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Manufacturing and Military Communications @ MILCOM 2005

By William W. Durgin

On behalf of the Manufacturing Advancement Center, MAC, I joined the representatives of the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development, MAED, at the MILCOM 2005 conference in Atlantic City, which took place in October. Our objective, as a group, was to portray the advantages of expanding and/or relocating in the Commonwealth. My personal objective was to identify opportunities that could benefit manufacturers. I was able to chat with all the exhibitors and to attend a number of technical sessions.

First of all, it was obvious that Massachusetts already has a very strong presence in the military communications area, not only with major defense contractors but also with a myriad of smaller subcontractors. The supplier network is both a necessity and an advantage. Clearly, this is a robust industry that includes manufacturing in satellite communication systems, field vehicles, and encryption products, as well as communications devices, secure wireless systems, sensors, and network equipment.

I was surprised at the large number of small, specialty manufacturers present. Many companies making connectors, cable assemblies, sensors, antennas, electronics boxes, antenna mechanical drives, and the like. Similarly, a large number of companies involved in various software products including network modeling, network monitoring, encryption, production management, and business management. The Ft. Monmouth, NJ area has developed a significant number of spin-off companies with very interesting products including geolocation. Certainly, this is a terrific example of innovation and incubation resulting from strong government spending in the communications area. Ft. Monmouth, itself, is now subject to BRAC and we received many inquiries from very capable individuals as to employment opportunities in Massachusetts.

The manufacturing opportunities that I identified included systems, interoperability, Internet standards, first responders, emergency power, and laser communications. All of the major manufacturers were interested in engineers who had education or experience in the "systems" area. This was clearly a reflection of the complexity of military communications systems and the need for workers in this area to have the big picture. Interoperability, more precisely the lack thereof, of communication systems is a huge problem made visible by the multitude of recent disasters. While there were a few companies with interesting products that could tie together the large variety of existing radio systems, it seems that the ultimate solution will be to replace all communications systems at huge expense. Most of the "buzz" derived from the rapid development of the new Internet protocol, IPv6, for the next generation network.

Equipping and protecting first responders is clearly an industry focus that is in its infancy. Principal concerns are health status monitoring and geolocation. Lots of people are working on these problems but with no good solutions and only rudimentary demonstrations of prototype equipment.

The lack of emergency and portable power systems is an obvious and severe impediment to the deployment of many communication systems. The need is for systems of low weight that can power the equipment carried by humans and for systems that can stand-by for long periods of time but switched on quickly.

Finally, there seemed to be significant R&D underway in the laser communications area, presumable secure communications. While many Massachusetts companies are already working in these areas and, indeed, are often the leaders, there is clearly a huge opportunity for all manufacturers because of the existing strengths and resources we possess.

Military communications equipment manufacturing is a strong suit of Massachusetts industry. It is an area of rapid technological evolution and presents substantial opportunity for small manufacturers as part of the supply chain.


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