If U.S. Army scientists have their way, future antennas for vehicles and dismounted infantry will be smaller and more nondescript and will feature greatly increased reception. Research is focusing on lightweight conformal antennas that can be built into soldiers’ uniforms and equipment as well as vehicle structures.
One of the major thrusts of the Army’s work is making antennas less obvious, says Dr. Steven Weiss, team leader of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s (ARL’s) antenna team. He notes that Army researchers also are examining new technologies such as metamaterials—engineered substances that do not have properties found in nature. For example, mounting antennas to conform to the side or the inside of a vehicle can affect their performance, but antennas made of metamaterials may counteract some of these effects.
The Army is interested in developing conformal antennas for ground vehicles. These could be used for communications or jamming improvised explosive devices. Because they are part of the vehicle’s structure, they lower its overall visual profile, making it more survivable on the battlefield. Antennas could be inconspicuously mounted onto vehicles in a number of ways: flush against the vehicle’s skin, incorporated into part of its structure such as a bumper, or conformed to the contours of the vehicle’s shape.
But developing conformal antennas for ground vehicles presents a variety of challenges. These issues include ground effects, such as radio interference, and size and weight issues for vehicles equipped with the antennas.