Wire and cable in the defense industry -quantity and quality without qualification

Across multiple applications and with a variety of purposes, wires and cables play vital roles in the defense industry. And this is an industry where procurement consistently involves following strictly regulated processes (often requiring the monitoring of suppliers’ performance and ensuring that all goods delivered meet standards and comply with any relevant protocols), so the products delivered have to be up to scratch.

“Up to scratch” in the case of the military means meeting defense standards, which are defined by different governments, and across organizations, such as NATO. These are exact specifications which, though varying from country to country, nevertheless define manufacturing output quality.

One example is Defence Standard 61-12 Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 which relates to wires used by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in applications requiring high-density wiring within instruments and to connect electronic equipment. In short, for wire and cable manufacturers, the military is a demanding client – and manufacturers that serve multiple markets must follow the different specifications that are applicable to each.

In more specific terms, what drives demand? How is wire and cable used in defense? Understanding the different ways helps us grasp both the scale of the manufacturing challenges involved and the importance of delivering high-standard outputs.

Military use cases for wire and cable

Military use cases and/or domains requiring wires and cables include:

  1. Communications – Comms and signaling are backbone functions for the military, most obviously (but not limited to) the need for battlefield and combat communications and co-ordination. While wireless communications dominates, wires and cables (think coaxial) are still required in many applications.
  2.  Power – Whether devices, vehicles, weapons systems, or other defense componentry, wires and cables are widely used to transmit electric power across a range of equipment, machinery, and installations.
  • Systems – The defense industry relies on a range of operational systems, for example those for surveillance, radar, navigation, targeting, and other. Most if not all of these are built using electronic components that rely on wires and cables for connection of various parts and for power supply.
  • Instrumentation – Modern defense applications increasingly use sensors for data collection and then various forms of instrumentation for monitoring and control. It’s wires and cables again that connect the various components and their control systems.
  • Network distribution – Within military installations, wires and cables are used to connect generators and power sources to a range of different facilities and equipment, both on-base and in the battlefield.
  • Transportation – We we’ve seen in our earlier blog about (civilian) automotive wire and cables how central these components are, and the same principles apply to miliary vehicles. Not just automobiles but aircraft, ships, armored vehicles, and other forms of defense transport. In the military, many of these have particularly complex wiring systems and components and their performance is vital to proper operation.
  • Aerospace applications – Military aircraft have particularly stringent demands for lightweight, high-performance wires and cables that can operate in extreme conditions, even more so than in commercial aerospace.
  • Naval applications – Similar to aerospace but think submarines rather than planes, exposure to harsh environmental conditions remains a constant. Naval applications again require specialized wires and cables.
  • Weaponry – Wires and cables are central to a variety of weapons systems, responsible for roles ranging from guidance systems in missiles to triggering mechanisms in firearms.

And let’s not forget general performance and maintenance. In the field, military equipment needs to be upkept and, frequently, repaired. Defense forces therefore maintain a supply of wires and cables for these purposes, and they are critical to ensuring operational readiness. Ensuring sufficient supply and quality across logistics and supply chains is vital – so adherence to standards must be maintained.

As the above list makes clear, wire and cable are essential components across the industry, and it must meet strict quality, durability, and security standards to ensure the effectiveness and reliability of multiple applications that contribute to the military being able to perform its role.

Use case: The tank

Moving from the general to the specific, let’s look in a little more detail at one example of a defense application: the tank. Tanks are complex machines that rely on various electrical and electronic systems to operate effectively, and its wiring connects and provide power to different components, sensors, and the systems responsible for roles including:

  • Power distribution: wires ensure electrical power is distributed to various subsystems, including the engine, communication systems, sensors, and weapons systems.
  • Engine control: wires control and monitor the performance of tank engines managing fuel injection, ignition timing, and other aspects of operation.
  • Instrumentation and sensors: wires help monitor a variety sensers related to parameters such as temperature, pressure, and vehicle speed.
  • Communications: Wires are responsible for communications between on-board crew members and other units.
  • Weapon systems: Wiring is crucial for control and firing mechanisms of systems such as cannons, machine guns, and missile systems.
  • Navigation and control: Wiring connects control interfaces with the tank’s mobility systems allowing effective steering, acceleration, and braking.
  • Electronic countermeasures: Wiring connects systems that defend against the enemy’s electronic systems within the tank’s overall architecture.

The bottom line: Tank design relies on wires that must be robust and capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of military operations.

Manufacturing defense wire and cable

Given the widespread uses and characteristics we’ve noted above, manufacturing wire and cable for the defense industry is predicably challenging. Meeting strict quality standards regarding reliability and performance is of paramount importance and not straightforward when wires must be able to handle extreme environmental conditions including temperatures, humidity, and pressure variations without degrading.

In some applications weight is a critical factor and across all reliability is important, particularly when failures can lead to consequences including loss of life.  For manufacturers, making wire and cable for the defense industry therefore involves a demanding, complex, and stringent process with little or no margin for error.

Defense wires and cables must meet high standards and to achieve them, measurement plays a vital role. Wires must be manufactured with key measurement characteristics such traceability, true value, accuracy, precision, and others front of mind.

The wire drawing process is the pivotal step in ensuring that output meets the necessary standard. And it’s being able to rely on the accuracy of drawing dies that allows manufacturers to assure the quality of the end product. In the defense industry, an even slightly out of specification die means wires that can’t be used and that has consequences for both the military and the wire manufacturer.

For the latter, profitability often depends entirely on converting as much raw material to usable output as possible (and remember, the raw materials used are generally high quality and expensive), so issues in the drawing process represent a serious threat to commercial viability.

About Conoptica

Conoptica is a leading source of high accuracy measurement systems, offering a variety of different measurement systems applicable to the defense manufacturing industry. They enable accurate measurement, so users can track consistency and take appropriate actions – avoiding excessive quality deterioration and enabling better production outcomes.

Conoptica is the market leader for measurement equipment in the wire & cable industry and has been providing high tech camera-based measurement solutions since 1993. We make sure that the metal working industry has access to key quantitative data about their products and tools.