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Industry News

US Army SBIR Programs Spur Microwave Innovation

October 7, 2011
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Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to provide an opportunity for small businesses and academia – through Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) – to participate in government-funded research and development. The US Army SBIR program is the nation's largest source of early stage technology financing. This million dollar program enables hundreds of small companies to develop new products and technologies and progress from prototype to production. The program encourages small companies to research and develop new technologies and products in response to critical Army needs.

Table 1 shows the different phases these programs use in regard to the funding level and duration of each step. Phase I is a feasibility study that determines program viability, Phase II is a R&D effort resulting in a prototype and Phase III expects the small business to obtain non-governmental funding to progress from prototype to a viable product. Looking through the recent 2011 success stories publication from the Army that lists the best in Phase III commercialization efforts, we found many interesting RF and microwave-related technologies in addition to others we have seen in the news.1

EY Technologies (Fall River, MA) has developed conductive fiber technology in response to the military's needs for Electro textiles that will enable the next generation of military garments with integrated devices. Some examples are body antennas that that identify a soldier's location, components for Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI) shielding, wearable computers, data/power conduits, body mapping for health/fatigue/wound monitoring systems and electrically heated garments. They have developed metal alloys that meet the Army's performance needs and the metal is incorporated into a polymer matrix, which maintains its properties when drawn into micro wires. Now antenna designers can develop new designs that are integrated into clothing. The product has already generated income from outside sources and the company is testing the product for other applications, such as GPS-enabled clothing for the blind, bio-threat sensors, advanced medical devices, artificial muscles, strain gauges for military parachutes, electro luminescent systems, iPhone/iPod compatible shirts, pressure monitoring hospital mattresses and for many other smart garments.

The Army has expressed a need for power conditioning elements that enable advanced RF warheads and multi-pulse RF systems that can be used for IED detection, vehicle/vessel disablement and impulse radar. Radiance Technologies (Huntsville, AL) has developed compact power conditioning elements that function in the megavolt and gigawatt range when integrated into RF impulse sources. These elements enable a pulse generator technology that scales from single pulses at gigawatt power levels to high rep-rate multi-pulse systems operating with peak power of gigawatts and with average power levels in the several kW range. This product has been used to demonstrate vehicle/vessel disablement, a direct strike undercarriage vehicle disabler, a broadband impulse UHF radar, a pre-ionizer for advanced space propulsion, a highly ionized plasma source that can be used for chemical processing, and a high power UHF transmitter that has been shown to disrupt the electronics associated with IEDs. A laboratory demonstration of an explosive-driven pulse generator is being evaluated for Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP)-like warheads, and as a general laboratory pulse generator.

Figure 1 UGV with IED detection radar sensor (a) imaging a buried object (b).

TiaLinx (Newport Beach, CA) has developed UWB RF systems that provide improved IED detection for better situational awareness. The Cougar mini-unmanned ground vehicle (UGV or robot) with tractable arm or Phoenix mini-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with programmable way-points, can carry a variety of sensors for extended standoff surveillance as well as detection of buried objects. Through software controlled interfaces, the company's UGVs and UAVs can be remotely guided at extended ranges. Multiple integrated cameras allow day and night visibility and operation for enhanced situational awareness. TiaLinx's UGVs and UAVs are able to perform through-the-wall imaging, IED detection, RF mapping and detection of IEDs on people. Figure 1a shows a Cougar10-B UGV using a radar sensor to detect IEDs buried underground. The sensor display in Figure 1b shows the object being detected underground.

Figure 2 Agile Digital Effects Processor Digital RF memory unit.

Agile Digital Effects Processor (ADEP™) Digital RF Memory (DRFM) from Systems and Process Engineering (Austin, TX) provides revolutionary improvements to EW capabilities that effectively support countermeasure techniques to combat current and future planned wide bandwidth radar with increasingly sophisticated modulation schemes based on an architecture that can effectively and rapidly evolve with the threat. It has the ability to generate sophisticated digital effects as accurately represented multiple crossing targets and extended range in comparison to other current DRFM products. The technology can generate accurate RF signals, waveforms and images without introducing artifacts. Figure 2 shows a picture of the ADEP 800 unit.

Custom MMIC Design Services (Westford, MA) has developed a family of ultra low noise and ultra low power dissipation amplifiers at 10 and 20 GHz for use in Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars. The company has combined state-of-the-art semiconductor processing with its design techniques to reduce the power dissipation of each LNA down to 30 mW and lower the noise figure (NF) by 1 dB. The 10 GHz LNA has 20 dB gain with a NF of 0.8 dB and the 20 GHz LNA has 25 dB gain with a NF of 1.2 dB. The products have been qualified over the full commercial and military temperature ranges and are shipping in volume.

Digital Receiver Technology (Germantown, MD) has developed a portable Threat Warning Receiver (TWR) that gives soldiers immediate access to signal exploitation, electronic attack, force protection and wireless networking functions. It uses new software-defined radio (SDR) technology to analyze the incoming signals. The SDR technology enables high speed, wideband scanning with direction finding and can be easily upgraded.

Auriga Microwave (Lowell, MA) is involved in several SBIR programs from the US Navy, Air Force and Army.2 The Army program addresses the demand for high power RF switches for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), which includes software-controlled reconfigurable RF hardware. Due to its reconfigurable nature, the JTRS requires a large number of RF switches in different configurations. In such multi-component switching blocks, use of traditional PIN-diodes has significant limitations on overall system performance due to high bias current consumption, relatively slow modulation speeds, vertical layout integration complications and low temperature stability. RF switches based on GaAs technology suffer from low power handling. Therefore, Auriga is pursuing another technical tract. To make a high power switch without the limitations of PIN or GaAs technologies, insulated gate Group III-nitride HFETs will be used. These devices are advantageous due to their higher power handling capability, temperature stability and high reliability for switches and monolithically integrated switch arrays. Auriga's goal is to design and deliver a family of MPMT switches that operate across two decades of bandwidth (2 to 2000 MHz), have less than 0.25 dB insertion loss and are capable of handling RF power up to 46 dBm.

The SBIR program provides millions of dollars in funding to small businesses to quickly provide solutions to the Army's critical needs as is also done with the other branches of the military. These funds provide an important impetus for small companies to invest in practical research and development and bring new, innovative products to the market.



Recent Articles by Patrick Hindle, Technical Editor, Microwave Journal

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