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Industry News

From Smartphones to Satellites at MILCOM 2011

The thirtieth annual MILCOM Conference and Exposition, "Networks…Attaining the Value"

December 12, 2011
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The commercial sector will continue to drive innovation and we will see continued use of commercially-based technologies such as smartphones and tablets as well as networks being adapted for use in the military sector. One example was Lockheed Martin’s MONAX provides users with a 4G private network they can operate anywhere. This secure broadband network system connects off-the-shelf smartphones to a bespoke cellular base station infrastructure that can be carried into a disaster relief area or be used on a FOB (forward operating base). By using a secure RF Link, communications are protected through strong exportable encryption enabling the transfer of pertinent and sensitive information.

Elektrobit was emphasizing the EB Android handset platform which provides integrated cellular connectivity options including LTE with Band 14 support for the U.S. Public Safety market, a high-resolution touch-screen enabled display with superior sunlight readability, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and advanced battery and power management features.

Software is an important lynchpin in the implementation of commercial hardware for military applications and Wind River was demonstrating embedded virtualization and Android solutions at MILCOM 2011 while Twisted Pair was highlighting the company’s WAVE application, designed to enable communications across smartphones, tablets etc. that are using Wi-Fi or cellular networks with tactical radios being used in-theatre.

The need for dedicated waveforms, specific form factors and performance capabilities will, for example, mean that devices such as smartphone will not replace tactical radios, but rather be another tool in the warfighter’s arsenal of communications capabilities. BAE Systems was emphasizing the company’s Link 16 SAFF (small adaptable form factor) terminal which is designed to support future Link 16 enhancements and is used in conjunction with the Data Link Processor (DLP) unit to provide a battlespace awareness picture.

Raytheon’s Maingate system combines a high capacity networked radio with Maingate’s Interoperability Gateway to connect current and future forces to the Global Information Grid. The multi-mode, multi-band radio employs UHF/VHF frequencies (around 700 MHz) and can operate in TV whitespace as well and provides up to 2 channels at 10 Mbps and is designed to provide a terrestrial ‘Everything over IP’ MANET (mobile adhoc network) backbone to support multiple channels of voice, video, and data. A wideband power amplifier in conjunction with MIMO is used to assign frequencies to the Maingate radio.

Satellite communications is being driven by ISR trends including the requirement to provide real-time transmission of high-definition video and COTM (communications-on-the-move). iGT highlighted continuing growth in terms of providing existing solutions to new customers as well as leveraging trends for IP-based communications on airborne platforms with a shift towards Ka-band, while TCS detailed the implementation of IRIS (Internet Routing In Space) as a means of reducing latency while increasing available bandwidth in satellite communications.

Open architectures and network centricity will drive the future system design with an emphasis on configurability in the digital domain. While the performance of CPUs continues to increase and GPUs are recognized for the extreme parallel processing capabilities, FPGAs from the likes of Xilinx and Altera, for example, will remain the best solution for high-speed I/O processing requirements of military communications systems.

In support of the IP-based net-centric battlefield environment, sub-system vendors are looking increasingly to partner and incorporate RF front-end capabilities into their product offerings. However, the RF section will still need specialist expertise and technologies dictated in the case of communications by the move towards multi-mode, multi-band systems. NXP was attending MILCOM 2011 with a full suite of solutions aimed at the defense market, that extend from the RF front end through to the digital interface, and RFMD was also showcasing a variety of GaN-based products, such as high-power unmatched power transistors, broadband power ICs, and broadband power transistors as well as a broad portfolio of point-to-point radio products based around GaAs technology.

Moving forwards into 2012, the impact of budgetary pressures will lead to a change in contracts from “cost plus” to “fixed price” and prime contractors will also expect more “partnering” and investment on the part of the supply chain. While the uncertainties around specific programs will become more extreme, the broad technology trends will allow RF technology providers to invest across a range of programs and help to somewhat mitigate the risk.

Recent Articles by Asif Anwar, Director at Strategy Analytics

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