In a bid to reduce the build costs associated with the first three Astute Class submarines, the Royal Navy’s latest class of fleet submarines, Aish Technologies were invited to participate in a team to rethink the designs for consoles for the mission systems, which includes Combat Management, Sonar, Optronics etc. Apart from being expensive to procure, the existing consoles (not supplied by Aish) were also becoming unsupportable.
Aish’s solution was to look at:
- How more commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components could be used within the console by coming up with a design that allowed the potentially toxic materials within the COTS items to be rendered safe in the event of a fire.
- The introduction of the latest in COTS computing hardware, which incorporates a fast graphics bus and quad processing power, in a way that can be easily updated as new technology comes along.
- How to reduce console metalwork build costs.
- How to provide a generic console design that could be tailored easily and cheaply to fit the roles required in a submarine mission system.
The design that was propagated from the seeds of all these ideas is the Common Console, a compact and versatile operator workstation that is being fitted to Astute Boats three and four, HMS Artful and HMS Audacious respectively (fitting to later builds is still to be confirmed).
The console addresses the design aims stated above by:
- A fully-sealed internal electronics bay that contains any toxic fumes in the event of a fire. This space is cooled using an internal blown-air circuit that passes warm air across an air-to-air heat exchanger. A second blown-air circuit takes the heat away from the external part of the heat exchanger.
- The processor unit utilises dual PICMG 1.3 passive backplanes that can exploit the high-speed graphics of PCI Express. Industry-standard PCI form factors mean that processing and graphics can be updated easily as technology progresses. In addition, each element of the electronics compartment is mounted on removable plates to allow new form factors and architectures to be fitted in the future.
- New manufacturing techniques have allowed us to design a fabricated console body that can be split for shipping through hatches without the need for a complicated strengthening structure or expensive EMC and environmental sealing.
- The dual backplane allows versatility in the fit of cards, which can be selected to suit each application. In addition a space has been retained for the fitting of dedicated electronics if required. A set of discrete external panels on the console front face can be designed for key pads, switches etc suitable for each application. The desk has several versions to suit different human factors requirements. The console structure has been designed to accept either standard or wide aspect ratio displays.
The new console has proved so cost-effective and versatile that it has been selected for retrofitting into a number of other platforms, and is another example of Aish’s innovation and forward thinking.