO of Marvin Test Solutions. I recently interviewed him on his take on the current mil/aero test market. Great to get his perspective on this AUTOTESTCON panel. Seems like things are moving in the 'right' direction, albeit slowly.