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The military application of commercial chips

techcossack

New member
I was reading this report of Reuters regarding how Russia took chips from consumer electronics and convert them for military application, mostly via adding heat sinks and insulation seals. But is this even possible? I thought military grade chips had to be resistant to heat, vibration, electromagnetic inferences etc, it sounds way too easy to just convert commercial chips like that.

also, why are FPGAs so popular with military users?
 

count

Well-known member
There are lots of consumer grade electronics that also need to be sensitive to heat/vibration/EM... thing of a washer/dryer. You have heat, vibration, noise coming off the motors.
 

tooLongInEDA

Active member
A lot of the mil spec stuff (from distant memory a very long time ago) is about handling extreme temperature ranges, wider supply voltages, hermetic sealing from humidity and generally reliability and being able to work for a long period. You're probably paying for stuff like extra burn-in for reliability.

If you just want stuff to put into a missile guidance system that you're going to use almost immediately and you've designed your kit to limit the temperature range of the electronics (there was something in the report about this), perhaps you can get by just fine with commercial components.

Perhaps the Western mil spec system is not the only way to design military kit. It may just be the best way if you care about quality over quantity and expect your kit to still work when you pull it out of stores after it's been on the shelf for 10 years. But "cheap and dirty" may work better for the Russians. If you have masses of relatively cheaper missiles, then presumably you can tolerate a higher failure rate.
 

jms_embedded

Active member
If you just want stuff to put into a missile guidance system that you're going to use almost immediately and you've designed your kit to limit the temperature range of the electronics (there was something in the report about this), perhaps you can get by just fine with commercial components.
Maybe. Way back in 1996 I had a job offer from Draper Labs (which I didn't take) and one of the guys who interviewed me worked on some kind of electronics that went into nuclear missiles. Maybe it was the warhead arming system, I don't know. Anyway it was all discretes. No ICs. They used bipolar transistors (presumably rad-hard prescreened super-pricey brand) and had to design the circuits so that they worked assuming the current gain (beta) would degrade by a factor of three over the course of 10 or 15 minutes of flight, due to radiation proximity. The interviewer got all excited when he was describing this. Not my cup of tea.

Perhaps the Western mil spec system is not the only way to design military kit. It may just be the best way if you care about quality over quantity and expect your kit to still work when you pull it out of stores after it's been on the shelf for 10 years. But "cheap and dirty" may work better for the Russians. If you have masses of relatively cheaper missiles, then presumably you can tolerate a higher failure rate.

I vaguely remember reading some comparison of American vs German wartime telegraphy in WW1 or WW2 and IIRC the German version was very high quality but very sensitive to sabotage and the American version was just seat-of-the-pants-to-make-it-work. (It was either in an IEEE magazine or the New York Times. Can't find it with an internet search, sigh.

AK-47 reliability and the apocryphal US "space pen" vs. Russian pencil approach come to mind also.
 
Last edited:

Nish

New member
I was reading this report of Reuters regarding how Russia took chips from consumer electronics and convert them for military application, mostly via adding heat sinks and insulation seals. But is this even possible? I thought military grade chips had to be resistant to heat, vibration, electromagnetic inferences etc, it sounds way too easy to just convert commercial chips like that.

also, why are FPGAs so popular with military users?
FPGAs are used a lot for small volume custom stuff like defense. It makes no economic sense to design your own chips and its further complicated by the fact that not many foundries will fab for u if it is for a MIL application. So u have to have your own fab and yeh just buying a consumer grade FPGA from a shady reseller is a better choice.

Also, solid state is pretty rock solid ^^ so consumer grade electronics are super good enough if you are a hostile foreign power who cant get access to MIL SPEC certified stuff.
 

Paul2

Active member
For the heat, the heat tolerance of most "high temperature silicon" is just difference in fusing.

One STM32 batch is rated for 100C°, and another for 110C° — fused accordingly, and sold for 10x the price.

Real high temperature silicon processes, which can go to 200C°, are very, very low volume.
 

Paul2

Active member
Also, solid state is pretty rock solid ^^ so consumer grade electronics are super good enough if you are a hostile foreign power who cant get access to MIL SPEC certified stuff.

Almost no Western weapon systems today are made with custom silicon as well. Most of what is stuck with custom ICs are stuff designed in eighties/early nineties. Fabs bill Raytheon 6 digits for a single wafer on obsolete, obscure speciality processes on 150mm.
 

Paul2

Active member
A lot of the mil spec stuff (from distant memory a very long time ago) is about handling extreme temperature ranges, wider supply voltages, hermetic sealing from humidity and generally reliability and being able to work for a long period. You're probably paying for stuff like extra burn-in for reliability.

If you just want stuff to put into a missile guidance system that you're going to use almost immediately and you've designed your kit to limit the temperature range of the electronics (there was something in the report about this), perhaps you can get by just fine with commercial components.

Perhaps the Western mil spec system is not the only way to design military kit. It may just be the best way if you care about quality over quantity and expect your kit to still work when you pull it out of stores after it's been on the shelf for 10 years. But "cheap and dirty" may work better for the Russians. If you have masses of relatively cheaper missiles, then presumably you can tolerate a higher failure rate.

Biggest source of failure in modern electronics is

1. ROHS solder going bad (cracks/dry contact/cavities/dendrites)
2. Under-spec/outright counterfeit caps

Modern semi processes are massively more reliable than even what you had in late nineties
 
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