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Military Vital To RF Industry

Commercial business has accounted for some boom years in this industry. But financial stability tends to come from military markets. A sampling of companies at the recent MTT-S exhibition in Boston revealed the importance of military customers to the RF/microwave industry, since most of the companies enjoying any kind of success this year can thank military electronic markets for their good fortunes. On the other hand, those depending on commercial applications have found it to be sporadic and unreliable, and have generally been on the short end of their business budgets.

Most RF companies aiming at both commercial and military markets desgn and manufacture product lines specifically for those applications. Why not just design one set of products for both application areas? Unfortunately, performance and price requirements can be dramatically different for military and commercial applications. Military platforms for electronic warfare (EW), for example, require broadband frequency coverage to handle a wide range of potential threats. Traditionally, this has meant continuous coverage from 2 to 18 GHz, often in a single amplifier or passive component, such as a power divider.

In contrast, commercial applications tend to fall into narrow frequncy bands. In the US, for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), determines frequency band allotments for commercial applications, usually in narrow frequency bands. The one exception is low-power ultrawideband (UWB) technology in the 3.1-to-10.6-GHz range, designed to operate without interfering with existing applications.

Commercial applications must also compete on price in a way unknown to specifiers for military electronic designs, which are usually driven by performance and reliability. Commercial applications must be reliable, while meeting performance goals at low prices.

Components for the two application areas often have a common starting point. Broadband frequency coverage in a power divider or amplifier may be necessary for EW, but can also be critical for some commercial applications, such as in test equipment; a single design may serve both application areas. However, the environmental testing required for military applications accounts for the sometimes hefty price differential in a common design sold into the two different market areas. Yet, given the health of current military markets, most RF/microwave manufacturers are happy to have a military product line to point to, if not a common line of products that serves both commercial and military applications.

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