Military platform and system evolution underpinned by RF technologies
Even though the JSF has yet to make its operational debut, the US Navy is already looking ahead, issuing a Request for Information (RfI) for a new fighter, which could be manned or unmanned, to replace the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler in the 2030s. In the short term, unmanned platforms remain in focus also with Northrop Grumman announcing a deal for NATO's Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system which includes five Block 40 Global Hawk UAS. Elbit Systems was also active in Europe with a contract that will see the company supply UAS platforms over the next two years. Also in Europe, BAE Systems has begun testing technology to enable conventional aircraft to fly safely without pilots, including weather-avoidance and emergency landing systems.
RF technologies will underpin these new platforms and the capabilities that they bring. For example, the Block 40 UAS platforms for the AGS program will utilize the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) ground surveillance radar sensor which uses active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology based using compound semiconductors like gallium arsenide (GaAs). In other radar related news, Selex Galileo will begin delivering a new version of its Raven ES-05 AESA radar for integration with Saab's two-seat demonstrator for the next-generation Gripen E/F. The Saab Gripen is on display (both static and flying) at the time of writing at the Farnborough Airshow. Progress is also being made on the Euroradar Captor-E AESA for Eurofighter Typhoon (also performing flying displays at Farnborough) where Cassidian is acting as design authority.
Other examples of semiconductor technologies underpinning the next generation of systems include the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) electronic warfare program, which is providing opportunities for companies such as ITT Exelis. It will utilize AESA technology based around gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors. Cassidian is also using GaN technology for the electronic components that will be used for the German Armed Forces' new software-defined radio communications system (KommSysBw).
On the research front, TriQuint has been selected by DARPA to lead a development program focused on ultra-fast GaN switch technology for the Microscale Power Conversion (MPC) program. TriQuint is teamed with Rockwell Collins, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Northrop Grumman to create a new generation of RF power amplifiers that use contour modulation for very high efficiency performance that exceeds the capabilities of devices currently available.
This also demonstrates that there is a two-way street with military applications driving the market as well as fundamental development of RF technologies. Strategy Analytics held a breakfast session in conjunction with Microwave Journal during the IMS 2012 conference held in Montreal, Canada this year. “Where are the Emerging RF Market Opportunities for GaN?” showcased our latest forecasts for the GaN market opportunity as well as perspectives from Cree, Nitronex, NXP, RFMD, TriQuint and UMS on the adoption of GaN technology in both military and commercial markets.
The panelist presentations confirmed applicability of GaN to addressing EW, radar and communications applications, by highlighting products with some combination of high power, high efficiency and wide bandwidth performance. Of note were S-band 240W transistors from Cree with 60% PAE, 50W GaN-on-Si MMIC amplifiers from Nitronex operating from 0.8 – 2.2 GHz with 55% PAE, a 500- 2500 MHz amplifier from NXP with between 50 and 75W CW output, 50 – 1000 MHz 15W amplifiers from RFMD with more than 60% PAE, 10W PAs from TriQuint that operate from 2 – 18 GHz and 15W X-band PAs from UMS.
During the conference itself, there were a number of product announcements showcasing GaN capabilities:
- Cree released its high-efficiency X-Band, fully matched GaN HEMT transistors rated at 50W and 100W. The company also announced a 60W S-band transistor as well as introducing a new 40-V, 0.25-um,GaN-on-SiC HEMT process targeting frequencies through to Ku Band.
- RFMD’s new RFHA1006 is a wideband PA designed for CW and pulsed applications featuring an output power of 9W providing 225 MHz to 1215 MHz instantaneous bandwidth.
- TriQuint introduced a new family of 25VDC GaN MMIC power amplifiers for use in Mini-Common Data Links (Mini-CDLs) as well as similar defense communications applications.
- Sumitomo Electric showed its full line of GaN HEMTs that included a 2.9-3.3 GHz 600W discrete S-band transistor.
- Toshiba announced the introduction of its new X-band GaN hybrid IC (HIC) targeted at TRMs used in AESA and PESA radar applications.
- Fujitsu Laboratories announced a single-chip transceiver using GaN HEMT technology operating at a frequency of 10 GHz with output of 6.3 W and measuring 3.6mm x 3.3mm.
Eurosatory 2012 in Paris was also in June allowing defense companies to showcase new products and capabilities with a focus on the land and air domains. Elbit Systems Ltd announced the launch of the VWS radar, a new, continuous wave (CW) radar, specifically designed for Active Protection Systems (APS) to provides soft/hard protection for light or heavy armored vehicles.
On the EW front, Netline launched a new, extremely small, lightweight, accurate jammers, such as the C-Guard HHJ and the PJP - Portable Jammer Pack – based on new exciter technology as well as using RF capabilities provided by semiconductor technologies such as GaN.
In communications systems, ITT Exelis has upgraded its hand-held SpearNet radio with enhancements that further extend its capabilities with an emphasis on providing cellular-like mobility coupled with increased bandwidth throughputs to enable voice, video and data communications. Harris introduced the Falcon III RF-7800H wideband manpack, reportedly the world's smallest, lightest and fastest wideband HF radio as well as the next generation of the combat-proven Falcon III® RF-7800W High-Capacity Line-of-Sight radio. The company has also introduced a handheld variant – the RF-7800M – designed to connect dismounted warfighters to emerging wideband tactical networks.
All of these developments will continue to drive demand for RF technologies such as GaN. As these technologies mature, the boundaries around performance and applicability are also crystallising and over the course of IMS 2012 and more recently at Farnborough, it is clear that GaN is no longer seen as a TWT killer by either side. Where there is a need for high power at high frequency without compromising efficiency , then TWT technologies from companies such as e2v Technologies, TMD Technologies, L-3 Communications Electron Technologies will continue to play a key role in defense systems. Indeed, there is potential for these technologies to complement each other especially in the growing trend towards MPMs which utilise mini-TWTs typically in conjunction with a solid-state driver amplifier. As with commercial markets, the military sector will find that these respective technologies as well as other technologies (both existing and emerging) are best utilised in complementary fashion rather than trying to hone in on one flavour of technology alone as the panacea for all future system and platform design.