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Gigabit Ethernet goes to war

The US Navy continued to ramp up network power this week by signing Boeing to a five-year, $42.9 million to upgrade and support the Gigabit Ethernet networks it is building on its guided missile destroyers.

The Navy’s Gigabit Ethernet Data Multiplex System (GEDMS) upgrades the current 100Mbps fiber-based backbone network to a 1Gbs redundant Ethernet mesh, bringing enhanced multimedia capability to the ships, the Navy said.

The GEDMS is the heart and soul of the guided missile ships and basically handles ship-wide data transfers and supports navigation, combat, alarm and indicating, and damage control systems. It also is the underlying communications mechanism for the Aegis missile system which uses a system of radars to track and destroy targets.

According to the Navy, GEDMS was designed to replace the miles of point-to-point cabling, signal converters, junction boxes, and switchboards associated with conventional ship’s cabling.

While it is the largest contract awarded so far, this latest contract is merely a continuation of work Boeing has been handling since 2007 to upgrade the Navy’s ship-based networks. For example, it was the contractor with the fiber upgrade in 2007 that cost $7 million. In 2008 it got another $5.4 million to continue the work.

Ultimately such deals are all part of the Navy's efforts to modernize what it calls DDG-51 class guided missile destroyers.

“This flexible, cost-effective network provides optimal shipboard control and provides the Navy with a system architecture that allows ships to introduce network-centric control systems gracefully and with minimal risk, because the migration does not necessitate wholesale replacement of equipment” said Jay Nieto, Boeing GEDMS program manager in a release.

Gigabit Ethernet in general is high on the military’s list of technologies to deploy. In fact a roadmap about one of its most high-profile systems, unmanned aircraft, states that Gigabit Ethernet and the adoption of other standardized communications equipment will be paramount for future development.

Of course the military isn’t the only group bumping up Ethernet’s status. NASA in April signed an agreement with a German Ethernet vendor to build highly fault-tolerant networks for space-based applications.

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