ATCA Newsletter

Meeting Rugged Military/Defense Requirements with AdvancedTCA Systems

By Michael Cobb, Sun Microsystems

The US military has increased its push to lower costs, increase maintainability, simplify development, and cut project schedules by using more open-standards COTS modular solutions. They want to eliminate the “stovepipe” systems they have bought in the past which are generally not interoperable, cannot communicate with each other, and are difficult to maintain or upgrade. AdvancedTCA is an obvious candidate for new systems since it has all the desired characteristics and was built for applications with high-availability and ruggedness needs similar to those of military communications. For example, the US DoD’s Open Systems Joint Task Force has developed the Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA). MOSA defines an “open system” as “a system that employs modular design, uses widely supported and consensus based standards for its key interfaces, and has been subjected to successful validation and verification tests to ensure the openness of its key interfaces.” AdvancedTCA obviously passes muster!

One major obstacle is the MIL-STD ruggedization tests. These are required for many applications and desirable for many others. AdvancedTCA standards can satisfy many of the environmental requirements in applications such as ships, aircraft, mobile vehicles, or field equipment. However, it requires special hardening via custom-designed racks to pass the more difficult tests.

For example, consider MIL-S-901D for shock, covering equipment mounted on ships. Qualification testing is performed on a barge with TNT being detonated at different distances and depths to impart shock. Not exactly what you would commonly need for telecom applications! Until recently, no COTS computing equipment (Common Computing Environment or CCE) had passed. To achieve certification requires several ingredients, including:

Even with everything in order, developing a satisfactory solution takes time. Sun Federal recently developed one in association with Nova Power Solutions and 901D, a developer of specialty racks. The project took a year, working in close association with government and industry engineers.

Other similar standards include MIL-STD-810G: Environmental Engineering Considerations; MIL-STD-740-1, Airborne Sound Measurements; and MIL-STD-167-1A, Mechanical Vibration of Shipboard Equipment. In each case, AdvancedTCA can pass with the aid of special racks and power supplies. One may compare the situation to recruits who must pass through boot camp before getting actual field assignments.

The military market has great potential for AdvancedTCA, since it is the only platform that offers the desired combination of open standards, COTS, modularity, high performance, maintainability, interoperability, and high bandwidth. However, meeting military requirements is no simple process and requires significant effort on the part of system vendors, as well as partnerships with specialists with long experience in the business. The military is looking for new recruits, but you have to pass their tests and it takes time and dedication to move into deployment.

Michael Cobb is the Chief Architect at Sun Federal. You can reach him at