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MORE POWER TO YOUR ELBOW: As systems that require power and given to soldiers in the field, and as battery technology improves and reduces in size, a wider range of options is emerging.

Battery technology is improving rapidly and is focused on a range of rechargeable lithium ion chemistries as manufacturers boost energy densities while taming the risks associated with any technology that packs large amounts of energy into a small volume. This will benefit soldiers whose reliance on electronic devices to survive and complete their missions is growing constantly, and are burdened with an increasingly unmanageable number, variety and weight of batteries.

Mitigating technologies are centred on a single battery with power distribution and management systems ranging from simple power only hub and cable set ups to integrated power and data solutions with built-in intelligence. The latter promise to prioritise loads without adding to the soldier's already considerable cognitive burden at critical moments, more of which later.

POWER ONLY SIMPLICITY

Typical of the power-only type is EFB's Soldier Worn Integrated Power Equipment System (SWIPES), a United States (US) Army programme of record with several thousand in service. Weighing under 2lb (0.9kg), SWIPES consists of a hub, cables and a cable management system inside an armour rig or a rucksack. It distributes power from commonly used military batteries to trickle charge most individually worn equipment. This battery-agnostic system, says the company, allows the most efficient use of power while eliminating the need to carry spare batteries for individual devices. (SWIPES II builds on this by adding data transmission capability.)

Comparable products are available from Protonex in the form of its VPM-402 Vest Power Manager and from Tectonica with its Bantam system.

Black Diamond's field-proven family of hubs, which includes the Bare 1-port, Assaulter 2-port and Apex 4-port devices add data capability through USB 3.0 connections, relying on external cabling for connectivity and an Android or Windows tablet or smartphone End User Device (EUD) for control and display.

Power inputs include 12-35 VDC, AC and vehicle adapter cables, and it can accept power from a number of batteries including LI-80 and LI-145, Palladium Energy's conformal wearable battery, the standard BA-5590/2590 and the BB-2590 charger.

POWER AND DATA

Ramping up the capability a notch is Glenair's Star-Pan VI with Personal Area Network (PAN) ports for up to six devices for use in complex missions such as Digitally Assisted Close Air Support (DACAS) in addition to a designated host/EUD port.

Glenair's power port management system is used with a battery and auxiliary power source input, back-up power drawn from the radio and smart battery charging from an auxiliary source. It can provide power monitoring and management for each voltage rail and port, fault mode protection circuitry against surges, reverse voltages and over-currents, plus embedded level three charge control circuitry for a smart battery interface within a wide voltage range, says the company. The power port management system can draw on DC sources and provides a port through which an auxiliary source can run the whole system and charge a central battery for extended missions.

PORTABLE AUXILIARY POWER

The growing importance of auxiliary sources is pushing industry to offer a variety of kits centred on solar panels that also include other power management accessories for dismounted soldiers. The BTK-70689 Soldier Portable System from Bren-Tronics illustrates this point and includes a foldable 62W solar panel, a scavenger lead to charge batteries from others that are nearly discharged, a female cigarette lighter adapter solar adapters for radios and batteries, a battery eliminator for radios that enables them to run from a central soldier system power source, and a set of extension cables.

Arguably as important as better power sources is standardisation through efforts such as the Generic Soldier Architecture (GSA). Developed to underpin more advanced soldier system developments under the UK's Land Open Systems Architecture (LOSA) effort, GSA is being considered for adoption as a NATO standard and is attracting interest from Australia and New Zealand.

ULTRALYNX SMART POWER AND DATA

September's DSEI event in London's Docklands saw the launch of the UltraLynx system from Ultra Electronics, which is the first smart power and data system that fully implements the GSA standard, according to its creator Tony White, chief technology officer (Land) at Ultra Electronics Precision Control Systems.

UltraLynx, he told Armada International, is the production version of Combat Connect, a technology demonstrator built with a mixture of UK Government and company funding under the two part Man Worn Power and Data (MWPD) programme.

For clarity, it is worth digressing here into a little history. MWPD 1 was a proof of concept phase involving teams of companies, one of which consisted of Ultra Electronics and Cosworth of motorsport fame. These two companies parted ways for MWPD 2. Cosworth built its Smart Vest technology demonstrator, focusing on near term capabilities such as integrating current soldier equipment, while Ultra focused on implementing more futuristic capabilities such as the then new Google Glass and a gesture controller, for example.

Towards the end of this effort, Mr. White said, Cosworth's new CEO decided to take the company out of the defence market, so Ultra bought Smart Vest and combined the technology with its own to create Combat Connect, which evolved into UltraLynx.

The technology is now being tried by a number of units in the 'green' and 'black' communities and with some civilian first responders.

Essentially an invest power and data distribution system with an intelligent hub linked to external connectors through what amounts to a flexible Printed Circuit Board (PCB), UltraLynx is capable intelligent management of both power and data, with or without an end user device.

A typical soldier system will, as a minimum, will integrate a radio, a GPS receiver, a battery and some kind of EUD to act as a control and display unit, along with a hub through which to connect all the cables that carry power and data. In a "dumb hub" system, the intelligence lives in the end user device.

"What that means is that all of the information flow from all of those devices has to go through the end user device", Mr. White said. "So if I want to get my location and send it over the radio, then it has to go from the GPS, through the hub up to the end user device, back out of the end user device, back through the hub and back down to the radio", he added.

UNLOAD THE EUD?

"What our intelligent hub does is move some of that work away from the end user device and put it into the hub, making the device simply something that makes use of the information flow around the system without having to be the system manager."

There are several advantages to not having the EUD manage the system, Mr. White pointed out. Firstly, it is the part that's most likely to get broken, lost or damaged, so it becomes a single point of failure for the whole system. It also makes integration easier because the applications required to run the hub and peripherals don't have to be installed on EUDs from different manufacturers. Thirdly, taking the system management function away from the EUD also provides a degree of future proofing with regard to the emerging soldier-as-sensor concept, he argued.

"A soldier wearing a camera and a GPS and a radio could be a useful set of sensors for someone further up the command chain, while the soldier himself may not need to look at any of that stuff."

On the intelligent power management side, Ultra drew on its experience with vehicles. The smarts come in with a means of measuring the power available and sampling the power being consumed by the various loads to enable decisions about priorities to be made.

While the intelligence can simply be provided by the soldier through an application that shows the battery state and the loads and provides a set of software switches to turn themonandoffto optimise the power draw for the mission, that does little to reduce the cognitive load; that requires some autonomy, Mr. White said.

PRE-SET ASSUMPTIONS

An initial approach, he suggested, would be to offer pre-sets that based on simple assumptions such as that power does not need to be sent to the torch during daylight, or that the camera should be powered up just before it is needed rather than constantly, or that the radio only has to be turned on every half hour, for example, to make a routine call.

"All of those are the kinds of things that soldiers do now, but we can do autonomously on the system."

Moving on from such relatively simple protocols, a degree of artificial intelligence could be applied to those decisions.

"Some of it is quite sensitive", he said, "but you can imagine that if you are in contact, then the data coming over the radio would give an indication of the situation, and since the system would be receiving information the data would run through the hub it could make decisions about what might be essential."

UltraLynx' physical connectivity flexible PCB technology has been around for decades and is used in many industries, making it a low risk solution, Mr. White argued, adding that the connections between the flexible sections and the processor board are also proven, off the shelf parts.

BROADSWORD SPINE PROGRESS

BAE Systems' rival Broadsword Spine system is now in production at the company's facility in Rochester in Kent in the South of England, and the company is providing initial units to potential customers on a trial basis at the moment, according to Sarah Davies, assistant capture manager, Soldier Power.

Wearing the system on the BAE Systems stand at DSEI, she reported that the centralised power solution was attracting particular interest, emphasising that Broadsword Spine is completely power agnostic.

"We want to the customer to be able to choose whatever power is right for them. It might be what they have existing or new solutions that they want to use. We provide an open interface, so whatever source they choose they can plug into the system."

Expanding on this, she pointed out that her system was using a Bren-Tronics battery, while a colleague's was powered by one from Denchi and the company also had a battery from Revision on the stand.

Broadsword Spine's central power and data manager supports hot swapping of batteries, she emphasised, easing a routine task that today is an onerous one for soldiers.

HOT SWAPPING SUPPORT

"They can plug two batteries into the system, let one run down and system will automatically swap over to the next one, so from the user perspective you don't have to think about the need to swap over. There is a lot less manual involvement."

While the power and data manager controls the flow of both automatically, the system accepts an EUD Ms. Davies' kit had a Samsung mobile phone in a ruggedised case that can display the state of the power source and the consumers and provide the user with direct control.

For demonstration purposes, the Samsung phone EUD had BAE Systems' own Broadsword Spine app installed, which showed all the equipment plugged into Sara Davies'system.

"As an example I've got a light down here, I can switch that off manually from here to conserve power as I wish. I can switch my WebCam on and off, and if I want to I can see that data.

"That is all open source as well. That is up to the customer if they want that sort of capability they can write their own software to do so."

This system provides power and data connectivity in a very different physical manner, using Intelligent Textiles' conductive fabric in place of cables, which offers a weight saving of around 40 percent according to company estimates, along with other benefits.

"There are advantages over cables in that you can bend it and you can flex it and fold it in ways that cables are often limited, and it is also pretty comfortable to wear."

One unresolved issue in terms of standardisation is connectors, of which there are many on the market and, as with other systems Broadsword Spine can be specified with different options.

"We are offering it with three different connector variants", said Ms. Davies.

"We've got two on the production line: the AB MagNET connector and the Glenair MouseBud connector and we are also looking at the new Fischer connector."

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Launched at DSEI, Fischer Connectors' new LP360 is a rugged, low profile power and data connector sealed to IP68 standard down to 20m immersion that is designed to be fully cleanable and to connect at any angle to allow as near as possible straight external cable runs between the soldier's vest and other body worn equipment.

The half of the connector attached to the external cable has seven pins while the vest mounted portion has six concentric ring contacts and a central disc, a combination that enables contact to be made at any angle.

AB describes its rectangular MagNET as an auto aligning, self-coupling, self locking connector with an automatic magnetic latching system that enables "one-handed blind mating". Receptacles attached to clothing are flush flat and abrasion resistant so they don't need protective caps, says the company, with an eight-way contact configuration for power and high speed data.

Glenair's MouseBud is a circular connector with a self-locking, auto-coupling and trigger released mechanism, springloaded pins and gold-plated contacts for durability and ease of cleaning, stainless steel shells and bayonet coupling rings.

The push-to-lock mechanism works in four orientations. Rated for a life of 2,000 coupling cycles, it is rated to Mil-Std-8l0G for shock, vibration and immersion, says the company.

Additionally, connectors in particular have to be both durable and easily repairable in the field, argued Mr. White, because they are both essential and the parts that soldiers are most likely to scuff, break or bend, he said, something to which he has paid a great deal of attention with UltraLynx.

He regards connectors in general as the weak point for the soldier power and data management industry as a whole, because no single connector vendor meets all perceived end-user requirements, he said.

"As a consequence all of the connector vendors are talking to all of us. So there are about five or six vendor is who are making the kind of connectors that would do some of the job, but none of them do all of the job."

He is emphatic that this is a problem that has to be solved because the credibility of the generic soldier architecture approach depends on all industry players knowing what they are building because all of the interfaces are defined.

"The first thing you look at when you talk about interfaces is how do I plug it in? At the moment there isn't the connector", he said.

"As a consequence until we've got a defined connector we are always going to sit in this slightly vague space questioning the point of having a generic architecture if all the connectors are going to be different.

"I think that is something that is going to drill out over about the next 18 months or so."

MORE REQUIREMENTS SHAPING

While BAE Systems and Ultra represent the high end of the market at the moment, they are expected to face competition from Thales in the near future.

The big decisions for militaries will involve balancing immediate needs for basic power and data management capabilities against longer term needs for more advanced ones, with considerations of longevity and growth capability to the fore. Mr. White expects a couple more years of "requirements shaping" educating potential customers as to the pros and cons of various approaches before any big procurement programmes emerge.

Caption: BAE Systems Broadsword Spine is a wearable garment's insert that delivers power and data connectivity through an e-textile developed by Intelligent Textiles. It allows electronic devices to be connected to the vest without any cables.

Caption: The Broadsword Spine offers the user around eight connection ports arranged across a garment which provides 180 watts of power and communicating over USB.

Caption: Black Diamond's provides a family of hubs, which includes the Bare 1-port, Assaulter 2-port and Apex 4-port devices which add data capability through USB 3.0 connections.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Title Annotation:LAND WARFARE
Author:Donaldson, Peter
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2017
Words:2702
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