I used to work for a company that required us to remove any proprietary data from our laptop hard drive prior to traveling to some countries overseas. I didn’t know if it was because they could secretly access my hard drive as soon as I passed through immigration, or maybe a government-run internet meant any foreign user access would be monitored, recorded, and analyzed! I didn’t understand the multitude of threats to data security, which also includes backdoors designed into untrusted hardware that can lie dormant until triggered by an outside force. At the time, I did not have access to classified or top secret data, as I was working for a commercial company, but imagine if I did have high value data. What if a backdoor was triggered once I logged onto an unsecure foreign network? What if that backdoor initiated a complete download of my hard drive without my knowledge? All because my employer trusted a commercial SSD without strict supply chain management of foreign-made components.
During a Saturday afternoon of closet organizing, I found my first laptop from 2002—a Dell Inspiron 8200. I remember paying a premium—over $2,000 I think—for the Pentium 4 processor and the 256MB of RAM. It required 4.5A at 20V (90W) and weighed 8 pounds 3 ounces, which is just slightly less than the current weight of my two-week-old daughter. While organizing my closet, I was also listening to a podcast on my $250 phone that easily fits into my pocket and is far more powerful than the old laptop.
Both consumers and defense primes are demanding increased performance, in smaller packages, at lower prices. We have come to expect this level of improvement in each new smartphone generation. Addressing new emerging threats in the defense space requires a similar advancement. In this third post of my series on the intersection of the RF commercial and defense industries, we will examine the need for products that are smaller, more capable, and less expensive. Packing more circuitry into smaller areas is no easy task and to be successful, a company must embrace innovation and modular design—the subjects of my first and second posts in this series. This applies to designing a smart phone or a radar system.