The Fundamentals of Modern Military Display Technology

Ginsbury Displays

By Steve Varley, Ginsbury Displays

There are many ways in which display hardware designed for military purposes must distinguish itself from the hardware meant for standard commercial use. With greater levels of sophistication and elevated functionality now being required in many different defence related applications, the specified display technology must offer a broadening array of different attributes. This makes the process of sourcing and subsequently implementing such items a major (though, as we will see, not insurmountable) challenge.

Firstly, given the uncompromising settings into which these displays will be situated, resilience to shock, vibration, extreme temperatures and high humidity levels are regarded as obligatory requirements. There are many other factors that need to be taken into account though.

When displays are meant for outdoor operation, the effect of ambient light needs to be given attention. It is essential that military personnel can refer to detailed information rapidly without risk of human error. If lighting conditions impinge on their ability to do this, then the consequences could be serious. High brightness displays are now becoming commonplace in military systems, with sizeable increases in backlight outputs being witnessed. Furthermore, optical bonding can be employed to reduce internal reflections and lower light losses. This also has the additional advantage of raising the overall robustness of the display assembly.

Responsiveness is another consideration. If decisions need to be made quickly, then potential delays due to display performance could be problematic. There are 2 different dynamics influencing this - firstly the ICs comprised in the video processing element, then the latency of the display itself.

Much as it already has within consumer, medical and industrial sectors, the value of touch operation is now being realised in the defence sector too. While in the field, touch screens frequently need to be operated by military personnel who are wearing gloves. This makes choosing the correct touch screen technology for the application a critical part of the specification process. In other cases location in strong EMC environments will mandate use of infrared touch screen technology. It should also be mentioned that the massive EMC pulses which result if an explosion occurs can impact heavily on a display’s overall operation, so selecting components that are suitably protected is imperative.

For mobile military units or drones/UAVs, power consumption is of course a concern. Advanced backlight technology has allowed dramatic reductions to the power drawn by displays. A few years ago, for example, a large high brightness display module might have had a 50W rating - now equivalent modules require less than 15W. Having a wide viewing angle is likely to prove beneficial too - giving personnel operating equipment in extremely confined spaces (such as tanks) greater freedom to access data being rendered on the display.

Long term reliability of the display needs to be assured, as potential risk of operational failure in the theatre of conflict must be mitigated. In many circumstances mean time between failure (MTBF) figures above 50,000 hours are anticipated. Often simply stating such figures on a datasheet will not suffice. Increasingly suppliers need to provide meticulous calculations demonstrating that this degree of longevity is valid.

There are still many CRT based monitors in operation within military instrumentation, so often what is required is a contemporary display solution that has improved performance/features, but can effectively act as drop-in replacement. In such cases engineers will need to develop a solution that fits into the same housing and connects with existing interface technology (that may have been in place for 30 years). Determining what video interface is needed and successfully accommodating it is a vital skill when retrofitting.

Given the long period that military systems remain in service, securing an ongoing source is of paramount importance. To safeguard against the emergence of obsolescence issues, it is advisable to partner with a display solutions provider who has a comprehensive understanding of supply chain management, as well as long-standing relationships with the key suppliers.

The pace with which projects go from the concept phase through to implementation is accelerating and display providers must have the capability to support this. 8-12 month development periods would have been normal in the past, but now there are far more occasions where everything needs to be turned around within 3-4 months.

Faced with the prospect of tightening deadlines and the threat posed by obsolescence, plus the harsh environments involved, difficulties connecting with legacy equipment and the overriding need for long term reliability, engaging with a highly experienced display solutions provider will be pivotal to any project’s success. Ginsbury has built up an unmatched reputation throughout the military sector for supplying superior technology with industry-leading ruggedness, as well as delivering in-depth engineering support to accompany this. Through its adept staff and substantial resources it is well positioned to deal with the rising expectations being placed upon military displays - thereby ensuring that even the most demanding projects are completed on schedule with all key objectives met.

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