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Electronic Test and Measurement Market for Aerospace & Defense

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by Mariano Kimbara, Industry Analyst – Frost & Sullivan Test & Measurement

Companies at the forefront of the electronics design industry focused on Aerospace & Defense (A&D) applications have been growing in a dynamically changing business environment. Leading A&D vendors are working towards higher frequencies, greater bandwidth availability, and multi-channel solutions and adding functionality to their existing systems. A&D, in particular, is a huge driver for signal analyzers, especially with opportunities in the 26.5 GHz and above frequency range for radar systems. The market is experiencing an increased adoption of higher-frequency and higher-speed measurements in aerospace radar signal applications. There is also a huge focus on the need for more repeatable measurements in these areas.

In the current market dynamics, companies need to be able to keep up with evolving technologies to enable the A&D industry to carry out more precise and realistic testing. The defense budget cuts in the industry, the shift to fixed-price funding of large defense systems, and huge investment in cyber security are having an impact on operational costs and the usage of test equipment. T&M vendors need to stay ahead of the evolving technical requirements so that the right test equipment is available when it is needed.

Market Overview

Top tier companies offering electronic test equipment are being increasingly asked to produce test equipment that can support the replacement of legacy pieces of test equipment and designing new test systems. Keysight Technologies, Rohde & Schwarz, and  Cobham continue to dominate in terms of market position in the total electronic test equipment market for A&D, with a total combined market share of 47.0%.

Even though the A&D industry is facing challenging times, the global electronic test equipment market for A&D exhibits increasing annual growth in revenue. The total electronic test equipment market (including general purpose test equipment, ATE and DAQ test equipment) for A&D reached $2,656.1 million in 2014. It grew 3.9% in 2014 compared to the previous year. Frost & Sullivan foresees sustained single-digit growth, resulting in a 4.0% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2014 to 2019. Radar and Electronic Warfare (EW) test applications held the largest market share, at 54%, followed by military communications (public safety and private mobile radio), and satellite and surveillance (ISR) SIGINT. Antenna technology has become and continues to remain a more dominant segment, with advanced radar systems witnessing greater penetration. Testing such systems not only requires wider bandwidths but also high resolution along with lower phase noise, lower pre-dynamic range, and high signal fidelity.

A&D users select products and T&M vendors based on fit to application, performance, quality, support and longevity. Leading companies have been focused on supporting the total life cycle management of test equipment capital assets for customers. If one looks at the competitive landscape and all test equipment used in A&D applications, a portion of that is used for embedded instruments. Applications such as electronic warfare (EW), radar prototype, spectrum monitoring, and signal intelligence use traditional test equipment due to its low cost way to support RF requirements.

Digital subsystems in A&D test systems are undergoing change. Legacy high voltage digital subsystems and even low voltage parallel subsystems are being replaced by higher speed and serial interfacing platforms. The A&D community has started to incorporate this technology in their subsystems increasing the ability to  communicate with higher speed serial interfaces.

Technology Requirements on T&M for A&D 

The general trend is to have more technologically capable and smaller platforms and military systems. The most important requirements are the full capture of bandwidth signals, wideband capabilities, multifunction systems for antenna resources or power resources, more software and ease-of-use of the instruments.

For bandwidth requirements, there is continuous adoption of ultraband radars and GHz bandwidth is going to be a key requirement for signal intelligence and spectrum monitoring. “While much is left to be defined, current research in this area is looking at rates of 10GB/s with modulation bandwidths of up to 2 GHz,” said Gregg Peters, Vice President and General Manager, Aerospace and Defense Solutions,  at Keysight Technologies.

The other key requirement is software to emulate the functionality of a test instrument and the trend to replace legacy instruments, although box instruments will remain the dominant technology in the market in the foreseeable future. Change in the T&M industry takes time, especially in A&D due to the long life of the test systems. The A&D market is seeing replacement and migrating TPS (test program sets) from legacy systems to PXI-based test systems. Leading companies are enhancing capabilities to have all the appropriate capabilities to replace the legacy pieces of the test equipment.  “A customer may have a radar transponder emulator, a signal generator and a signal analyzer all in the same rack. The RF requirements for those instruments are almost identical. We see a replacement of that with a software-defined instrument such as PXI, which emulates each of those instruments,” said David Hall, Product Marketing Manager RF and Wireless Test at National Instruments.

There is an emerging market requirement shift from A&D users using RF signal analyzers and generators to more radio prototyping equipment. Several users may adopt a USRP (Universal Software Radio Peripheral). There is an incentive for this adoption from a price stand point. “The proliferation of computed platforms is putting the A&D community in a more difficult spot pushing for updates.  A&D engineers are looking for a stable OS for a long time. This is where to push more into the FPGA and going into real time operating systems is definitely something more in the aerospace and defense community,”  added Reggie Rector, Principal Product Manager, PXI/ATE, at National Instruments.  One of the key requirements for A&D users is to emulate the capability of legacy instruments. This drives the proliferation of FPGA in aerospace & defense. One of the key perspectives is the shift from purchasing some traditional RF signal analyzers to either radio equipment or modular instruments. Modular instrumentation is becoming a better option, especially where flexibility is important.

Today, many systems are becoming multi-channel. Moving forward, there is a big challenge and requirement for T&M equipment doing spectrum monitoring in terms of multichannel synchronization and coherent operations for a wide range of antenna testing and wideband analysis. The challenge is higher in A&D as the community is focusing on high performance multichannel applications.

New Trends Impacting the Electronic Test Equipment Market in A&D

New Market Trends Impacting the Electronic Test Equipment Market in A&D

Research efforts are increasing on the Millimeter Wave, with frequency ranges up from 30 GHz for special purpose radars and IEEE 802.11 ad, although the majority of the A&D community still focuses on lower frequencies. With the emergence of 5G, A&D applications are no longer the only ones pushing the requirements of signal and spectrum analyzers. All these new applications will have a direct impact on bandwidth usage and frequency ranges.

There are also new trends and development in satellites. NewSpace is an emerging area that has driven the development of low-cost spacecrafts, satellites, launches and smaller satellites.

There are significant opportunities for T&M vendors focused on risk and cost management compared to traditional space. An increasing number of companies are focusing on the design of new commercial satellites, giving rise to a new test paradigm focused on maintaining low costs and providing emerging opportunities to T&M vendors with some level of risk associated and a lower lifetime with new satellites.

Cyber security will have a huge impact on the A&D community in the next years and has started to gain a lot of attention globally with the need for a high level of flexibility and test systems to support malicious attacks of secured networks.

Leading T&M Initiatives

Keysight Technologies is focused on providing a wide range of products across the entire value chain, from RF EDA, traditional benchtop boxes, systems, solutions and modular. The company has made significant inroads with its new UXG agile signal generators, that stimulate electronic warfare receivers. “There is a renewed effort to deploy more sophisticated electronic warfare systems to counteract increasingly complex threat scenarios. Traditionally, threat simulators are very large, complex, and expensive test systems. The UXG moves beyond the status quo with a DDS-based architecture that offers frequency, amplitude and phase agility, phase coherency, and the ability to work directly with pulse descriptor words (PDWs), all in a single 3U instrument. For even more sophisticated threat simulation, multiple UXG’s can be connected coherently to simulate dense threat environments and angle-of-arrival scenarios,” said Keysight’s Peters. Another contribution to support the success of A&D operations is Keysight’s FieldFox family of RF/uW handheld instruments.  The company has miniaturized and shrunk components to provide a small device with very high performance measurements. “FieldFox multifunction portable analyzers enable significant cost reductions for field installation and maintenance of radars, EW and satellite systems.  Often, several transit cases of benchtop instruments can be replaced with a single MIL-rugged FieldFox. Since the same measurement science is utilized in benchtop and FieldFox instruments, measurement data correlates precisely between the lab and the field.  With the latest introductions, FieldFox analyzers provide up to 50 GHz in frequency. These units can be utilized for installation and maintenance of Ka-band satellite systems as well as mm-wave radars and EW systems,” added Peters.

National Instruments (NI) is emerging as a stronger competitor, offering from software defined test systems and embedded systems and delivering the functionality of RF vector signal analyzers and generators.  Two of NI’s recent key products are the NI PXIe-5668R high performance vector real-time signal analyzer and the PXIe-5656R vector signal transceiver (VST). These instruments are both examples of leading companies such as NI integrating multiple instrument functions into a single instrument. For example, NI’s 5668R delivers up to 765 MHz of bandwidth and provides measurements from 20 GHz to 26.5 GHz. In addition to providing vector and spectrum measurements, it also contains a user-programmable FPGA for signal intelligence applications that engineers can program with LabVIEW for custom measurement. NI provides a wide range of flexible and modular RF instrumentation.

Rohde & Schwarz introduced its latest powerful FSW85 high-end signal and spectrum analyzer in 2015. The device can cover signals in the frequency spectrum band of up to 85 GHz with a bandwidth of 500 MHz to support the areas of aerospace and defense applications and 5G next-generation mobile communications signals. There is a requirement for additional harmonic mixers. The FSW85 can be combined with its FSWB-2000 option, achieving modulation bandwidths of up to 2 GHz to support the analysis of wide range of signals for radar systems.

Last Word

The most important requirements for T&M in A&D are adaptability to evolving technologies, bandwidth and software-defined instrumentation. There is an increasing need to support an array of antennas with multichannel synchronization and coherent operations with wider bandwidth and recreation of spectrum simulation. With growing testing necessities, upgradable platforms are the focus of leading companies for enhancing the durability of test equipment and diminish the cost of test.

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