Autotestcon panelists cite opportunities and challenges of the new military

Schaumburg, IL. A September 18 plenary panel at Autotestcon provided an opportunity for executives to comment on the challenges and opportunities afforded by such factors as sequestration, ATE standardization efforts, and public/private partnerships.

Mike Ellis of Northrop Grumman served as moderator of the panel, titled “Automatic Testing for the Next Decade—Keeping Pace with the New Military.”

Panelists included David J. Salisbury, director for CINS business development at Northrop Grumman; Steve Sargeant, Major General, USAF (Ret.), and CEO, Marvin Test Solutions; Chris Clendenin, director of support equipment services at Boeing Defense, Space, and Security; Anthony J. Minei, deputy director Enterprise Test Solutions, at Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics; and Eric Starkloff, vice president for product marketing at National Instruments. Each of these panelists had participated in a similar session last year.

Salisbury of Northrop Grumman said sequestration and ATE standardization are converging in a perfect storm. Furloughs and overtime reduction present an opportunity to become more efficient and do more with less. Postponing maintenance, he said, adversely affects system readiness.

He noted that a standardization policy has been in place for some time, dating back to the 1970s, but has not been enforced. Over the past two decades, various levels of wartime activity have necessitated expediency over standardization, he said, and a lack of widespread lack of understanding across the DoD and industry has resulted in a proliferation of special-purpose ATE.

However, the current environment might make a difference, Salisbury said, because sustainment costs have reached unsustainable levels. His recommendation is that industry embrace standardization, and the DoD should continue funding common test platforms and enforce standardization policy consistently. “The industry and the DoD can partner to reduce overall cost of ownership,” he said.

Sargeant of Marvin Test Solutions then addressed the armament test gap. Smart weapons, he said, have been added to 1970s-era aircraft, but test systems have not changed to keep pace.  As a result, more unique test equipment was added, and a lot of workarounds have been implemented, which often require crew members to assist in performing maintenance. Using pilots to taxi aircraft around for maintenance purposes is not efficient, he said.

He noted that aircraft including the A-10 and F-22 are equipped with smart MIL STD 1553 and 1760 weapons technology, and a lack of effective test schemes leads to costly and inadequate support that requires aircraft-specific training for maintainers.

Sargeant cited as an example of innovative test set his company's SmartCan universal O-level test set for 4th-generation fighter aircraft that are typically tested with insufficient armament circuits preload test set (ACPTS) created for earlier generation aircraft.

In an aside, Ellis, the moderator, emphasized that military aircraft are indeed weapons platforms—otherwise, they are simply a very high-speed form of transportation for a very small number of people.

Clendenin of Boeing then discussed TPS reuse—a term, he said, that is often overused and not well understood. “Until you are involved in an intense TPS reuse program, you don’t appreciate how complex it can be making an ATE system, regardless of vintage, look transparent. It is extremely hard to do.”

He described a DoD optimization strategy: establish a program to standardize ATE, establish a program to transport TPSs from legacy ATE to the new standardized ATE, mandate the use of the standardized ATE for all new emerging weapon systems, and maintain a support posture to host the new systems and keep them modernized. He acknowledged there will never be complete standardization.

DoD challenges going forward, he said, will be to maintain funding to sustain existing the ATS infrastructure, develop the next generation of test technologies, stay abreast of weapons systems technology roadmaps, continue to evolve/replace antiquated ATE, and optimize TPS development efficiency and effectiveness.

Minei of Lockheed Martin then commented on public/private partnerships—calling them a “win-win for government and industry.” The DoD and Congress have encouraged the defense logistics support community to pursue partnerships with private entities to take advantage of best commercial processes and practices.

He asked, why embark on a public/private partnership? First, it’s the law: Title 10 US Code Section 2474. But in addition, he said, benefits to the DoD include assisting in providing timely response and reliable product support to the war fighter. It helps preserve the labor base and maintain expertise. He advocated looking to the future as well: “Age in our industry is high.” Partnerships, he said, decrease cost of goods and services, lower sustainment costs, and provide access to commercial expertise. “Sustainment will eat your lunch if you don’t control it,” he added.

Partnerships also benefit industry, he said, by providing access to facilities that companies normally don’t have within their organizations. In addition, they enable use of the DoD supply chain, and they reduce risk. “Depots don’t go out of business,” he said. A partnership, he added, “puts us closer to user and fosters good will with our DoD partners.”

Finally, he said, partnerships benefit the customer by assisting in providing responsive, timely, and reliable product support.

Starkloff of NI began the final presentation of the panel session with a quote from William Gibson: “The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed.” He cited the evolution of wireless LAN as an example of a commercial's technology's march to the future—and how test technology needed for silicon characterization evolved as well.

As the IEEE 802.11 standard evolved from a to b to g to n and on to ac, he said, traditional rack-and-stack instruments with GPIB interfaces in the early 2000s gave way to PXI in 2007 and to software designed instrumentation in 2012. The result has been a 200-fold increase in test performance over 12-year period.

He then addressed the Autotestcon audience's unique requirements, asking, “What is your nagging fear in ATE? The diversity of needs across this space is pretty large,” he said, positing reliability, longevity, coverage, size and weight for operational systems, measurement fidelity,  power consumption, measurement speed, traceability, training, compliance, capital cost, footprint, facility overhead, time to market, safety, security, TPS migration, and so on as possible sources of worry.

He noted that the modular instrument concept essentially originated in the military/aerospace environment and then made its way into the commercial space. Hi cited CACI's CBATS (Common Bench-top Automatic Test System) as an example of a tester that displaces the turnkey testers that preceded it at lower cost.

He then emphasized platform-based design, citing its Wikipedia definition. “We run our company based on this concept at NI,” he said, “because it offers the ability to address applications and needs that were unforeseen.”

He concluded by describing the application of platform-based design to a machine condition monitoring project at Duke Energy. The goal is to monitor all power generation assets in the US, with 10,000 machines generating 30,000 data points in real time. Big-data analytics, he said, can predict failures or be used to schedule maintenance events to avoid catastrophic failures.

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