Box-on, Box-off: GRiD’s cost-effective solution to vehicle computer upgrades

In this blog, we explore how modern military vehicles are growing increasingly complex to address modern threats on the battlefield – including the addition of advanced electronic systems – and how GRiD’s expertise in ‘box-on, box-off’ can help when it comes to vehicle upgrades and saving significant costs and time.  

How many of us know, or have even thought about, what lies behind the dashboard of the everyday car? Not many, although some may have tinkered with audio in their youth to install a booming sound system. But take out that panel—be it leather-trimmed with mahogany, or plain moulded plastic—and there will be a surprising number of wires and cables connecting the instruments, switches and displays to a central computer.

It’s the same in a modern battlefield vehicle. After all, a tank or armoured personnel carrier is just the same as a car, albeit larger and with a lot more armour protection for the occupants and maybe a gun or two. It still has an engine, brakes and driving instruments.

But to add another dimension of complexity, today’s high-end battlefield vehicles are fitted with a bewildering array of external and internal communications systems, self-protection systems, and sensors that can cover a wide spectrum. In armoured vehicles the traditional crew-served weapon has largely given way to remote under-armour operation, requiring various systems for weapon-aiming and guidance by computer, and in some cases, there are computer-controlled weapon-loading functions.

All these systems are operated from work-stations equipped with tablets and controllers. As well as vying for precious space, cooling and electrical power within the confines of the vehicle, they all need to be connected to a central computer.

The result is that the vehicle is fitted with many hundreds of metres of cabling built in to serve the computer and connect the host of peripheral systems. That cabling is designed into the vehicle right from the early stages of development, and is packed away carefully, at times within the vehicle’s structure, to minimise protrusion into the internal space.

Replacing the Computer

When the vehicle is new, the cabling and computer are matched to the requirements of the various peripheral systems. However, as the vehicle matures the computer can become its weakest link while the sensors continue to perform as required. In the fast-paced world of computing, parts and computers themselves become obsolete quickly, and may become impossible to support or replace like-for-like. Moreover, the customer may wish to add more functionality within the computer itself, demanding more powerful processing that it cannot deliver.

In these cases, it will be determined that it’s time for new computers and interfaces.

Simple? On the face of it, yes, but the reality is that many of those peripherals employ connectors that are largely out of use in the commercial world. Of course, there are converter boxes available, but where do you put them in the already cramped space that exists in armoured vehicles?

One could re-wire the peripherals with new connectors and interfaces, but in most cases to re-wire a vehicle requires a tear-down and rebuild, which is not only time-consuming—taking the vehicle out of the operational fleet for many weeks—but also prohibitive in terms of cost. A vehicle rewire would almost certainly require a new safety case to be developed and certification as well for that platform, which again would add cost and delays to programmes.

There is another solution – box on, box off

What if you could build a new more powerful computer, with all of the processing and functionality one requires, that not only fitted into the same space as the obsolete unit but, crucially, connected straight into the existing cable network and its connectors?

This is the solution being offered by GRiD Defence Systems and that is now being introduced to customers. The company’s unrivaled expertise in providing ruggedised military computers, including highly-experienced UK-based engineers, and its unique understanding of connectors and cabling have enabled this.

Read more: Making Connections: How GRiD configures its computers for any interface

Taking this concept one stage further, the company is offering computers that can plug right into the space in the vehicle (or boat, mobile command post etc.) occupied by the previous system and connect directly to the existing connectors.

The advantages of this ‘box-on, box-off’ solution (although maybe ‘box-off, box-on’ would be a better description) are many. It allows the end-user to upgrade their vehicles with the latest computer technology without having to take them out of the fleet for any significant amount of time.

There is much less risk involved as only the computer is being changed, leaving all the existing cabling in place. In turn, there is no requirement for any further certification and safety/security analysis. The increase in computing power also provides the customer with the ability to uplift capability if they require.

Above all, it is a much cheaper option than any other solution.

Tailor-made Computers

GRiD can offer such a solution as a result of the company’s holistic approach to building its computers. The issue of obsolete connectors is handled within the computer itself, so that it is equipped with the correct physical connections to match the existing cabling. Converting data received through different interfaces is also handled internally, negating the need for external converter boxes.

GRiD’s long experience with connectors ensures that pin-out configurations match those of the existing inputs exactly, giving customers peace of mind that their new computers will connect perfectly from day one.

Seamless connections are one element of the solution, the other being the physical mounting of the computer itself. As GRiD designs the rugged chassis of each computer in its UK facility, the chassis can be designed to match the exact dimensions, connector apertures, cooling requirements and mounting racks/plates of the old unit to complete the ‘box-on, box-off’ solution.

Alternatively, GRiD can also offer a redesigned chassis that is potentially more compact than the original, along with redesigned mounting plates or racks.

With many customers operating ageing fleets of battlefield vehicles, whose computers are increasingly difficult to support and inadequate for modern operations, GRiD’s unique ‘box-on, box-off’ solution offers the simplest, least risky and most cost-efficient method of replacing old computers with modern, highly capable and very rugged units.

Want to learn more about box on, box off? Contact us if you require further assistance and our expert team can advise on +44 (0)1628 810 230 or drop an email to