Lockheed Martin catches Tadpole
Solaris-based laptop to improve aircraft maintenance
- By Joab Jackson
- Oct 30, 2002
For systems integrators mobilizing military networks, Tadpole Technology Plc. has an attractive product: the only laptop available in the United States built to run the Solaris version of the Unix operating system.This solution enables integrators to easily port their Solaris-based programs, widely used across the military, onto mobile platforms without rewriting code or writing new programs.For Lockheed Martin Corp., the Tadpole UltraBook laptop lets the company easily re-use its maintenance software without rewriting it for other operating systems.Because Lockheed Martin's C-130J aircraft have complex IT-driven subsystems, such as avionics, hydraulics, weapons and propulsion systems, the Bethesda, Md.-based company also provides each airplane with a portable maintenance aid, or PMA, a mobile device that can tap the aircraft's communications to gather data from each of its subsystems. This provides maintainers with an easy-to-use interface. "You previously needed a bus analyzer and an interface control document to interpret what the data was telling you," said Leigh DePiazza, a senior embedded software engineer at Lockheed Martin's Marietta, Ga., facility.The PMA software Lockheed Martin developed for its C-130Js can upload operational flight programs, download flight data and help perform maintenance through operational checks. The software runs on the Unix operating system under a version called Solaris, offered by Sun Microsystems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., for its UltraSparc processors.When the software was first developed, the company commissioned a specialized ruggedized laptop from a U.K. vendor. Two years ago, however, the vendor dropped the support for the motherboard, leaving the company stranded. "We couldn't port the software to a PC. We had to go to another platform with very minimal changes," DePiazza said.When the Air Force dropped the requirement for a ruggedized PMA, the company found a more economical fit with Tadpole, which cost two-thirds less than ruggedized or custom-built Unix laptops. Thus far, there are four Tadpole laptops serving Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transport aircraft. Two have already been delivered for the Air National Guard as part of a $355 million contract won in 2002 by Lockheed Martin's aeronautics unit to provide the Air Force with five transport aircraft. Another two were sold to Italy's air force, Aeronautica Militare Italiana, as part of a 1997 contract. Lockheed Martin also will use the laptop to retrofit nine C-130Js in a deal the company has with the Marine Corps, DePiazza said. The Tadpole laptop used by Lockheed Martin is "pretty much a standard unmodified unit," he said. The UltraBook runs on a 400-megahertz UltraSparc IIi, with 256 megabytes of random access memory and two 20-gigabyte hard drives. Tadpole sees a wide market as one of many for Solaris-based laptops in the military, said Bob Butchko, the vice president of sales and marketing who handles U.S. federal sales for Cambridge, U.K.-based Tadpole.Although Tadpole lost $11.5 million on $36.2 million in sales in 2001, it also saw a 47 percent increase in sales during that time, according to Hoover's Online of Austin, Texas."There are many reasons to take Unix to the field, and anytime you need to execute Unix-based programs in the field, you will need the portability of a Unix laptop," Butchko said. Solaris has a heavy presence in the military, in part from its roots from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said John Leahy, chief of staff for Sun Microsystems Federal Inc. In May, Trusted Solaris 8 was the first operating system to receive the highest level of certification under the Common Criteria, the National Information Assurance Partnership-led de facto standard for secure systems.Portable maintenance aids may be one growing market, according to a July 2001 report prepared for the Defense Department's Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition. Such devices are used to display technical data and documentation, perform diagnostics and upload or download operational data. The report stated that the use of PMAs is "one of the fastest growing phenomena within the Department of Defense." Air Force personnel use PMAs to complete 1,400 maintenance checks on C-5 Galaxy aircraft. The Army has fielded 3,100 units of its Soldier's Portable On-System Repair Tool, a handheld computer that does everything from upload data to Abrams tanks to tap test data from Apache helicopters. The report said that PMAs can cost up to $30,000 each, depending on the amount of customization needed. The price of an Ultrabook III through the General Services Administration schedule of reseller GTSI Corp., Chantilly, Va., is $7,203.90.Other integrators that have used the laptop include General Dynamics Corp., Falls Church, Va., Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles, and Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, in agencies such as the Defense Department and the National Security Agency.Even Sun, which doesn't offer a Solaris laptop itself, sells Tadpole through its Tactical Advanced Computer Joint Workstation contract with the Navy."Tadpole continues to be a very valuable asset to Sun," Leahy said. *Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at
Bob Butchko, vice president of sales and marketing for Tadpole.
Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.