Test and Measurement Equipment Requirements for Defence

By Deepshikha Shukla

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This article discusses software-centric approach and other requirements in T&M equipment for defence services.

The defence and aerospace (A&D) industry has developed hand in hand with the test equipment industry. The technology and electronics used in the test and measurement (T&M) industry are required to check for damage, quality, efficiency and reliability of the parts. Also, T&M equipment have assisted the growth of military and aerospace technology.
Avichal Kulshrestha, technical marketing engineer at National Instruments (NI), says that, the A&D industry finds itself in increasingly challenging times. It is under pressure to ensure timely execution and success of projects. Modern A&D electronics systems are entrusted with key goals that include protecting and equipping users with the best way possible and counter-evolving threats. These systems are also expected to work within the constraints of a challenging economy.

Kulshrestha adds that, T&M vendors globally are turning to a software-centric ecosystem with reconfigurable and modular hardware platforms with the objective to provide the A&D industry with a design-prototype-deploy-development chain. This approach to build test systems will ensure system stability, expandability and deployment over a long period of time.

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Another key trend being observed is the need for higher bandwidth in modern test instruments for testing modern radars and electronic warfare (EW) systems. With growing bandwidth comes the requirement for high processing power, both of which are needed for performing critical inline computations during testing.

A&D technology is streamlined for speed, and it meets strict quality and accuracy demands for projects that stand the test of time. Evolving radio frequency (RF) requirements, obsolescence management and design for testing are some of the challenges that every test department in the defence industry aspires to curb.

NI’s integrated toolchain and software-centric platform provides an innovative approach to quickly prototype a new design, improves component and systems testing and ensures system uptime and readiness. Awareness about the latest technologies can help deliver solutions with greater performance and reduced costs.

NI’s customisable platform allows users to use the latest commercial technology and combine it with their own domain knowledge to build smarter test systems that meet present requirements and scale for the future.

The company recently released the second generation of its very popular vector signal transceiver device, VST 2.0. It is the first hardware in the industry with 1GHz instantaneous bandwidth. VST 2.0 also includes the latest Xilinx Virtex 7 series field programmable gate array (FPGA) for performing inline processing while testing modern EW systems with better resolution and greater frequency agility.

 National Instruments’ vector signal transceiver device, VST 2.0
Fig. 1: National Instruments’ vector signal transceiver device, VST 2.0 (Credit: www.ni.com)

A&D industry is focused on delivering mission-critical systems on time with the latest technologies incorporated. This means that the relevant players must come up with innovative products in reduced time, apart from producing reliable, fail-safe products. This contradiction of providing more functionality and reliability in a limited time frame is a big challenge for this industry.

T&M equipment are expected to have low latency and tight control loops. Defence T&M equipment should be rugged and meet MIL standards. Instruments should be portable and battery-operated, so that these can be taken into field if required. Computation techniques such as filtering, fast fourier transforms (FFTs), digital down-conversion and channelisation are implemented in the hardware to reduce the amount of data processed by the CPU. T&M equipment for defence should be usable in highly humid conditions, extreme temperatures, be resistant to shock vibrations and other special conditions.

Instrumentation targeted at these industry sectors needs to be highly accurate and deliver consistent results. Test products that are optimised for such applications also have to be flexible in many cases. Mohit Chauhan, pre-sales manager at MAKSAT Technologies, says that, at his company they utilise RF spectrum analysers for most testing requirements, such as immersion tests, local area network (LAN) tests, link performance tests and shock tests, among others.

Modular instruments enable to prototype electronics system by connecting input/output with software. For example, advanced radar systems can be prototyped by RF signal analysers and digitisers. User-programmable FPGA connectivity allows quicker advanced algorithm deployment in prototypes and faster proof-of-concept validation. With software-designed instrumentation, data can be preprocessed in the hardware, reducing CPU load significantly.

Spectrum analysers, vector network analysers, signal generators, transponder test sets, radio altimeters, logic analysers, oscilloscopes and power meters are some of the most demanding test instruments for D&A industry. All Rohde & Schwarz signal and spectrum analysers, from basic handheld models to benchtop instruments, support a wide range of frequencies from 10Hz to 85GHz. Keysight has Advanced X series, which supports frequency range from 2Hz to 110GHz.

Keysight Technologies integrates spectrum analyser capability into its PNA vector network analysers
Fig. 2: Keysight Technologies integrates spectrum analyser capability into its PNA vector network analysers (Credit: www.rfglobalnet.com)

Shriram Shinde, RF application engineer at CorEL Technologies, says, T&M equipment play a major role in ensuring reliability of RF communication in defence. High accuracy is the most important feature of T&M equipment for defence applications. There are various T&Ms performed under test and evaluation processes. Spectrum analysers are the most used T&M equipment for testing frequency domain characteristics.

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