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Electronics obsolescence and military technology

Today, we celebrate Veterans Day.  So now is as good a time as any to focus for a bit on military technology. An article by Editorial Director John McHale in Military Embedded Systems 2015 Resource Guide raised an interesting and provocative point. In Tech mergers & military electronics obsolescence, McHale writes that one repercussion of the recent semiconductor merger and acquisition activity may well be that components used throughout the military technology supply chain may become obsolete earlier than planned. An acquiring company may have other plans for a product than the plans that the company being overtaken had in mind. A long life expectancy can easily be replaced by an end-of-life strategy.

McHale cites an older but telling example, one dating back to 2008.

“…when Apple Inc. bought PA Semi (Palo Alto Semiconductor), which made low-power 64-bit processors called PWRficient – high performance, low power, and loved by the military embedded computing com­munity – but Apple only wanted the engineering talent, not the products. Defense electronics suppliers then had to scramble and relaunch product families with Intel and Freescale tech, but they still suffered losses as a result.”

Back in the day, the military was a driving force for technology development. This is no longer the case. Today, “the military is a consumer of technology just like the rest of us and is also subject to the whims of commercial markets.” Today, contractors and subs use off-the-shelf components, not bespoke parts built explicitly for military applications. This is fine from an initial cost and efficiency perspective, but not so fine if you’re building an application that’s got to last for 30 years. I.e., well beyond the shelf-life of your typical consumer app.

With everything that’s been going on – Intel/Altera; Avago Technologies/Broadcom; NXP/Freescale – more obsolescence and more disruption are likely to ensue.

As McHale points out, “defense electronics suppliers get obsolescence.” The question becomes how the inevitable changes and swap-outs needed when something that contains obsolescent components needs to survive long term.

Anyway, I’d like to close with a shout out to the millions of veterans who’ve served our country over the years, with a special nod to all the Critical Link employees who have served so honorably in the military, as well as to all our family members who have also served our country.

I’ll end with saying that it’s an honor for us Critical Link have played our small role over the years in working on components for defense systems.

Happy Veterans Day to all!