Happy Birthday US Air Force

From all of us at Mercury Systems, happy 72nd birthday to the US Air Force. Originally established as the Signal Corps – the first aeronautical force in the US – during the Civil War, its missions focused on providing visional communications via flags and torchlight from aerial balloons. Since then, the military air service has gone through many names and commands including Air Service of the US Army, Air Corps, and Army Air Force. Finally, in 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act establishing the United States Air Force as a separate branch of the military.

It’s focus on pursuing advanced technology and superior airmen established the USAF as the swiftest tactical force ready to deploy anywhere at a moment’s notice. #AirForceBirthday

AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference took place in National Harbor, MD

During his keynote address today, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said,

“Some of our long-held advantages have started to diminish. Great power competition has once again returned to the global stage. If we are to remain the world’s pre-eminent military power, then we must change course away from the past and face the challenges of the future head on.”

Esper said his priorities include giving warfighters more of what they need to deter adversaries, fight and win, including a review of how the US is positioned around the globe. He stressed that the USAF needs to organize, train, and equip airmen to be prepared for a “full spectrum” of threats, both kinetic and non-kinetic, and in realms such as space and cyber in order to “balance the needs of today with the requirements of tomorrow.” 

Meanwhile, at Mercury’s booth, visitors had the opportunity to see firsthand how our solutions help solve the military’s toughest challenges including cyber, data security, secure processing, safety, testing, multi-domain, and SWaP. 

Our mission computing presentation demonstrated how we support multiple military branches. These highly-secure solutions are built on open architectures and standards with a focus on minimizing SWaP. The ASURRE-Stor® solid state drive, NanoSwitch® network switch, military-grade DDR Memory, and RESmini rackmount server were well received by all visitors.

The avionics podium in our booth featured the ROCK II flight safety-certifiable modular system optimized for C4ISR applications along with a FACE-compliant Ethernet routing device that provides high-speed networking for Apache helicopters. These are great examples of high-TRL products that deliver advanced commercial technologies to the battlefield. 

Our electronic warfare display was very popular, which is not surprising given all the interest in EW these days. We showcased the HD-Slim, a mobile high-density server that is used to protect against cyber threats and the RFM3101 digital transceiver that demonstrates how advanced microwave technology can be delivered in an open standard OpenVPX form factor, even for systems pushing the upper end of frequencies for EW applications. 

Finally, we demonstrated our Radar solutions pedigree with a new Radar Environment Simulator, the mmW seeker transceiver and the HSD6605 OpenVPX Xeon® server blade which represents the highest-performance embedded compute solution we have ever developed. Mercury is a technology leader when it comes to embedded Radar solutions and we wanted to demonstrate how we can bring commercial innovation, advanced security and artificial intelligence to such a compute-intensive application such as radar. 

It was a pleasure and honor to meet so many of our military personnel, to exchange information, and listen to their needs and ideas. We hope you enjoyed reading our reports from the AFA show floor, and we look forward to continuing to drive the competitive edge through innovation that matters.

News From The Floor

We are at the AFA 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference, where attendance appears to be significantly higher than last year, perhaps by as much as 20% or more. It’s impressive to see so many of our armed forces keenly interested in learning about defense technologies, and to see their willingness to provide input that may lead to even more powerful solutions.

One of the hottest topics at our booth is multi-domain operations – the ability to counter and defeat a near-peer adversary capable of contesting the US in all domains (air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace) in both competition and armed conflict. The military professionals visiting our booth are interested in learning about Mercury’s investment in the technology needed for data fusion to enable multi-domain applications at the tactical edge.

AFA Mercury Booth -  multi-domain operations
Mercury Booth – Multi-domain operations discussion

For example, our solutions help unmanned surveillance aircraft take radar, SIGINT, location and visual sensor feeds, combine them into a comprehensive picture and quickly communicate that to ground forces.

To achieve this, we integrate the latest commercial technology innovations into rugged subsystems that can perform and survive in challenging defense environments. Our solutions include AESA radar processing for fighter jets, rackmount cloud servers for ships and submarines, and mobile EW subsystems for ground vehicles. To learn more, read our white paper, Next Generation Integrated Defense Electronics Manufacturing – Deploying innovation at the speed of technology.

This morning, we hosted a breakfast for the industry’s leading trade and business media. In addition to one-on-one discussions, our guests enjoyed a lively roundtable discussion with Mercury’s Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Georges, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Didier Thibaud, and Mercury Board Member Lisa Disbrow. A key take-away was that multi-domain operations is an important focus for the Air Force and virtually every other branch of the military.  

Many vendors this year are touting open architecture systems, which is a high priority for the DoD. Mercury has always been a pioneer in open standards, leading the adoption of the OpenVPX system standard for embedded computing as an example. This leadership helped establish a robust ecosystem of technology providers which, when taken as a whole, has begun to reduce internal R&D costs and force better cost certainty within the prime contractor base and in the DoD itself. Today, there is better interoperability, cost certainty, risk mitigation, affordability, and technology innovation in part because of the rise and adoption of the OpenVPX standard.  

As our COO, Didier Thibaud explained to one visitor to our booth,

Mercury sees open standards as a path to standardizing embedded computing within defense electronics. We are now working with the industry on the Sensor Open System Architecture (SOSA) initiative, a collaborative effort with the DoD to define a modular architecture that aims to deliver significant improvements in affordability, interoperability and reduced time to market all while maintaining the performance and reliability for mission-critical applications.

Our recently announced EnterpriseSeries™ RES Aero rugged rackmount server product line captured the attention of our customers and military personnel alike. This unique solution delivers enterprise-class data center-caliber processing to compute-intensive airborne applications and is well-suited to mission computing and sensor processing applications. Its completely fanless design enables optimal performance at high altitudes, while a specialized power supply is tailored to aircraft requirements. The new RES Aero line offers a wide variety of benefits, including improved reliability, tailor-made high-speed processing, and proven performance. The RES Aero 1U server is on display this week at our booth, #126.

We’ll continue to report from the show floor. Look for our next installment tomorrow!

Expanding the Competitive Edge

The AFA 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference is in full swing and we will be bringing you the latest news every day. 

This year’s conference theme is “Expanding the Competitive Edge.”  AFA Executive Vice President and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Douglas Raaberg noted that companies who are expanding the competitive edge are looking beyond the horizon and helping the industry think innovatively, creatively, and specifically to the future.

AFa Conference Floor
AFA 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference

Richard Branson, the Virgin Group founder, billionaire businessman, and space entrepreneur kicked off the conference today with a keynote address on thinking outside the box.

Branson talked about his goal for Virgin Galactic, which is to make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamed about previously, and in doing so bringing positive change to life on Earth. Their new space port in New Mexico will be among the first to offer commercial space travel.

Branson also discussed their work with Virgin Orbit and announced that it will launch a small satellite from Guam for the Air Force in the next few months using a rocket carried by a 747 aircraft. The Guam launch would be the first Air Force launch for Virgin, via its US subsidiary VOX, under DoD’s Space Test Program. 

This test is a vital step forward in Virgin Orbit’s plan to perfect the ability to replace downed low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites in a day or less—a capability that could make satellites less desirable targets of cyberattacks. Branson said that this capability can also make networks more reliable by eliminating the need for network disruptions when LEO satellites fail.

When asked how he continues to expand the competitive edge for his companies, he said,

“My attitude in life is giving everything I have to solve a problem. I get enormous satisfaction trying to achieve something that has never been achieved before.”

At Mercury’s booth #126, our team will talk about how we are focused on solving tough computing challenges, from secure AI-enabled processing solutions to safety-certified avionics subsystems, and more. We are talking to airmen coming directly from real-world operations as well as to defense companies looking for innovative approaches. The exchange of ideas and joining of creative minds gives us the opportunity to develop more advanced solutions that meet the needs of warfighters today and into the future. Like Branson, we too are driven to give our all for our customers to help them solve their toughest challenges. 

AFA Conference - Mercury solving thoughest challenges
What are your toughest challenges?
Bring them to Booth #126

Check back with us tomorrow. There is a lot going on and we’ll be bringing you another update from the show floor.

Multi-Domain Operations: Becoming Today’s Swiss Army Knife

Defense News recently released their annual Outlook . If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a great read consisting of a few dozen essays by world leaders looking at the trends and issues, like multi-domain operations, that will most impact the global defense industry.

This year, one essay in particular jumped out at me. General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, wrote an insightful article about multi-domain operations. His analogy of lanterns from the Revolutionary War is very apt, and it helps put into perspective the challenges we face today. Perhaps this quote from his essay is most concise:

“Whoever figures out how to quickly gather information in various domains and
just as quickly direct military actions will have the decisive advantage in battle.”

When General Goldfein talks about multi-domain, he is referring to the military’s work on land, at sea, in the air, in space and in the electromagnetic and cyberspace realms. Traditionally, most defense forces have focused on one domain at a time – in silos. Hence, why we have the Army (for land), Navy (for sea) and Air Force (for air). But domains are not mutually exclusive. They need to work interactively in order to gain the most benefit. As was quickly discovered as early as WWI, air supremacy can significantly improve land operations.

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Lessons in RF Manufacturing from a Chicago Sausage Factory

People often say RF is black magic and it sometimes feels that way. I remember one evening I was called down to the production floor to help troubleshoot a technical problem found during swing shift. There was a product going through final test and it would only pass if held at a certain angle. At first I was doubtful that this was the case, but I held it in my hands, watched the performance on the network analyzer, rotated the unit, and saw the performance degrade. First we suspected the VNA cables, but a golden unit was solid regardless of its orientation. Then we performed the standard “shake while listening for something rattling test” but couldn’t hear anything—plus the repeatability seemed to suggest it wasn’t due to FOD. X-ray imaging didn’t yield any clues. Eventually, we had to send it off to de-lid, found nothing wrong, and after real-seal the performance was stable. The best theory we had was that the problem was due to flux improperly cleaned from a feedthrough.

It was this type of problem that drew me to RF engineering in college. Circuits that only worked when you placed a finger in a certain spot. The gain reduced by the microscope light. While it felt like black magic we all knew that in reality it was physics too complicated to be fully modeled. To this day, I still find these problems fun until all of a sudden a revenue commitment is missed.

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Innovative RF Engineering Teams

In this series of blog posts I will explore various topics in the growing space that is the intersection of the commercial communications industry and the RF/Microwave defense industry. Gone are the days of plentiful cost-plus, multi-year development contracts and in their place we find an emerging competitive landscape. Nimble, technology-focused companies are taking the tools ubiquitous in the fast-paced world of commercial businesses and applying them to a new set of challenges found in the defense and aerospace industries. Just as commercial communication standards fueled rapid growth by allowing the re-use of modular components, disruptive companies are now working to apply these same methods to the RF defense industry. However, to be successful is no easy task. With a much smaller available market, these innovative companies need a thorough understanding of current and future market trends in order to define their technology road-map. We are now in a critical time for the defense industry with massive growth opportunities for innovative companies and a slow decline for those who fail to adapt.

It’s become a common story throughout the RF defense industry. The same conversations are heard in the lunch room, whispered in cubicles and discussed over dinner after a conference. The subject matter experts are retiring. Other engineers are leaving to build the next smartphone app. It’s becoming harder and harder to recruit the next generation of engineers with competition from companies like Google and Facebook. The once cutting-edge RF/microwave design houses are limping along by making minor updates to legacy programs, and in the process, keeping their limited engineering resources busy with paperwork.

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