The Mil & Aero Blog
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
  Remember when...
Posted by John McHale

I was getting my oil changed today and the Valvoline manager said "I wish you could still get a Nissan Maxima in standard. It's so rare."

I have a 2005, one of the last years they made a Maxima with 6-speed manual transmission. Incidentally, when I have it in 6th gear on long-distance, low-traffic, highway driving it is sipping gas. I've taken it 350 miles on only a half tank of gas -- kinda handy these days.

Anyway, getting nostalgic about stick shifts got me thinking about what's changed in the last decade or so in military electronics, so I grabbed one of our issues from 1997 -- February to be exact. Unfortunately anything before March 2000 is unavailable on our digital archives so I actually had to pull it off a shelf!

The headline I found most interesting was "Intel set to quit military business." Quit it they did, with the article stating the company was to quit taking military orders on Christmas Eve, 2007.

The reason, said the Intel Military Product Group's marketing manager at the time, was simply that parts for the commercial market are far more lucrative than mil-spec parts.

Well, since that article's publication Intel returned to this less lucrative market and is now carving a niche -- specifically in the military embedded market, while saying repeatedly they have no plans to exit it. Apple's purchase of P.A. Semi may drive more military business toward Intel as it's still unclear whether P.A. Semi's low-power chip -- so popular among military embedded designers -- will continue production long term.

Another headline included "Pentek unveils Quad TMS320C6201 DSP communications board." The last decade has seen the PowerPC general purpose processor surpass the traditional DSP (digital signal processing) chips for military signal processing applications, but it's nice to see that Pentek is still Pentek, having avoided acquisition.

However, since 1997, there has been a great deal of mergers and acquisitions involving defense primes, subprimes, and vendors. In his February, 1997 "Report from Washington and elsewhere," our then Washington Bureau Chief, John Rhea, discussed Boeing's purchase of McDonnell Douglas two months prior and made a case for some combination of Hughes Aircraft, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon to compete with Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Well, Raytheon won the Hughes competition and the landscape is still quite competitive among defense electronics prime contractors. The acquisitions keep on coming too -- and the buyers aren't always American behemoths. For example the United Kingdom's BAE Systems purchased the defense electronics company Sanders from Lockheed Martin nearly a decade ago and Italy's Finmeccanica recently moved to acquire DRS Technologies.

The DRS deal is yet to go through and its future impact remains mostly speculation. However, I'm sure if we look back 10 years from now we'll see mergers and acquisitions still going on, Pentek generating DSP headlines, and hopefully Intel still supplying chips to defense customers.
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