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Application-specific interconnects provide new defence solutions

Bob Stanton, Director of Technology, Omnetics Connector Corp.

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Today’s mission critical Defence electronics are rapidly changing to be specifically designed and adapted to new applications with an emphasis on portable. These ruggedized systems need to be highly reliable, are smaller, lighter-weight and must retain signal integrity in extreme environmental conditions. Signal speeds are higher and often carry complex modulation based signals for position reporting, remote direction, communication and to collect and transmit surveillance images. Instruments, cable and connectors are rapidly employing both Micro and Nano connectors sized to stay ahead in the race for newer combative defense electronics. Designers are challenged to meet all of the evolving product and performance demands of more sensors and more data in a short time frame. Cable and connectors available include three general component categories; COTs, MOTs, and Custom.

COTs, “commercial off the shelf” are readily available and used in a wide range of commercial applications as well as some military designs. COTs connector systems serve the standard defence industry well and will continue to be a major contribution. COTs units are also used early in design to test prototype elements electronically but at a cost of, perhaps, not fitting into the physical constraints of the system design.

MOTs, “modified off the shelf” components, designs save time and money by selecting current military quality products and making minimal changes of form and fit. Often times, solid models of new components are rapidly adjusted physically to fit the new applications while retaining ruggedized performance and established specifications. Designers can review the solid models and fit them into their instrument data package to insure fit, before building the actual units.

Custom components have an advantage of being totally designed from scratch, to fit exactly in the form and fit of a function needed. In some cases the cycle time goes up to 10-14 weeks to complete the physical form and to build molds and housings. This unfortunately holds up first-builds that in-turn slows down the composite system evolution, all with an increased cost.

Micro and Nano connector and cable systems perfectly fit the power and routing systems for soldier worn electronics from helmet to weapon. Miniature circular connectors such as the Nano-360 series are used regularly to route multiple signals and mixed power from belt-packs throughout the warriors’ uniform. MOTs connector adjustments are now being done, in concert with the defence design teams to include options such as break-away, cyber shielding or black-ops detection prevention.

Europe’s modern defence program “THIMS”, which is a Technology of High-speed Mixed Signals and aimed at more data and communication per second. By combining established portions of power interconnects with newer high-speed signal systems within one cable, the designer saves size and time to market.

The U.S. is using the “OTA”, Other Transaction Authority system, to fast track the use of standard electronics as reference designs from which one can design new products rapidly for deployment in the field. The results include application-specific cable and connectors designed to fit into today’s high speed, high data-driven, cyber-sensitive, signal processing world for our defence missions. By using proven elements in key portions of the equipment, we can miniaturize and ruggedize a wide range of modern interconnections for these newer applications.

For example, UAVs service load have been expanded beyond position management to include multispectral Lidar analysis, target lock and tracking, as well as munition launches. Swarmed UAVs must include high-speed drone to drone tracking. Highly compressed and highly competent electronic modules are squeezed into these miniaturized flying and fighting machines. They must receive and transmit data as well as route this data to many of the other modules within the drone. High-speed, miniaturized connectors and cable networks are routed from section to section. Lighter weight, mobilized unmanned ground systems are now carried to critical battlefields for rapid deployment. Last year’s older designs were too large and too heavy to serve the need.

Remote communication, data transfer and image exchange systems often require high-speed digital signal processing and RF transmission. Designers can work with in-house interconnect specialists at Omnetics and other suppliers on-line to format their own MOTs RF system. Connectors can be specified for housing established coax pin-to-sockets in one portion of the connector, side by side with the necessary standard signal interconnects. This provides mixed signal processing with a defence quality interconnection system, like those mentioned in Europe’s’ THIMs program. Using the MOTS method, sample solid models would be shared electronically and then, with designer approval, constructed using much of the existing in-house materials readily available from the prototype facility.

Cable selection would follow a similar process and can include specified back-shells that can yield high EMI protection simultaneously with miniaturization and high flex wiring for tight-format electronic modules. Electronic performance is becoming more critical inside the cable as speeds and signal types vary. Top signal quality requires good impedance matching with low skew cable. For example, high-speed differential signals are available in both twisted pair and or parallel coax pairs. Each format has varying strengths to consider and match to the system it is intended. Cable shielding can also vary from slip-on braiding rated at about 65 db of isolation to double shielding and machine braiding that can range up to 95 db isolation from outside interference.

Cable and connectors used in harsh-environment and rugged applications are also specially fitted with weather and water proofing systems as needed. Extreme temperature exposure is now possible with new high-temp materials utilized inside the connector and cable fabrication. A big advantage of using MOTs interconnects is that they use designs that pass high signal integrity and offer insurance against shock and vibrations. The key to getting a new high reliability defense interconnect design is solved simply by working with highly experienced design and manufacturers; those that offer extended designs based upon existing products, proven in miniaturization and defence reliability. The benefits of developing MOTs connectors is the ability to serve electronic systems that incorporate more sensors, drive more equipment and process more data in smaller systems that must meet the rugged demands of the defence industry.

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