Commercial Components Feed Electronic Warfare Systems

June 1999
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Designers apply industry-standard components for smoother interfaces, rapid upgrades and easier use.

Integrated signal processors are the buzzword for new electronic warfare suites designed for adaptability across a broad range of threat environments. Embedding these commercial off-the-shelf devices in sea- and airborne signals intelligence platforms both increases interoperability and reduces the likelihood of rapid obsolescence.

New digitizing units are finding applications in electronic support measures, radar surveillance, electronic intelligence and electronic surveillance and collection. In addition to improving system performance and expanding applications, these devices are allowing vital signals intelligence data to be exchanged across the spectrum of military information networks.

These capabilities are offered on a series of upgraded and new systems from Condor Systems Incorporated. The San Jose, California-based firm also is relying on commercial processing electronics to free its researchers to concentrate on military-specific applications and technologies.

Vernon Dale, vice president for business development at Condor, states that the company is focusing on a handful of commercial off-the-shelf systems. No customer, however, buys off-the-shelf signals intelligence products without requiring some degree of tailoring, he notes. Customizing might be necessary for the antenna, the installation or the command system, for example. Employing commercial hardware such as central processing units, memory cards and interfaces provides the user with more flexibility to adapt or upgrade a system.

The company recently purchased ARGOSystems’ military systems group. Dale notes that this firm is strongly established in the ship and submarine electronic support measures and electronic countermeasures arena, which is one of Condor’s main target areas. The larger company also will have access to ARGOSystems’ established customer base, where it can introduce its own technology as upgrades or replacements for older systems. Dale offers that Condor also can more easily penetrate the electronic countermeasures market, using established ARGOSystems technology and next-generation research.

“There are more ships being upgraded than there are electronics intelligence aircraft being built,” Dale declares. “While the [ship] values per platform are less, the total programs are substantial.” The company already has one international order in hand and is competing for two others.

“In the past couple of years, we have come from being a supplier of RF [radio frequency] boxes and antennas to a supplier of integrated subsystems,” Dale says. “We want to integrate hardware boxes into subsystems that can be integrated into weapons or surveillance systems by prime contractors or the government.” Providing capabilities based on customer-specified end-to-end performance also mandates flexible interfaces, he adds.

The company has excerpted its signal processor architecture from its SP-100 and SP-110, which are replacing its SP-2200, and integrated it into other systems. The processor itself is commercial off-the-shelf, and proprietary cards generate measurements of signal parameters from received radio signals. Commercial software with industry standards is used as much as possible to ease integration into command systems. Dale allows that it is less expensive now to buy ruggedized processors from a vendor than to build a special purpose device.

Another innovation is the integration of a wideband digitizer into the signal processor. This allows users to digitize signals at the intermediate frequency, or IF, level and then create digital records of the signals to produce a high sampling rate to ensure a wide bandwidth capability greater than 70 megahertz. A set of software algorithms can process these data, which helps ensure a highly repeatable and controllable set of characteristics for the signal processor. This is an option that is being requested by many customers, especially for electronics intelligence collection, Dale states.

One major thrust has been to “refresh the technology” in the company’s SP-2060 and SP-2260 signal processor lines. These processors were originally built with commercial off-the-shelf standards, but many of its chips have long been obsolete or are from defunct companies. These chips are being upgraded with versa module European (VME) and current central processing unit standards. New software will be more compatible with modern software development tools, which will allow for easier future upgrades. Many changes can be retrofitted, which will allow in-service units to take advantage of some of these upgrades.

Another key company effort is its multichannel, multioperator CS-5500 electronic surveillance and collection system. Dale relates that the company is finishing development of this system and beginning initial deliveries. Describing it as the next generation of the company’s Hawk system in use by the U.S. Air Force for several years, Dale explains that the CS-5500 provides a total integrated product, as opposed to a collection of amassed components.

“We’ve made a tighter connection between the signal processing and the receiving system,” he says. Incorporating signal processing into current products is a recent development for the company, he notes. Integrating the signal processing provides both economies of scale and a performance advantage for customers, who now can receive answers instead of mere data.

The complete system comprises five components: the SA-118 nonblocking RF switch, the TN-340 wideband superheterodyne tuner, the MD-128 analysis demodulator, the MD-129 processing demodulator, and the SP-110 16-channel signal processor unit. The full CS-5500 serves as a wideband superheterodyne multichannel acquisition, receiving, collection and analysis system. The unit includes a Windows-based human-machine interface with full search and collection control, signal analysis and signal recording functions.

Able to support up to 16 simultaneous narrowband channels, the CS-5500 covers frequencies ranging from 0.5 to 18 gigahertz. Its analysis demodulator produces log, linear and frequency modulation (FM) video, along with 160-megahertz and 21.4-megahertz IF and audio. The processing demodulator provides threshold detection, signal centering, fine frequency measurement, digitized amplitude data for spectrum trace display, and video.

Consolidation is also a factor in the company’s CS-5550 airborne electronic support measures system; it offers the advantage of a low box count, Dale says. This system consolidates features such as monopulse direction finding and high-gain, high-sensitivity signal acquisition into a few units. The unit’s processor combines its superheterodyne and wide-open monopulse system into one box. This becomes especially useful for requirements such as situational awareness with high probability of intercept, single-bead reporting of intercepts.

The unit provides situational awareness, signal analysis and signal recording. Its frequency range is 2- to 18-gigahertz wideband and 0.5- to 18-gigahertz narrowband. It can process signal types such as normal, complex, pulse stagger, pulse Doppler, continuous wave and jitter. A full emitter library allows automatic emitter identification with more than 10,000 modes.

For greater signal exploitation or direction-finding accuracy, the company’s CS-5060 electronics intelligence system is similar to the 5550, but it lacks the integrated amplitude monopulse. It is effective for signal tuneup, observation, direction finding, exploitation and integration into an overall tactical picture. Dale allows that this capability could be useful for maritime patrol, counternarcotics operations and other interdictions.

The CS-5060 has a frequency range of 0.5 to 18 gigahertz and is accurate to within 250 kilohertz. It offers an instantaneous bandwidth of 500 megahertz. The system’s scan rate range runs from 0.05 to 100 hertz. Its pulsewidth ranges from 50 nanoseconds to 2.62 milliseconds.

Dale explains that the CS-5060 owes its origins to the 1980s U.S. Navy ALR-81, the manual electronics intelligence system. The Navy used its own ULQ-16 signal processor to measure signals located by the ALR-81. The increasing need for automatic signal processing and reduced operator interaction led to signal processor integration. Both the hardware and signal processing elements have been upgraded since the first processor integration. Enhancements include new methods of digitizing signals, passing them over Ethernets, and simplifying the interface between the operator console and the system. Complete displays can be transmitted digitally over an Ethernet for integration into other systems without distortion or requiring special purpose consoles, Dale offers.

The company’s CS-3701 is a naval electronic support measures system designed for both ships and submarines. Dale describes this system as a gap-filler for a general size of vessels. Most of the world’s navies, unlike the United States, employ smaller vessels such as frigates or patrol boats. This system is geared for deployment aboard fast attack craft—100-foot boats and larger. This includes corvettes and frigates, which are not well suited for conventional systems of this type developed for massive blue-water navy ships.

According to Dale, what sets this system apart is that it is a phase direction-finding system, instead of an amplitude-based unit. Most systems currently equipping ships and aircraft are amplitude monopulse direction finders. Two antennas pointing in different directions gather signals that are compared in amplitude to generate a directional bearing. A phase system also employs multiple antennas, but the amassed signals are compared by phase difference. This overcomes drawbacks from signal analysis that is amplitude-dependent, he says, especially in sensitivity and noise. In phase measurement, the signal amplitude is the same.

The tactical electronic support measures system also doubles as a radar surveillance suite. These functions are part of its situational awareness product. “In effect, it is an electronic support measures server [inserted] into a combat system,” Dale says. “In addition to electronic support measures, ships have lots of sensors such as acoustics, optics, radars and communications. We have created a sensor that can operate autonomously and provide the type of answers that allow a combat system to form integrated tactical plots and make decisions—presenting information, not data, to tactical commanders and analysts,” he adds.

Dale states that the company recently sold this system to the Swedish navy. The company currently is in source selection competition for Norway’s program to replace its Oslo-class frigates with six new vessels. Australia is another export possibility, as the Pacific Rim nation plans to upgrade its frigates.

In addition to its drop-in tactical digitizer, the company has an electronics intelligence digitizer that can digitize 100 megahertz of bandwidth. Known as the CSD-250, for its sample rate, the device is designed to interface with existing superheterodyne receiver systems. It can vary its sample rate down to 8 kilohertz, which allows users to tailor the sample rate to the receiver bandwidth. It can place 500 megasamples of data into a memory continuously, and these data can be brought back from the field on a storage medium to a headquarters for later analysis, Dale suggests.

The highest rate allows two seconds of continuous data to be recorded. Most operators do not require more than that, Dale states, although the system has various operating modes that enable some data compression. The system can be configured to digitize only when signals are present—to allow more recording time. It is coherent from sample to sample, Dale offers.

Another digitizer, the CSD-213, is a two- or three-card version of the CSD-250, only it is a little less capable. It has slightly less memory than the CSD-250 and has only about 80 megahertz bandwidth, Dale allows.

With the company’s emphasis on commercial off-the-shelf electronics, research into future technologies focuses on antennas, tuners, processors and control systems. The company has conducted research and development on a digitizer that can handle 1 gigahertz to 1000 megahertz of bandwidth. The technology is not “light enough” to be packaged into a customer-friendly container yet, he notes.

The firm also is working to stay abreast of the state of the art in radars. Dale offers that customers tend to have more need for target detection, tracking and resolution than for systems with greater resistance to countermeasures.