Rugged Military Computing: How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in Electronic Warfare

Rugged Military Computing: How To Gain an Advantage in Electronic Warfare

The key to rugged computing solutions is strengthening and protecting the cables, wires and connectors that enable technology to perform in harsh environments

When people first hear about rugged computing solutions, they likely think of a military-grade laptop computer or a smartphone in an indestructible case.  A strong, reinforced exterior is important, but the key to ruggedized computing is strengthening and protecting what’s inside—the cables, wires and connectors that enable a piece of technology to perform reliably and predictably under even the most extreme conditions.

What is a Rugged Computer?

Rugged computing refers to embedded computing systems that are designed to function reliably in harsh environments. In the realm of electronic warfare, what qualifies as “rugged” varies depending on where you are and what you need to accomplish. The requirements for a device carried in a soldier’s backpack in a desert environment are dramatically different from the systems in an unmanned craft traveling to deep space. In either case, failure to perform as intended has severe consequences. That’s why all military computer systems must be designed and built to be resistant to weather, extreme temperatures, vibration, high shock and impact, and be able to tolerate exposure to radiation, chemicals or other contaminants. Choosing the right solution for the environment is critical.


Here are a few examples:

  • On the Ground
    Rugged computer servers that are airdropped for use in-theater must be able to survive the impact, tolerate extreme temperatures and be resistant to dust, moisture and other potential threats while keeping the data secure.
  • In the Air
    Military aircraft must be able to go from a hot, desert environment on the ground to subzero temperatures in high-altitude flight. The extreme temperature change results in condensation that could compromise any of the many sensors and switches required keep the plane in the air and ready to carry out the crew’s mission.
  • On the Water
    Navy ships and submarines contain devices and systems that must be sealed to keep water out and constructed from materials that are resistant to galvanic corrosion in a saltwater environment.
  • In Space
    Modern spacecraft are designed to be reusable so they must be able to withstand powerful gravitational forces and vibrations during takeoff and extreme temperatures during reentry.

The Role of Rugged Computing Solutions in Electronic Warfare

Failure is not an option when lives are on the line. Rugged computing solutions enable the electronic warfare technology today’s warriors rely on to help them successfully and safely complete their missions.

Tracking and Detection

The most common use of sensors in electronic warfare is for radar. There are several types of radar including long-range tracking radar and targeting radar. These systems operate on different frequencies and require different degrees of power depending on the distance from the object that is being tracked. A corroded connection or damaged sensor can compromise the radar system and leave the craft or crew vulnerable to an incoming attack.

Threat Identification

Conventional warfare relied on analysts using photos or historical data to predict what might happen next. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) is used to interpret thermal, chemical or other patterns to find and identify a hidden enemy in real time. Any poor or broken connections along the signal path from sensor to display can expose the crew to a hidden threat.


Navigation is extremely critical to success in the air, on the water, in space or on the ground. Troops rely on accurate GPS signals to maneuver through foreign and often hostile terrain. Rugged systems are designed to resist signal jamming and withstand rain, fog, sandstorms or other environmental conditions that can compromise the navigation system.

Precision Targeting

Advanced missile systems incorporate a variety of rugged sensors, switches and military computer systems. GPS, inertial sensors and laser-guidance systems work together to create a redundant system to improve a missile’s chances of reaching its intended target.


Electronic warfare systems can also be used for training purposes. Pilots learn to respond to threats in simulations conducted in training setups or actual planes. These simulators require the same rugged systems used in battle to prepare a pilot for the most extreme conditions.


Ruggedized computing systems are also used to defend against enemy attacks.

  • The systems used to detect, track and identify a threat also send signals that can be detected, tracked and used by an enemy to identify and locate a potential threat. Modern systems use jamming technology and transmit misinformation to confuse the enemy about a craft’s actual location and vehicle type.
  • The ability to send and receive signals in combat is vital. Electronic warfare systems include anti-jamming antennas that enable signal switching so devices can seek different frequencies when a primary frequency is blocked.
  • Anti-missile defense systems rely on cutting edge technology to determine when an enemy rocket is launched and where it is headed. Armed with this information, the system ultimately acts to disable it before it reaches its target.

Demands of Rugged Computing Solutions

Electronic warfare requires lightweight, robust products that can process data into valuable information in real time.


Lightweight Components

Lightweight solutions help reduce costs and enable longer mission life. For example, it currently costs approximately $10,000 per pound to launch cargo or equipment into space. Eliminating weight from a spacecraft’s electronic warfare system saves money or increases the craft’s potential payload. Reducing the weight of any type of military aircraft or vehicle helps reduce fuel consumption and extends its range.


Electronic warfare technology must work every time. For example, the computing system in a fighter jet requires an electronic card to be inserted or removed for data storage or processing, or for a specific mission profile. That card must be durable enough to withstand a high-static environment, and not be affected by dirt and debris. If the crew inserts that card and it doesn’t work, the aircraft may not be able to take off or process critical data while it’s in flight.


Processing Speed
Today’s weapon systems have tremendous power to collect and process data, identify threats and inform decisions in real time. Sensors gather data which is processed and then displayed locally or transmitted in the form of text, video, warning lights or other indicators. When fractions of a second count, eliminating latency in signal transmissions is critical. Having the bandwidth to process high-speed data into actionable information provides a competitive advantage. Timely, accurate information saves lives.


Standards Adherence
Rugged systems are built using connectors, chip sets, cabling, etc., that are interchangeable with components used in other embedded systems within the craft or vehicle. VMEbus International Trade Association (VITA), Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE), Sensor Open System Architecture (SOSA), Hardware Open Systems Technologies (HOST) and C4ISR/EW Modular Open Suite of Standards (CMOSS) are a few of the standards that identify the materials and components that are appropriate for a specific application. Sharing standard components improves compatibility across different platforms, helps manage costs and ensures access to replacement parts for repairs or upgrades.

Elements of a Rugged Computing System

Rugged computing solutions require strong connections, effective cooling systems and various levels of redundancy.


Any piece of equipment or system is only as strong as its weakest connection. Several components must work in tandem to transmit data along a signal path. Choosing cables and connectors that offer the proper balance of chemical and temperature resistance, flexibility and scrape/abrasion resistance for the intended application is a requirement.


Open standards dictate the types of connectors and materials that can be used to help mitigate the impacts of contaminants on components used in electronic warfare systems. For example, a thin, 3-microinch layer of gold is acceptable for a component used in an office environment on the ground, while the connectors in an aerospace application may require 50 microinches of gold.


System cooling is extremely important in the design of rugged computing solutions. Chip sets, fiber optic transceivers and other components generate significant heat. These critical pieces won’t last without a means to keep them cool. System designers have three options to keep a system cool:

  • Air-cooled systems use a fan or natural air movement to dissipate the heat.
  • Liquid-cooled systems use a coolant to absorb and draw away the heat.
  • Conduction-cooled systems rely on heat sinks or cold plates to transfer the heat away from the source.


The components and materials used in a rugged computing system must be compatible with the fanned or fanless cooling options specified for the application.


Failure isn’t an option when lives are at stake. Electronic warfare technology cannot rely on a single point of failure. The required number of redundancies varies by application. A system used in space might have four points of redundancy while a less extreme environment may require only one redundant system.

Advanced Solutions for Today and Tomorrow

TE Connectivity’s (TE) electrical and electronic products are engineered to reliably connect and protect the flow of data, power, and signal in rugged computing systems. TE’s MULTIGIG RT Connectors set the standard for performance when the first OpenVPX standards were established through VITA. Today, TE sensor and connectivity solutions continue to evolve to meet the demands of modern warfare on the ground, in the air, on the water and in space.

Key Takeaways

  • Rugged computing refers to embedded computing systems that use durable components — from reinforced exteriors to indestructible interior parts — designed to function reliably in harsh environments.
  • The definition of “rugged” varies depending on the combat environment and the mission’s objective.
  • To successfully execute missions and defend against enemy attacks, electronic warfare technology requires lightweight, robust products that can process data into valuable information in real time.
  • Rugged embedded systems require strong connections, effective cooling systems and various levels of redundancy.

Find Out How TE Can Support Your Next Rugged Computing Challenge?