Tracking Trends In Military-Electronics Technologies

Sept. 12, 2007
Some of the largest of military programs are pushing for troop and fleet modernization, making use of advanced technologies as well as practical manufacturing approaches.

Military-electronics technology has long trended toward achieving more functionality and performance in smaller packages. The ways in which electronic technologies are applied may change, but that trend for smaller and lighter electronic devices and systems remains. For companies faced with supplying electronic components and equipment for military applications, most innovations focus on saving size, power, weight, and, of course, cost.

At the highest levels, military-electronics technology is driven by large programs, and each of the branches of the United States military has invested in major, "pet" programs aimed at modernization and/or future capabilities. The US Army's appropriately named Future Combat Systems (FCS) program (, for example, represents one of the most ambitious developmental programs in US military history. Often referred to as a "system of systems," FCS is based on a vision of a robotic battlefield, using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and robot soldiers, and a sophisiticated wireless communications network for communications and control among humans with remote controls and their robotic counterparts. Under the stewardship of prime contractor, The Boeing Co. (, and partner Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), acting as Lead Systems Integrator (LSI), the FCS program has so far met all major milestones in developing this next-generation electronic army.

The FCS System of Systems Functional Review, for example, conducted about two years ago, lasted for five days and involved more than 35 briefings and dozens of demonstrations to attendees who included members of the US Army, Department of Defense (DoD), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The review included more than 11,000 system-of-systems engineering requirements derived and allocated through a rigorous systems engineering process. The review, conducted more than two years into the FCS program, was part of the FCS Systems Development and Demonstration Contact, valued at $20.9 billion. Since the review, the FCS program has undergone several successful field experiments and demonstrations, to the great satisfaction of US Army attendees and participants involved with various aspects of FCS electronic systems. The spinout of FCS capabilities is expected to begin in 2008, including networking, unattended munitions, sensors, and robotic systems, with the first FCS Unit of Action (larger-scale system) scheduled for release in 2014. The Unit of Action includes 18 manned and unmanned ground and air platforms, tied together by wireless network.

Most recently, Boeing and SAIC ( have selected Elgin, OK as a principal site for FCS Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) integration and assembly work. Partner BAE Systems ( will construct and manage a 150,000-sq.-ft. facilityat the Ft. Sill Industrial Park in Elgin. The facility will initially house production integration and assembly activities for the Non-Line-of-Sight Cannon (NLOS-C) initial production platform, the first of eight FCS vehicle variants. Completion of the new facility is anticipated in 2009. The FCS MGVs are being developed in partnership with BAE Systems and General Dynamics ( with the intent of dramatically enhancing soldier survivability. The MGVs feature an integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system, the first use of such technology in operational Army ground combat vehicles. The first use of the hybrid electric drive technology will be in the NLOS-C.

Looking forward, Boeing and the US Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) have signed a three-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to analyze current, emerging, and future joint warfighting concepts and capabilities. The analysis is in concert with the USJFCOM's Joint Innovation and Experimentation Directorate (Suffolk, VA), and will employ computer modeling, simulation, and analysis with virtual and live experiments to evaluate the US DoD's joint concepts and enabling capabilities. Boeing Advanced Systems' AMSE division will lead the company's efforts under the CRADA.

In addition to its sophisticated networking capabilities, the FCS relies on advanced robotics technologies to keep human soldiers out of harm's way. Boeing recently signed a teaming agreement with robotics specialist iRobot Corp. ( to develop and deliver a next-generation Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) for military, civil, and commercial applications. The SUGV is designed to be less than 30 lbs. and enable users to remotely conduct reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations. The agreement calls for the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology to the greatest extent possible in the development of the SUGV, which is expected to be in production by 2008.

The developmental SUGV Early will be a smaller, lighter version of iRobot's PackBot robot, which is battle tested in Iraq and Afghanistan for safely disarming improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as searching buildings, tunnels, and caves for hostile forces. According to Vice Admiral Joe Dyer (U.S. Navy, Ret.), president of iRobot Government & Industrial Robots, "By teaming with Boeing, we can leverage their system-of-system capabilities and global marketing strength to quickly get these life-saving robots into the hands of our troops, first responders and allies worldwide."

Boeing and iRobot will jointly market the new SUGV Early robot. Boeing will also contribute expertise in systems integration, large-volume production, and global marketing, while iRobot will design, develop, and manufacture the robot using its proven experience with the iRobot PackBot and its development work on the FCS program. Dennis Muilenburg, vice president and general manager for Boeing Combat Systems, says "We see ground robots as a major new growth market and iRobot, as the industry leader in this field, is our partner of choice to bring new robot technology to market." More than 900 iRobot PackBot robots have been delivered to a broad range of military and civilian customers worldwide, for operations that have included life-saving missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. iRobot recently announced a delivery order from the US Navy to build additional bomb-disposal robots for shipment to the US forces overseas. The $14 million award from the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) calls for 101 iRobot PackBot Man Transportable Robotic System (MTRS) robots, plus spare parts to repair robots in the field. iRobot shipped the initial lot of PackBot robots for this order in late March 2007, and the company expects to deliver the remaining robots pursuant to this delivery order before the end of this year. Under the terms of the previously existing Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contract, the military could order up to the full $264 million value in robots, spare parts, training, and repair services. The US military's MTRS program has requirements for as many as 1200 robots through 2012.

If By Sea At sea, the US Navy is modernizing its fleets through its Cruiser Modernization Program. The program is meant as a cost-effective means of sustaining or increasing the naval ship complement while employing new technologies and capabilities. The Cruiser Modernization Program is designed to upgrade most combat systems, all mechanical and electrical systems and replace steam systems with electrical systems. The program includes development of the DD(G) next-generation destroyer and the CG(X) next-generation cruiser.

The DD(G) will feature a revolutionary gun called the Advanced Gun System (AGS), which can hurl shells at distances to 100 nautical miles with high accuracy. The AGS will fire rocket-assisted long-range rounds guided by the Global Positioning System (GPS). These Long Range Land Attack Projectiles (LRLAPs) can be fired at a rate of 12 rounds per minute. The fully automated gun and magazine will employ a water-cooled barrel to sustain the high firing rate without overheating.

The CG(X) will share a common propulsion system with the DD(G) but a stealthier hull form. The hull form will contain an integrated all-electric power system more efficient than current propulsion systems with more power capacity for future weapons systems. Like the DD(G), the CG(X) will be designed for reduced crew size and operating and support costs. In support of both ships, a new generation of air-defense radar systems is under development to counter low radar-cross-section (RCS) threats at extended ranges. The CG(X) will be able to detect, track, and engage ballistic missiles at long range and outside of the atmosphere. Additionally, the US 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 US Air Force and Marine Corps are developing similar network-centric systems.

Because the US Navy is committed to cost reductions on the Cruiser Modernization Program, it is seeking technology partners capable of "leaps of innovation" that will help achieve performance targets at reduced weight, size, and cost. One microwave company involved with applying innovative technology to the program is Merrimac Industries ( with its advanced Multi-Mix multilayer circuit technology. Based on the use of fusion-bonded circuit-board layers that can hold embedded active and passive components, and handle high power levels through millimeter-wave frequencies, Multi-Mix has been applied to several multifunction modules, including an Integrated Module used as part of the advanced radar system aboard the DD(G). Compared to traditional RF/microwave circuit technologies, the Multi-Mix module is helping to remove about 3000 lbs. per ship. The company also supplies a highly integrated Multi-Mix beamforming assembly for the CG(X) cruiser.

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Software-Defined Radios
Tactical radio communications has long been steered by the initiatives of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, now under the guidance of the US Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). The concept of JTRS is simple: to provide secure but compatible communications across different branches of the military. Achieving the goal is not so simple, because of the different frequency bands, modulation formats, and coding sequences traditionally used by different branches of the military. The JTRS concept relies on the use of software-defined-radio (SDR) technology, in which the characteristics of a radio can be altered through software programming and the use of different, precisely specified waveform definitions. A typical SDR waveform includes all radio functions from the user input to the RF output: the combination of components, interconnections, and software needed to make the SDR behave in a certain way. The technology is promoted by an industry group known as the SDR Forum (

Although the hardware portions of SDRs can vary (generally covering an RF range of 2 to 2000 MHz), the software portion of the radio is clearly defined by the Software Communications Architecture (SCA). In an SDR, the software defines radio operation from the physical layer through higher-level protocol layers. The SCA is an open-architecture framework that aims for the portability, reusability, and scalability of the software and hardware developed under its guidelines to ensure that radios and software from one vendor work with the hardware and software from another vendor.

One of the key suppliers of SDR technology, Rockwell Collins (, recently introduced its Software Defined Radio Software Communications Architecture Waveform Development System (SCA WDS). The development was made possible through a strategic relationship with PrismTech ( Under the terms of their arrangement, Rockwell Collins will bundle its FlexNet Four Radio with PrismTech's Spectra SDR development products, allowing international customers and SDR users to develop their own SCA-compliant waveforms. According to Bruce King, vice president and general manager of Communications Systems for Rockwell Collins, "This relationship with PrismTech enables us to offer unparalleled capability in the development of SCA compliant SDR waveforms." The FlexNet Four provides operation from 2 MHz to 2 GHz with programmable interoperability and as many as four simultaneous channels.

Another leader in SDR-based tactical radios, Harris Corp. (, recently received a $212 million IDIQ contract from the US Marine Corps for JTRS-approved Falcon® III Tactical Radios (Fig. 1). The company will provide the US Marine Corps with its multiband, multi-mission, SINCGARS interoperable Falcon III AN/VRC-110 20-W vehicular radio systems, which include Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) multiband handheld radios. The IDIQ contract calls for a maximum of 14,100 Falcon III AN/VRC-110 systems over three years. The radio systems are targeted for installation into Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP) and other applications. Harris is already providing Falcon radios for US Navy MRAP vehicles. The Marine Corps will also deploy Falcon III AN/VRC-110 radios to begin the transition and replacement of legacy SINCGARS radios.

The agreement is the second IDIQ contract recently awarded to Harris for its Falcon III radios. In June, Harris was awarded a contract by the Joint Program Executive Office of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JPEO JTRS) with potential value of as much as $2.7 billion to supply Falcon III® handheld tactical radio systems to the US DoD for all branches of the military. The contract includes additional options that if exercised over a five-year period could increase the potential value to nearly $7 billion.

As mentioned previously, military electronics systems integrators now seek what is known as reduced SWaP, for reduced Size, Weight, and Power—even at the integrated-circuit (IC) level. Suppliers of key electronic components, such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), application-specific ICs (ASICs), and digital signal processors (DSPs) are currently exploring designs in small-geometry semiconductor processors, such as 65-nm silicon CMOS processes, in order to reach lower SWaP levels. The higher-level circuit integration with lower power consumption is particularly critical for portable military systems, such as SDRs, but is also sought for mobile applications such as UAVs, vehicular systems, and avionic systems.

The SWaP concerns can translate into lighter weight and longer mission times for portable tactical radios, for example. Altera Corp. ( is among the companies addressing military concerns for SWaP requirements, in their case through enhanced Stratix III and Cyclone III FPGAs as well as the company's HardCopy II structured application-specific-integrated-circuit (ASIC) devices. Altera's approach to achieving SWaP requirements and lower power per logic element (LE) includes the use of a 65-nm semiconductor process technology from device foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. ( For example, 65-nm Cyclone III FPGAs were used in a secure tactical radio for orthogonal frequency-division-multiple-access (OFDMA) symbol-level processing. For a data rate of 3 Mb/s, with four-channel multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) operation, two carriers using 16-state quadrature amplitude modulation (16QAM), a 112-µs symbol rate, 5.7-MHz channel bandwidth, and 420 11-kHz subcarrier channels, the radio consumed only 0.15 W of static power.

A key trend in electronic test for military systems is adoption of synthetic instruments (SI) wherever possible, as part of the DoD's NxTest initiative. The concept involves linking hardware and software modules together to emulate standard rack-mount instruments, but in a more flexible, programmable configuration. The modules are designed to be reusable in different measurement scenarios to reduce total lifetime costs of test.

As an example, Agilent Technologies ( offers several SI modules for frequency upconversion, frequency downconversion, arbitrary waveform generation, and signal sampling. The model N8221A intermediate-frequency (IF) digitizer provides an 80dB dynamic range with 14-b of vertical resolution, capturing signals with 30 MSamples/s. The model N8201A frequency downconverter covers 3 Hz to 26.5 GHz while the model N8211A analog upconverter spans either 250 kHz to 20 GHz or 250 kHz to 40 GHz.

The model N82414A arbitrary waveform generator features 15-b resolution and choice of 625 MSamples/s or 1.25 GSamples/s sampling rate. The instruments are designed to communicate over standard local-area networks (LANs) to form flexible automatic-test-equipment (ATE) systems with the smallest footprints possible.

At the device level, Microsemi Corp. ( recently simplified the jobs of TCAS transmitter designers with the introduction of the model TCS1200 1200-W pulsed power transistor (Fig. 2). Designed to deliver that output power when operating at +53 VDC at 1030 MHz with a 32-µs pulse at 2-percent duty cycle, the Class C device is rated for 10.2 dB minimum gain and at least 45-percent collector efficiency. The high-power silicon bipolar transistor exhibits the transient characteristics needed for TCAS pulsed avionic systems, with maximum rise time of 100 ns and maximum pulse droop of a mere 0.7 dB. The rugged transistor can handle load mismatches as severe as a 3.0:1 VSWR.

In other device news, the National Security Administration's Trusted Access Program Office recently accredited Raytheon's ( semiconductor foundry, Raytheon Radio Frequency Components (RRFC), as a DoD Category 1 Trusted Foundry. The agency's Category 1 designation, the highest awarded by the DoD, recognizes Raytheon's support of defense systems vital to mission effectiveness or operational readiness. According to Mark Russell, vice president of engineering for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, "This accreditation reflects our capability to provide the stringent protection measures required by the National Security Administration for gallium-arsenide (GaAs) and galliumnitride (GaN) foundries." The RRFC designs, develops, and manufactures GaAs and GaN monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) and modules for Raytheon's advanced radar, electronic-warfare, communications, and weapon systems.

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