Military electronics rely on the latest technologies to gain that allimportant edge, often with life or death in the balance. Their components and circuits must withstand the temperature extremes of the desert, the salt spray of the ocean, and the highacceleration forces of fighter jets.
Whether it’s in favor of their roughand- tumble origins or despite them, these technologies often significantly influence those found in commercial and consumer products. Some, like spread-spectrum communications and code-division-multiple access (CDMA), eventually migrate from military to commercial applications. And there’s no reason to believe that new technologies bound for today’s military won’t become the driving forces behind tomorrow’s consumer products.
GET WITH THE PROGRAM
Military electronic technologies are generally developed according to the needs of major programs, such as the U.S. Navy’s Cruiser Modernization Program and the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program.
With Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor, the Cruiser Modernization Program includes an upgrade of as many as 22 existing Aegis-systemequipped cruisers. The Aegis Weapon System, which incorporates the Navy’s most advanced computer-controlled radar system, the SPY-1, is also the maritime weapon system of choice for cruisers in Australia, Japan, South Korea, Norway, and Spain.
The program also provides for new vessels. For instance, take the DD(G) destroyer’s Advanced Gun System, which can fire shells guided by the Global Positioning System (GPS) at distances to 100 nautical miles. The CG(X) cruiser has a hull designed for stealth operations and a new air-defense radar system that detects low radar-cross-section (RCS) threats at extended distances. Both vessels are designed for reduced crew size and operating costs.
The U.S. Navy’s Combined Engagement Concept (CEC) intends to integrate the defenses of naval forces at sea by combining sensor information from ships and aircraft within 2500 square miles. The U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps are developing similar networkcentric systems.
Because all branches of the armed forces are concerned with controlling costs, Lockheed Martin has sought commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology solutions as part of managing the large program. For instance, the prime contractor selected the Aydin Displays subsidiary of Video Display Corp. for a 20.1-in. COTS flat-panel display to be integrated into the Aegis Weapon System’s Operational Readiness Test System (ORTS).
Honeywell Electronic Materials launched new materials for flat-panel displays aimed at reducing power consumption and manufacturing costs. The project was funded by a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and managed by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the United States Display Consortium (USDC), a public-private group devoted to promoting flat-panel display technology.
Based on thin-film transistors, the new material enhances the amount of visible light that passes through the display while only absorbing less than 1% of the light. The material also achieves planarity in excess of 90%. It supports the design of lightweight and rugged flexible displays for a variety of airborne and vehicular applications.
The U.S. Army’s FCS program has been called a “System of Systems,” with 14 subsystems, the soldier, and a secure wireless network to link them all. Managed by Boeing and Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), the FCS will equip next-generation troops with remote-controlled robotic tools and weapons.
Such technologies include manned ground vehicles (MGVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). The FCS, which not coincidentally resembles a real-life video game, includes advanced sensors and a wireless network with high-speed data and video capacity to connect soldier operators with their robotic “partners.”
The FCS program represents a contract worth about $21 billion over its lifetime. It’s currently in its System Development and Demonstration phase (2003-2014), with full deployment scheduled for 2015. Some of the technologies under development are being put to the test under battlefield conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This past October, Army Chief of Staff General George W. Casey Jr. provided members of Congress with a review of some of those FCS technologies at work. The technologies included several UGVs, such as the PacBot tactical robot developed by iRobot and Honeywell Aerospace’s Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) UAV (Fig. 1).
Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) are challenging the performance limitations stated in Moore’s Law by pursuing research on semiconductor devices that rely on electron spin rather than electron charge. Traditionally, semiconductor devices used charge flow through device junctions and size scaling to achieve higher speeds and frequencies in devices (see “R&D At NRL And DARPA” at www.electronicdesign.com, Drill Deeper 17629).
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DARPA is among several military and commercial research groups pursuing computers capable of petaFLOPS (thousand-trillion floating-point operations per second) processing capabilities, with the thought that cryogenic superconducting electronics may ultimately provide the solution.
IBM’s Blue Gene/L computer has reached 280 TFLOPS using multiple CPUs. But, PFLOPS capability may be beyond the realm of room-temperature electronics using Josephson junctions maintained at cryogenic temperatures. Superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), which are essentially two Josephson junctions in parallel, are so sensitive to changes in magnetic fields that they’re used on board U.S. Navy submarines for mine detection.
The U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center (CERDEC) contracted with superconductor company Hypres last year to come up with an analog-todigital converter (ADC) capable of directly digitizing signals through 20 GHz with 1-GHz bandwidth.
CERDEC also funded the company to develop a hybrid technology digital receiver for satellite communications (satcom) systems using low-noise superconducting electronics to cut system noise figure and improve satcom link margins. Hypres’ technology is based on the use of niobium chips, which are maintained at 4 K (â??452Â°F).
Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force contracted with another player in the superconductor arena, Superconductor Technologies, to develop tunable, reconfigurable filters based on superconduction for use in sensitive RF receivers.
Finally, even test equipment must meet some rigorous requirements. A current trend in military measurement technology is to adopt modular “synthetic instruments” (SIs). They resemble softwaredefined radios (SDRs) in that software defines the functions of the hardware.
Rather than specify a measurement system using a specific signal generator, spectrum analyzer, or a power meter, an SI system would employ a direct-digital synthesizer (DDS) or other form of arbitrary waveform generator as the signal source. It also uses a frequency upconverter to achieve the required frequency coverage and a high-speed digitizer that could be controlled with software to provide a required set of measurements.
Aeroflex’s Synthetic Multifunction Adaptable Reconfigurable Test Environment (SMART^E) is an SI test system based on reconfigurable hardware and software (Fig. 2). The SMART^E 5000 system employs a proprietary synthetic chassis and COTS modules based on LAN eXtensions for Instrumentation (LXI) technology. LXI can support a number of measurement interfaces, like LAN, PXI, Compact PCI, and GPIB.
Based on an open architecture with industry-standard software and hardware, the test system can adapt to applications in electronic warfare, radar, communications, and navigation. Configurations are available to 40 GHz.