Gigabit Ethernet fit for a tank

Ethernet continues to go places its inventors probably never imagined. This week GE Fanuc Intelligent Platforms got a US$645,000 contract to supply a custom version of its Gigabit Ethernet switch to rumble around inside the U.S. Army’s M1 Abrams tank.

Specifically, GE Fanuc said it would supply a custom version of its IPv6 capable managed Layer 2/3 Gigabit Ethernet switch. The company said the hardware features non-blocking shared memory, a 44 Gbps core and delivers full-wire speed performance with minimal latency to all ports simultaneously and is available in both air- and conduction-cooled formats. GE Fanuc will also provide its dual 10 GB Optical port XMCXGO XMC card for the switch.  

The Ethernet upgrade is part of a long-term Army plan to bolster the tank’s electronics systems to greatly improve digital command and control capabilities. The upgrades include faster networked communications, high-density computer memory and increased microprocessing speed, as well as the ability to upgrade the overall system more easily. More than 8,800 M1 Abrams main battle tanks have been produced for the U.S. Army and other armies around the world since 1978.

The deal is also only a small part of millions of dollars in related technology contracts GE Fanuc has with the U.S. Army.

The Army isn’t the only branch of the U.S. Armed Services to take advantage of Ethernet’s flexibility. The U.S. Navy recently signed Boeing to a five-year, $42.9 million to upgrade and support the Gigabit Ethernet networks it is building on its guided missile destroyers.

The Navy’s Gigabit Ethernet Data Multiplex System (GEDMS) upgrades the current 100Mbps fiber-based backbone network to a 1 Gbps redundant Ethernet mesh, bringing enhanced multimedia capability to the ships, the Navy said. The GEDMS is the heart and soul of the guided missile ships and basically handles ship-wide data transfers and supports navigation, combat, alarm and indicating, and damage control systems. It also is the underlying communications mechanism for the Aegis missile system which uses a system of radars to track and destroy targets.

And the Ethernet odyssey went into space earlier this year when NASA signed an agreement with a German Ethernet vendor to build highly fault-tolerant networks for space-based applications. TTTech builds a set of time-triggered services called TTEthernet that is implemented on top of standard IEEE 802.3 Ethernet. Its technology is designed to enable design of synchronous, highly dependable embedded computing and networking, capable of tolerating multiple faults, the company said.

In addition, NASA and TTTech will collaborate on space network standards that will lead to an open space Ethernet standard suitable for deployment in upcoming space networks in NASA programs and space systems.