ICS Is the heart of the future

The core of the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the networked hub of Land Warrior, and the rest of the digitally enhanced warfighter systems are elements of computer systems built largely with commercial components.

Integrated Computer Systems provide the core control element for 13 of the 18 manned and unmanned units of FCS. However, because those mobile units range from large troop carriers to smaller, overpacked command vehicles to individual commanders, ICS devices vary from vehicle to vehicle.

A joint development team from General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems and Rockwell Collins built ICS as a series of modular units. Those units use commercial hardware to control sensors, ground vehicles and unmanned aircraft; manage data-processing tasks such as 3-D renderings of the battlespace; and network with other FCS units.

ICS forms the core of the System of Systems Common Operating Environment that ties the FCS components together. Elements include unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, ground and aerial sensors, communication tools, and a range of software that encompasses battle command, training, logistics, sensor management, vehicle management and systems administration applications.

Because of the range of tasks involved, ICS’ computer architecture had to be upgradeable at the pace of other commercial hardware. It also had to be flexible and powerful enough to adapt to changing technology with the addition of new modules or computing resources, said Tom O’Connor, program manager in General Dynamics’ Common Hardware Systems of the C4 Systems business area.

Typically, the components must be isolated from vibration, dust and heat using rigorous but not revolutionary mechanisms, such as vibration-dampening polymer fittings, air filters and sealed cases. 

Beyond survivability and reliability, the primary design goal is to pack as much processing power and storage capacity into as small a space as possible.

To cool the machines without breaching dust barriers and filters, the company built ventilation tunnels in the heat-generating components and added heat piping or sinks around them to transfer heat.

The result is a unit that can live in relative comfort in Strykers, M1 Abrams tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, though they still generate enough heat that the servers are isolated as far as possible from the crew, who see application interfaces on their screens but don’t touch the servers.  

Previous versions of the vehicles’ power and cooling systems didn’t provide enough of either for systems with the requirements of the ICS units, so increasing the capacity of the power and cooling systems became a design goal of the vehicles and the computers.

Each ICS unit is packaged with processors, a LynuxWorks embedded operating system, data storage and information assurance elements in the same server package. Attached Ethernet and radio frequency networking interfaces connect to other units in the vehicle or to other vehicles, and custom-designed interfaces display input from FCS sensors.

Data is stored on a mix of flash memory chips and disks. Information is secured using the Separation Kernel Protection Profile created by the National Security Agency, the security tools built into LynuxWorks, and additional backup and data-reliability applications from Wind River Systems, Green Hills software and Objective Interface systems.

The servers are based on a CompactPCI layout and based on x86 processors connected via 10-port Gigabit Ethernet switches.

Not all ICS components are shared, but processors, data storage, security hardware, networking interfaces, operating systems and many of the smallest components are.

Units vary in size and configuration according to the vehicle in which they reside, but there are a limited number of configurations. Their features include a network-enabled encryption unit called Inline Media Encryptor, graphics processing cards, and three different versions and functional levels of networking processors.

Although designed using commercial products that continually grow smaller, ICS processors highlight the conflict between the need for processing power and the need to lighten the load of batteries and networking gear soldiers must carry, said Lt. Col. Brian Cummings, product manager of the Ground Soldier System.

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