The Challenges In Testing Defence Equipment

By Deepshikha Shukla

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Test and measurement (T&M) equipment suppliers are required to deliver high-performance measurement solutions to cope with the increase in complexity in military electronic systems. Greater complexity in military electronic systems requires more capable T&M equipment to test those systems.

The electronics and technology used in military and defence need to be hundred per cent accurate. This increases the cost of testing. But in absence of testing, cost of failure is even higher. So, testing needs a heavy investment of time and cost.

Instruments used in open must ensure that the systems will operate as required even in the harshest of conditions. So the defence system manufacturing industry needs to build highly efficient equipment that does not malfunction or get damaged in any condition. This is where sturdy electronic test equipment are required the most.

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Latest technological developments in the defence sector have been possible due to substantial government investments in research and development (R&D) programmes. The government has opened testing facilities and military ranges for companies developing systems for defence applications. The government’s R&D policy has made a huge and positive impact on India’s defence hardware manufacturing sector.

Weapon testing includes testing of tensile strength of materials, reliability of equipment and other performance parameters. Use of government-owned testing facilities will result in lower cost in addition to faster development and production of defence equipment in India. This will reduce the dependency on foreign suppliers for testing and certification, saving both time and money. Some of the laboratories funded by the government are Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Role of T&M in defence

Military devices are tested to work in extremely high temperatures, highly humid conditions, heavy rains and other special conditions. Test equipment and measurement solutions have assisted the rapid technological growth of the military. The T&M segment has experienced a huge demand to set up a secure defence communication network. Such equipment is mandated to meet MIL standards. These must be portable and battery-operated so that these can be taken to the field.

T&M vendors for defence applications need to fulfil application, performance, quality and support. Leading companies have been focused on supporting the total life cycle management of test equipment to improve their longevity. Evolving test needs have increased the importance of parameters other than accuracy. These parameters are scalability, flexibility, upgradability, interoperability and total cost of ownership, and require smarter test systems built on modular platforms that can scale to meet current and future needs.

An Arjun MBT being test driven on the bump track at Central Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) at Avad
An Arjun MBT being test driven on the bump track at Central Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) at Avadi, Chennai (Credit: commons.wikimedia.org)

The most important requirements for T&M in the defence industry are adaptability to evolving technologies, ability to address greater bandwidths and providing software-defined instrumentation. With growing complexity of end-user systems and testing needs, upgradable and flexible platforms are the focus of leading companies for enhancing the longevity of test equipment and reducing the cost of testing.

Devices in the market

The most important requirements in terms of test equipment are full capture of signals of greater bandwidth, wideband capabilities, architecture alignment with multifunction antenna systems, accurate information and greater ease of use. Applications such as electronic warfare, radar prototyping, spectrum monitoring and signal intelligence use modular test equipment, as these support radio frequency (RF) requirements at a low cost.

Some areas that require specialised T&M for military applications are radar test systems, radar cross section (RCS) measurement systems, GPS simulators, signal conditioning systems, control and simulation systems, frequency response analysers, arbitrary waveform generators, spectrum analysers, signal analysers, audio analysers, RF signal analysers, RF power meters, oscilloscopes, logic analysers, multimeters, signal generators, network analysers, power meters, electronic counters, frequency counters, universal counters, and testing for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), environmental, audio/video, military communication, radio, satellite and signals intelligence.

Moving large amounts of data quickly is particularly important for military applications. Antenna systems, Bluetooth connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) benefit from software-enabled instruments.

High-frequency T&M requirements

Continuous adoption of ultraband radars and giga-hertz bandwidth has become a key requirement for spectrum and signal analysers. The trend towards millimetre-wave frequencies and higher modulation bandwidths impacts the research for special-purpose radars and the high-frequency T&M market.

There is also a shift towards radar and other electronic warfare technologies that have more signal processing capabilities. These technologies require T&M equipment capable of processing large RF bandwidths. Demand for products that can address high bandwidth and signal processing requirements for high-bandwidth data is expected to grow.

Technology trends impacting the electronic test equipment market in defence
Technology trends impacting the electronic test equipment market in defence (Credit: Frost & Sullivan)

Sandeep Kapoor, regional marketing head – EMEA and India, at Keysight Technologies, says, “Growing demand for multi-mission capable military and defence machinery and system electronics requires us to deploy complex systems that have a broader bandwidth, wide frequency range and real-time processing capacity. Radar systems, communications on-the-move and satellite innovations are driving the need for higher frequencies and more bandwidth to support uninterrupted connections. This requires precise measurement, analysis and interpretation of results in new spectrum environments.

“Many technologies in radar, electronic warfare and signal intelligence are moving to multiple distributed apertures to deliver higher performance and support for emerging beamforming technologies. This requires synchronisation of multiple RF/microwave channels for communication and sensing. As commercial technologies are adapted for cyber-attacks, every decibel of sensitivity counts to improve the stand-off range and countermeasures. There is a need to improve sensitivity to be able to better monitor airwaves, and intercept and deflect increasingly-difficult-to-find signals.”

With the arrival of 5G, pushing the requirements of signal and spectrum analysers, new multichannel applications will have a direct impact on bandwidth usage and frequency ranges. Drastic shifts in signal generators, signal and spectrum analysers, network analysers and power meters of the electronics T&M market in R&D as well as manufacturing applications are expected to occur by 2020.

Software-defined tools

Software-defined radios (SDRs) and software-defined instrumentation (SDI) are ramping up software-defined testing to add flexibility in markets where products and protocols are evolving or still being defined, and where system architectures are being tweaked or replaced to deal with an explosion of data. In effect, the entire compute infrastructure across multiple markets is shifting, and the number of signals that need to be optimised and processed is rising significantly.

Software-based instrumentation builds similar levels of flexibility as conventional T&M by not relying on benchtop, handheld and standalone instruments. Software-defined testing also provides the ability to do more tests using a single testing device.

SDI and SDR are used in a wide range of applications, from general-purpose T&M applications to advanced wireless research. In more traditional T&M applications, technical benefits of a software-centric approach and the fast pace of change in the wireless industry are driving widespread adoption. More specifically, the fast evolution of new wireless technologies like 802.11ax and 5G are driving engineers to use instrumentation that is more flexible, especially because the cost of updating the hardware’s software is significantly less than that of purchasing new hardware.

SDI and software-defined testing are now a requirement across an increasing number of markets. That trend will only grow across new markets as the quantity of data increases and the need for moving that data increases with it.

Challenges and improvement areas

T&M equipment suppliers are required to deliver high-performance measurement solutions to cope with the increase in complexity in military electronic systems. Greater complexity in military electronic systems requires more capable T&M equipment to test those systems. Increased use of robotics, automated systems, and smaller and lightweight radios requires updated multiple-frequency bands, modulation formats and digital electronic systems.

Emerging test challenges are stimulating over-the-air sensors that eliminate physical contact to the device under test. Real-time streaming is another military concept that needs to be catered to. Increasing use of military unmanned aerial vehicles and drones is the main driver behind the expected growth in demand for electronic test equipment aimed at military systems.

Future scope

Increasing device complexity and time-to-market pressure will eventually lead to the growth of SDI systems. SDR measurements are new developments in the field of communication technologies. SDR designs require greater integration of digital signal processors.

Network-centric warfare systems are expected to be integrated, thereby connecting more platforms across the network to support high-volume data and cleared volume transmission. Need for high-throughput connectivity is expected to create a demand for upgrading systems that are compatible with increased data rate needs.

An increase in R&D investments as well as government spending in upgrading the systems and their capabilities will create significant revenue opportunities for T&M vendors.

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