Advanced avionics and fly-by-wire systems in commercial and military aircraft are processing
more data and consuming more power than ever before.
That requires avionics designers to engineer embedded
electronics and interconnect systems that can handle
increased data speeds and bandwidth without adding
significant weight. To support this goal, interconnect
standards for commercial and military avionics are
advancing, delivering important developments for military
Importance of ARINC, IMA, and OSA Standards
Commercial airline manufacturers were the first to
kick off the development of standards for aviation
electronics by forming Aeronautics Radio INC (ARINC)
in 1929. The initial focus was standards for ground-based
communications. The scope of ARINC standards was
soon enlarged to include standards for communications
inside the aircraft as well.
Accompanying the development of ARINC standards
were the U.S. military’s own initiatives:
• Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA): More of a
concept than a standard, IMA grew out of the F- 22
Joint Integrated Avionics Working Group (JIAWG)
formed in 1987. The benefit for designers is that
IMA allows the same part or card to be used between
different computer modules, helping reduce weight
and maintenance issues.
• Open Systems Architecture (OSA): The result of a
1994 Department of Defense (DoD) directive, OSA
is also not a standard. It is a strategy that relies on
defined and published standards-based interfaces and
module designs instead of proprietary technologies.
Many OSA modules are defined by standards
developed by VITA working groups, such as VPX
module standards for embedded systems.
While IMA and OSA share similarities, IMA is leading
the future with vigorous development of standards being
driven by two factors critical to avionics designers:
• Reducing weight by enabling a robust platform that
puts more computing power in one box requiring far
• Expanding data-transmission speed and bandwidth.
Modular Integration is Challenging
Given the evolution of standards and application
requirements, military avionics designers and connector
OEMs face a number of challenges.
The first challenge is to implement modular integration
with a compact, lightweight packaging system that it is rugged
enough for the aerospace environment. At first glance, it
looks like it’s simply a matter of the OEMs leveraging COTS
technologies and making them more robust.
But designing more rugged connectors can take two
paths for OEMs:
• Path 1 offers the most freedom, but uses a proprietary
• Path 2 follows an OSA approach implementing open
ARINC and VITA standards.
Figure 1: MiniMRP
modules. (Image Source:
Boosting Bus Speed and Bandwidth Are Also Challenging
The second challenge for avionics connectors is handling
increased data speeds and bandwidth. The digital battlefield
is outpacing the data speed/bandwidth requirements of
commercial applications. This puts more demands on box-to-box connectivity in military applications.
In distributed avionics, a large number of links do not run
long distances and range from 100 Mb Ethernet to 10
Gb Ethernet. In these cases, copper cabling, specifically
Cat6A, is suitable for flight control, avionics, and cabin
management systems. Cat6A can support 10 Gb Ethernet
at 83 m, versus 36 m for a Cat 6 cable. For ruggedness,
By Russ Graves, global aerospace business development manager, TE Connectivity
Commercial and Military
Avionics Connectors Advance
to Meet High Power, Data Needs
Embedded electronics and interconnect systems support increased data speeds and bandwidth without adding extra weight.