The use of commercial items (CI) or commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment presents a dilemma between imposing military E3 standards and the desire to take advantage of existing commercial systems, and accept the risk of unknown or undesirable electromagnetic interference (EMI) characteristics. Regardless of the pros or cons of using COTS, any procured equipment should meet the operational performance requirements, including electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) requirements, for that equipment in the proposed installation.
Integration of COTS electrical/electronic equipment on DOD platforms is an increasingly common practice for a variety of good reasons. COTS typically offer the latest technology and can be cheaper and more quickly fielded than military systems developed from scratch. Unfortunately, commercial equipment is not designed for the harsh electromagnetic environments (EME) found in military platforms and theaters of operation.
One of the biggest difficulties with integrating COTS products into complex military systems is achieving EMC. EMC is the ability of electrical and electronic equipment and systems to share the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum and to perform their desired functions without unacceptable degradation from the EME and without causing EMI to other systems. Blindly using COTS carries the risk of increasing serious EMI problems within the platform or system.
COTS equipment has typically been designed, tested and fielded to much less demanding commercial EMC standards, if tested at all, than MIL-STD-461 or MIL-STD-464. However, the simple fact that it is a commercial item should not be taken as a reason to accept lower EMC performance. Rather than forgoing robust EMC requirements, program managers (PMs), system acquisition personnel and E3 engineering professionals must first assess the EMC-related risk to full operational capability performance from the use of COTS equipment. They must impose a detailed methodology by which to assess the risk of using COTS and achieving EMC.
To mitigate the risk, an assessment should be performed to evaluate the equipment’s immunity characteristics against the planned EME and ability to meet the desired performance. Factors to be considered in evaluating the suitability of COTS for military applications include:
• Impact on mission and safety
• The operational EME
• Platform installation characteristics
• Equipment immunity/susceptibility characteristics
After determination of the intended operational environment, the risk assessment process starts with obtaining and reviewing existing design criteria (commercial specs), analysis/test data and conducting additional EMI testing (if necessary.) If, after evaluation of the EMI data, it is determined that the equipment would not operate satisfactorily in the intended EME, then the equipment needs to be modified, or it might prove to be necessary to select different COTS equipment with adequate characteristics.
On the whole, most COTS equipment has less strict EM requirements (lower immunity levels, higher allowable unintentional emissions, lax or nonexistent susceptibility limits) than military equipment and could therefore be more apt to be upset or damaged when exposed to high level radio frequency (RF) fields or could interfere with legacy systems. Therefore the use of COTS introduces additional risk of incompatibility and can result in problems, plus associated extra costs, in maintaining performance through life and for re-use in other scenarios. When considering COTS or NDI in an acquisition, it is important to include E3 requirements and obtain and review any existing EMI test and/or analytical data.