Technology: insert or preserve?

10 April 2019

Safeguarding the future of a defense or aerospace program in terms of its long term viability is typically front and center of the program manager’s early thinking. How can the length of its deployment be maximized? How will it be designed to respond to changing demands? How can the program’s goals be achieved cost-effectively?

An often-quoted (if extreme) example of the longevity of a military program is the B-52 Stratofortress. Its maiden flight took place in April 1952 and, almost 70 years later, it is still in service. It, like many other programs, has benefited from the well-developed strategies that are available to help program managers extend the useful life of a platform at minimal cost. Broadly, they can be summarized as ‘technology insertion’ and ‘technology preservation’.  

Technology insertion

A technology insertion strategy is a long term plan to increase a platform’s capability by offering higher performance with minimum disruption. Technology insertion is typically achieved at one of four levels: device, board, LRU and application.

At the device level, a military customer has very different requirements to those of a consumer. Where the latter is concerned only about obtaining even greater performance and functionality – even if it means discarding the original platform – military customers prefer performance-upgraded devices that have the same physical characteristics and power consumption as previous generations. This is a requirement to which, for example, Intel and NXP have responded.

This in turn more readily enables board level technology insertion. Manufacturers like Abaco can leverage the new technology to create upgraded versions of an SBC, for example, that deliver higher performance but that are form, fit and function compatible with their predecessors. An example is the PPC11A 6U VME SBC, which is the 11th generation of a family that has consistently provided a straightforward technology insertion path for customers.  Similarly simple upgradability is a feature across Abaco’s product ranges, greatly facilitating technology insertion at the LRU level.

Given the increased performance available from the hardware platform, opportunities are created to accelerate existing applications and to add functionality to them.

Technology preservation

For some programs with fixed performance requirements and predictable production life, technology preservation can be the most cost-effective method of long term support.

Technology preservation is all about maintaining the same design for the whole program life by guarding against obsolescence –the biggest threat to the manufacturability of COTS electronics over an extended time period, given the dependence of COTS on commercially-available silicon with its historically much shorter lifecycles.

The first requirement here is for the program manager to ensure that a key element of the program is the constant monitoring of the availability of critical parts. There are third party services available to facilitate this, and these services can be combined with in-house experience and expertise – as is the case with Abaco.

Once a potential component EOL is identified, there are various courses of action open. One is a last time buy, with the required quantity of components being stored in an appropriate facility until needed. A second approach is a redesign that leverages an alternative, but form/fit/function compatible, device. Yet another alternative may be to recreate the component in an FPGA or ASIC.

Insertion – or preservation?

No two aerospace/defense programs are the same – so there is, of course, no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer.

Technology insertion or technology preservation is, in fact, not an either/or choice. The optimum solution will invariably be one that combines the two – even if the degree of emphasis on each is different. What is a choice, however, is whether the chosen vendor has a history of designing-in technology insertion from the outset, a history that can provide confidence for the future – and whether that same vendor has the expertise, experience and infrastructure to provide the technology preservation capabilities that are both necessary and complementary.

To discover more detail about the available choices, download the “Technology: insert or preserve?” white paper here.


Richard Kirk

Richard graduated from the University of Manchester in 1984 with a BSc degree in Physics, and followed that in 1998 with an MBA from the Open Business School. In the interim, he’d joined Plessey Optoelectronics, part of one of the UK’s most venerable technology companies. He joined Radstone, located in Towcester, UK—subsequently acquired by GE—in 1999, and now has worldwide responsibility within Abaco's business as Director, Core Computing.