Board or bored? Lockheed Martin gets into the COTS hardware biz - Interview with Jared Sibrava, Business Development, Lockheed Martin Co.

1Editor’s note: I have to give Lockheed Martin (LMCO) credit for their unconventional approach regarding COTS boards. My colleague, assistant managing editor Sharon Hess, attended a recent Green Hills seminar and was surprised to find LMCO presenting their full line of COTS boards and mezzanines, offering them up for sale to the “general public.” And it turns out they’re serious about selling COTS hardware, all right. But they get a “fail” on my tried-and-true litmus test. That is: They neither have all the marketing collateral (such as datasheets) available that you’d find from any other COTS board vendor, nor will they always sell to a competitor. Still, LMCO is highly credible and capable even though the genesis of their products comes from the former IBM Owego facility – a group so previously famous for anti-COTS and anti-NDI that I think they coined the expression “NIH.” At least, that was my experience. Let’s watch them closely to see if they stay in the COTS hardware biz and keep it refreshed like you’d find from, say, GE or Curtiss-Wright. – Chris A. Ciufo, Editor

VME: To begin, what does your division of Lockheed Martin do?

SIBRAVA: I’ll start at the top of Lockheed Martin and move down. Lockheed Martin consists of four business segments: Space Systems; Information Systems and Global Services; Aeronautics; and Electronic Systems. The division I support from a Business Development perspective fits into Electronic Systems. As a business unit within Electronic Systems, we just changed our name to Mission Systems and Sensors [formerly Maritime Systems and Sensors]. So within Mission Systems and Sensors is a business unit called Ship and Aviation Systems. And our Lockheed Martin Electronics Product Line reports to Ship and Aviation Systems. Lockheed Martin Electronics Product Line is a provider of electronics subsystems to the DoD and other customer bases.

VME: I was surprised to hear from our assistant managing editor Sharon Hess that Lockheed Martin was a cosponsor and attendee at a Green Hills seminar. Why were you there?

SIBRAVA: We have a great relationship with Green Hills Software as well as other RTOS providers. From my perspective, when a company is trying to get a DO-178B Level A RTOS certification or anything with MILS assurance requirements, Green Hills Software is a great company to work with. Another cosponsor at the seminar was ALT Software, Inc., with whom we have formed a partnership. They support many types of graphics processor units and are working with AMD to provide OpenGL driver software for the AMD E4690 graphics processor chip. ALT also supports customers’ safety certifications for DO-178B. Other seminar cosponsors were [testing and EOL management company] Channel One International in addition to Esterel Technologies, which provides a model-based tool for generating safety-certifiable software for applications.

VME: I understand why you would partner with ALT Software and why you chose Green Hills’ INTEGRITY-178B, but why would you be present at an open COTS forum?

SIBRAVA: Because within Lockheed Martin’s Electronics Product Line [EPL], we have a variety of products we intend to offer as COTS. We were there to showcase our COTS hardware technology.

VME: Then I’m going to give you my traditional litmus test for DoD primes that say they have COTS products they want to sell in the open market: If Boeing called up and said, “I want to buy one,” would you sell it to them?

SIBRAVA: Well, absolutely. In fact, we already do significant business with Boeing and other primes. We provide hardware subsystems with a bundled package of RTOS support, device drivers, and other software for the B-1B and the B-52. We also supply Northrop Grumman the B-2 integrated processor unit that’s based around Fibre Channel optical network technology.

VME: But if one of your fiercest competitors called you, especially on a program where you knew you were competing against them, would you still sell a COTS product to that company?

SIBRAVA: There are going to be instances when a Lockheed Martin team is competing against another prime, and there will be instances when we strategically as a corporation choose not to sell to that company, but there will also be instances when we choose to be merchant suppliers.

VME: Just to clarify, when you say “EPL” (your Electronics Product Line), does that uniquely define the COTS products that we’re talking about?

SIBRAVA: No, it refers to all our products.

VME: How would you narrow this down when we’re talking about true COTS products within your Electronics Product Line?

SIBRAVA: Primarily throughout our history we’ve been a box provider, and within that box are our power supplies, our processors, our graphics processors, and our I/O modules. So, of course, the box isn’t necessarily COTS, but many of the components that go into the box are very much COTS. As the business moves forward, one of our thrusts is to make these modules available.

VME: What does the typical customer engagement look like for one of these off-the-shelf products?

SIBRAVA: I’ll give you one example for our AMD E4690 products. We have an XMC and a PMC plus our core products: a VPX board and a VME board. And we’re working with ALT to offer those products to their customers both internationally and domestically. ALT identifies needs and requirements, saying, “This customer would like to replace their current XMC that’s based on the AMD M9000 or the AMD M54 with the latest E4690.” Then we work together to provide this customer with a bundled package of our hardware and ALT’s software to provide a solution to the customer. So these customers either would like to buy modules or license a design and produce it themselves in their own factories. Many times, international customers desire to do some or all manufacturing internationally, so we have been working with ALT to support these customers in this way. From a COTS perspective, we have customers who are purchasing our graphics cards off-the-shelf at the module-to-module level.

VME: Are your datasheets for these four products you mentioned available, freely downloadable off the Internet?

SIBRAVA: They’re not yet, no. Lockheed Martin primarily advertises for our large platforms – the F-22s and the F-16s, for example. They’re not as much into advertising smaller products like this, although we can. So we then have our [E4690] graphics products available on ALT’s website so their customers can see what ALT is bringing to the table from a hardware perspective as well. We will have a Web presence in the coming months and years. And we are also going to provide a [Freescale PowerPC] 7448 microprocessor as well as a multicore microprocessor into our COTS product offerings.

VME: What constitutes the good, the bad, and the ugly of COTS?

SIBRAVA: The good: cost avoidance with COTS. Products are always becoming available. COTS providers tech insert, they always have the next, latest, and greatest technologies available to their customers. And it’s also good that if and when they obtain a substantial material base, they can have a competitive recurring and nonrecurring cost.

As for the bad and sometimes the ugly, COTS presents a few main issues. First, when customers begin integrating multiple COTS components from multiple vendors, integration of a subsystem in a system can become a challenging task. We, as COTS providers, all try to use [open] standards for power and interfaces, for example, but what happens when power requirements are a little off from an aircraft power perspective? What happens when interfaces don’t work right together? What happens when COTS components pass environmental testing all by themselves, but when they’re joined with their other mating COTS products, they fail an environmental test? These integration issues can drive cost and schedule into subsystem integration.

VME: So how do you deal with component obsolescence?

SIBRAVA: As an example, when an F-16 is going to be sustained for 20 years, there’s not always going to be a tech insert on every system. So we have to stick to our philosophy of keeping components and cards and systems available – and working with that customer to make sure that the components and system will be available if they need repairs or if they want to build more of them. Also, Lockheed Martin doesn’t always buy a 20-year source of material, but if there’s a chance for customers to make a lifetime buy, we let them know.

VME: How does this obsolescence issue and life cycle apply to non-Lockheed-created COTS software?

SIBRAVA: That goes back to our modular software approach. We develop have our own board support packages and device drivers. So the goal when we deal with this is to make the adjustments on the BSP that connects the operating systems to the hardware so that software from Green Hills, ALT, and others doesn’t know the difference.

VME: Talk about security, assurance, and safety critical. They don’t all mean the same thing.

SIBRAVA: Let’s start with safety. As we’ve proven in the past, we’re capable of supporting customers through DO-178B and DO-254 safety certifications. From an information assurance security perspective, we were able to achieve the NSA’s SKPP [Separation Kernel Protection Profile] certification on the B-2 integrated processor unit with Green Hills Software. From a security perspective with processing, we have a very unique expertise and capability with these requirements.

VME: Wrapping up, what are today’s hot technologies, and what are tomorrow’s hot technologies?

SIBRAVA: Today, single-core processors are the norm, Ethernet and Fibre Channel network interfaces, and these are primarily PowerPC based, though in this year and the next, Lockheed Martin is developing and will have products coming to market using some of the newest Intel components including the Sandy Bridge [microarchitecture]. We’re seeing some fiber optics today and expect this to become the norm for tomorrow. From a graphics perspective, the AMD M9000 chip, the AMD M54 graphics chip, the G73 from NVIDIA, and a variety of other components are popular. In the coming months and years, customers will take full advantage of the new AMD E4690 graphics processor component to yield an increase in performance. Thinking of “tomorrow”: The market will demand lighter, smaller, less expense, less space, and less power from COTS and subsystem providers. To complement this, we see multicore processing moving to center stage in embedded avionics.

Jared W. Sibrava, a business development professional, is responsible for business growth and customer management for Lockheed Martin’s Electronics Product Line. He holds a Master of Engineering degree in Free Space Laser and Fiber Optic Communications and Electrical Engineering. He can be contacted at

Lockheed Martin Co. 607-239-3713