Rugged Mobile Tech Supports NAVAIR and Aircraft Maintenance in the Field

The U.S. Navy relies on mobile technology to more effectively manage important aircraft and vessel maintenance programs, environments where rugged testing and mission-built features are critical. 

In existence since 1966, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has military and civilian personnel stationed at eight locations across the continental U.S. and one site overseas. With a mission of providing full lifecycle support of naval aviation aircraft, weapons, and systems operated by U.S. sailors and Marines, NAVAIR handles research, design, development, and systems engineering; acquisition; test and evaluation; training facilities and equipment; repair and modification; and in-service engineering and logistics support.

This is a big mandate, to be sure, and one that up until 2010 was largely handled using a completely manual system of pen, paper, and binders — meaning flight line maintenance mechanics had to pore over paper manuals to get the information they needed from schematics and publications.

Going Paperless on the Tarmac and in Port

Today, when Navy aircraft land on the tarmac for maintenance, mechanics grab their Panasonic Toughbook 31 or Toughbook 54 laptops and get to work. Now digitized, the maintenance manuals and aircraft maintenance data are now just a few screens or keyboard taps away. And technicians can leave their gloves on during use (no need to remove them to “thumb” through a manual), thus enhancing productivity and the safety factor.

Navy ship mechanics use a similar approach when maintaining seagoing vessels and underwater vessels, both of which rely on the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES), a computer-accessed program that consolidates and modernizes shipboard, submarine, and shore-based command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) network systems to increase fleet-wide capability and affordability.

Advances in connectivity have made these sea changes possible. Devices are being used in navy yards, hangars and warehouses, where the potential for interference is high. Panasonic is the only wireless mobile computer manufacturer that designs and manufactures its own antenna modules; years of experience in wireless communications and antenna design has led to innovative module placement and wiring path designs for optimized wireless connectivity.

Why True Rugged Testing Matters

In addition to custom design and rigorous testing of its embedded wireless antennae module and other computing components, Panasonic devices are tested to meet the MIL-STD-810G standard. All Toughbook devices, regardless of rugged class, must endure rigorous testing done by the Panasonic R&D engineers as well as at independent, internationally recognized third party test labs for our semi and fully rugged devices. Panasonic technicians perform these tests under parameters that often exceed the test specifications of MIL-STD 810G.

Why is this important? Panasonic does this as part of our mission to deliver greater levels of functionality, performance and reliability. We know that total cost of ownership (TCO) must be calculated based on the cost of owning the technology over the full lifespan of the product, not just the initial investment. 

Intent on leveraging mobile technology and establishing a secure paperless environment both in its physical facilities and out in the field, the Navy needs mission-built rugged mobile technology. Consumer devices with add-on rugged features are not truly rugged, and aren’t engineered and designed from the ground up for field and long term survivability.

Any ship or submarine, for example, is made mostly out of steel. A laptop that falls four feet and hits the floor has to be able to withstand the impact and continue operating properly. And many oceangoing military vessels are out to sea for six to 12 months at a time. When equipment breaks, there is no luxury of just “sending it in for repair.” 

Looking Ahead at Mobility at DoD

Because the Department of Defense (DoD) traditionally avoided using wireless technology, the move to mobile technology has been a true paradigm shift—and one that’s paid off well for the agency. As a whole, the federal government has been slow to adopt wireless because of security reasons, but over the last two years those adoption levels have gone up across all agencies.  

Successful implementations like the NAVAIR wireless communication tests will continue to support the government’s shift towards high-level security wireless communications, and we are just scratching the surface of how future technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will support our nation’s war fighters. Stay tuned as we see mobile technology playing an increasingly critical role in DoD’s overall mission well into the future.

Learn more about how true MIL-SPEC rugged devices are tested to ensure they meet warfighter needs.