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Meeting defence industry requirements

According to Scott Flower, combining technology with services is crucial for companies looking to support today's defence industry.

Defence agency initiatives like the UK’s ‘Future Soldier’ and ‘Defence as a Platform’ illustrate how western military forces are keen to take advantage of the latest communications and computing technology in order to deal with modern threats to national security. Agility and efficiency are the watchwords, and this is reflected in the way suppliers go about responding to defence industry requirements.

Bidding for defence work is highly competitive and intrinsically complex in nature (with numerous levels of approval and specification changes having to be taken into account). Customers in the defence sector, who are typically major contractors and their chosen subcontracting partners, need to be provided with access to the latest technical advances and in-depth technical advice to help them deal with the extreme pressures being placed upon their time and resources.

Miniaturised, lightweight, high-reliability and high-performing connectors are needed to address the technological advances being made in the military arena. The prospects for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are particularly exciting. Obviously, various types have been in service for some time, but new applications are now emerging (arguably inspired by developments in the civilian drone markets). Defence agencies can now see tremendous benefits in using autonomous systems like UAVs to de-risk supply chain activities, transporting equipment to soldiers in the field.

Threats from roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), have made travelling by road extremely dangerous for supply crews, so UAVs can be invaluable in helping to keep people out of harm’s way. From a connectivity perspective, size and weight are key concerns as the airframes are both sensor and system rich - with flight-control, navigation and surveillance equipment on-board, plus power wiring that must carry high currents to multiple lift motors. As a consequence, the trend is to centralise power and signal wiring as much as possible, keeping it within a small area, with careful attention being paid to dealing with EMI/RFI (in order to minimise emissions and reduce detection, as well as protecting against potential jamming attacks).

Initiatives like ‘Defence as a Platform’ show that agencies are keen to adapt quickly to benefit from the latest communication and computing technologies. It brings the flexibility to upgrade systems and equipment through frequent smaller projects. This contrasts with traditional infrequent, large and slow-moving projects of the past, to ensure delivery of new and cutting-edge technology to the armed forces.

Defence procurement continues to transform, as agencies recognise that they must move as quickly as the technology they are sourcing. For component suppliers providing services that help customers act quickly and minimise costs are at least as important as creating products that deliver a technological advantage.

For Harwin, as a connectivity specialist, the major technical demands the company faces centre around support for high-speed data protocols and increased power/current handling, all within smaller form factors that can cope with space constrained environments. Lightweight construction can also be vital for applications like UAVs, etc. The resulting connectivity solutions also need to meet extremely high standards for ruggedness - particularly shock, vibration and corrosion resistance.

Specifying a connector can be an extremely convoluted process. It can take time for an engineer to become familiar with all the available options, and if the requirement is for only a small number of prototypes or a short production run, offloading the task of optimally configuring the connectors and building the harness can save time and engineering resource. Many of today’s contractors in the defence business are typically relatively small organisations, with only a few engineers for each project, so this service is important to help them use their in-house capabilities efficiently and hit their delivery deadlines. Customers can also avoid the expense of investing in tooling, which again is highly beneficial when production volume is low and the costs cannot be amortised over many units.

Whether through a combination of advanced product design, streamlined sample selection/delivery, in-house test capabilities or fast-turnaround custom-assembly services, companies need to be able to respond to the exacting demands being set by the defence industry.

Scott Flowers is Product Strategy Manager at Harwin

Scott Flowers

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