AUVSI was very timely this year as unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs) have been covered in the news quite a bit over the last several months. The movement of UAVs from innocuous surveillance tools to potential killing machines has brought UAVs to the national stage. The Bush and Obama administrations’ use of UAVs to target and assassinate terrorists has spurred debates and concern over how these decisions to kill someone are determined (a small protest was held outside of the event the first day). Up until a few months ago, only one American was known to have been killed but President Obama recently disclosed that the U.S. government has killed four Americans. Right after that disclosure, he announced a new classified policy that imposed tougher standards for when UAV strikes can be authorized, limiting them to targets who pose ‘‘a continuing, imminent threat to Americans’’ and cannot feasibly be captured. The new “guidance” also begins a process of phasing out the CIA from the UAV war and shifting operations to the Pentagon. This is an effort to make the process more transparent so it is viewed as less secretive.
The Teal Group estimates that the UAV market will more than double by the end of the next decade from current worldwide UAV R&D and procurement expenditures of about $5.2 to $11.6 billion with about 65% coming from the US. However, with the winding down of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US military has said it will reduce UAV spending by one third in 2014. Much of the expected growth in the UAV market is therefore expected to come from foreign militaries and civilian applications such as border security, agriculture, search/rescue, wildfire mapping and other similar applications. The AUVSI Economic Report 2013 states that the planned opening up of the national airspace to UAVs in the U.S. by 2015 will affect the market potential between 2015 and 2017 by some $13.6 billion, and $82.1 billion between 2015 and 2025. However, it predicts that if the effort is delayed, it will cost the U.S. billions of dollars in potential revenue.
The main trends at the show were smaller, lower cost UAVs and the commercialization of UAVs for various civilian applications. However, the military applications were a major part of the show including the latest accomplishment of taking off and landing the X-47B UAV from an aircraft carrier opening up all of the military options to use UAVs in all of the armed forces. The next step is to standardize the software and sensors across platforms and increase the autonomy of the UAVs. Military applications are still very important to continue surveillance and the fight on terrorism.
Many RF and microwave companies attend this show since much of the technology relies on wireless technology for many of the critical functions. Below are highlights from the various companies we visited at the exhibition:
ADI was featuring several products including their RF agile transceiver designed for 3G and 4G base station applications that is a 2 x 2 transceiver with integrated 12-bit DACs and ADCs. It operates from 70 MHz to 6 GHz and supports TDD and FDD operation. It has a tunable channel bandwidth up to 56 MHz, has dual receivers and a noise figure of less than 2.5 dB.
Amphenol RF is a leading supplier in the military/aerospace industry for its quality MIL-C-39012 interconnect products. High density applications using their subminiature 1.13mm coaxial cable allows the designer to meet compact specifications and is available on TNC, SMA, MCX and MMCX connectors.
Antcom was showing off their board line of antennas from single band to multi-band designs. They also produce microwave products such as wide-band power dividers/combiners, in-line amplifiers, filters, diplexers and beam-forming networks. Their custom antenna develop expertise covers all phases of research, development and production.
Carlisle was showing off their high-speed Octax connector line as it features lightweight, rugged delivering data speeds of 10 gbits/sec or higher. They are compliant with TIA/EIA and ISO CAT 6A test standards, have excellent corrosion resistance and shell to shell connectivity.
Delta Microwave was showing their new brochure covering their high performance, high reliability products that include custom filters, multiplexers, passive components (combiners/splitters, couplers, and limiters), LNAs, power amplifiers, filter/amplifier assemblies and integrated microwave assemblies.
Several of the Dover companies were represented at the show including K&L, Pole Zero and Dielectric Labs. Pole Zero was showing a demo of their 30 to 512 MHz cosite mitigation module for communications relay applications. Designed for applications where insufficient antenna isolation leads to cosite interference, the module is a compact high power amplification unit with bandpass filtering and capable of frequency hoping. A dual channel version is available. The unit provides 10 W of filtered transmit power, radio controlled tuning and low noise receive amplification. See a short demo video here. Dielectric Laboratories was showing off their high-Q resonator technology with a new oscillator approach featuring low phase noise and a very small size module. Their demonstration oscillator is a VCO at 9.9 GHz and is only 0.18 x 0.18 x 0.06” in size. Output power is 15 dB with SSB phase noise of -123 dBc/Hz at 10 kHz offset. Temperature stability is about 3 ppm.
Haigh-Farr designs custom antennas including wrap around designs that are ideal for UAV applications. They can simulate the performance of antennas in real world applications including the interaction between the body and proximity to metallic and dielectric materials. This can reduce the cost and time to market by optimizing the design before production.
IW was showing off their Re-Flex™ Cables that are a replacement for semi-rigid cables typically used in tactical data links. They are rugged alternatives that have the same leakage characteristics and mechanical dimensions as a semi-rigid to allow for the use of standard commercially available connectors.
Mercury Systems was showing off their mixed analog, RF/microwave and digital integrated microwave assembly for broadband SIGINT applications. This highly integrated unit has optimized SWaP and HPOI and it targeted toward indoor applications but more rugged versions are available. HPOI is assured from DC to 10 GHz (with wider bandwidths available) with greater than 200 GHz/sec scanning.
Micro-Coax was showing their Safe-D-LOCK® connectors that offer a reliable alternative to conventional self-locking connectors, adhesive compounds or safety wire. The design installs quickly without wasting valuable mass or space in the host system. Conventional self-locking connectors only lock the coupling nut to the back of the male connector. Safe-D-LOCK locks to the D-FLAT on the mating connector. This provides a true lock that cannot be compromised when the cable is rotated.
NuWaves was demonstrating their linear bidirectional S-Band GaN PA module with 6 W average output power from 2.2 to 2.5 GHz operating in Class AB mode. This 10 W amplifier would normally only output about 1 W in back off mode for typical linear output but the analog predistrotion allows linear operation at 6 W with 15-35% efficiency. See their quick video demo here.
Planar Monolithics Industries (PMI) recently introduced an 85 MHz to 18 GHz vector modulator with 360 degrees of phase range (up to 4 bands), 20 dB attenuation range, amplitude invariant phase shift and phase invariant attenuation. Attenuation resolution is 0.1 dB and phase resolution is 0.8 maximum with insertion loss of about 3 dB.
Reactel was featuring their low profile, discrete component filter. With a profile of only 0.12”, the high performance bandpass filter is good for densely populated boards or portable applications. It operates at 1315 MHz with an insertion loss of less than 1.5 dB, passband of 460 to 2170 MHz and VSWR of less than 1.5:1 in the passband. Power is 1 W CW or 25 W pulsed and is compact at 0.12 x 0.4 x 1.5” in size.
TE was showcasing a rugged, lightweight, high-speed board-to-board interconnect that is compliant to VITA 46 standard. The connector system features the modularity and flexibility of the MULTIGIG RT 2 connector, with a new quad-redundant contact structure designed for high vibration levels. They were showing off their antennas and enclosures as TE has developed wideband (>2:1 bandwidth) microstrip patch antenna technology enabling the construction of wideband low profile arrays. Their glass fiber reinforced radomes are molded parts, allowing TE to make consistent products while saving significant cost versus traditional radomes built from a hand lay-up process. These technologies combine to produce lightweight, low profile antennas with consistent performance.
Teledyne Microwave Solutions was showing their 3.5 lb threat warning and tactical ELINT and radar warning receiver. They collect and measure specific EM emitter parameters in order to detect, identify and locate signals of interest. It operates from 2 to 18 GHz and operates with 9 to 36 V (24 W) and rated for 60,000 feet altitude.
Trilithic was featuring a continuously variable attenuator covering 1 to 18 GHz. It currently has zero to 8 dB attenuation range over 1 to 2 GHz and zero to 20 dB attenuation range from 2 to 18 GHz. It has a Turns Counting Dial with locking lever. Insertion loss is 0.5 dB from 1 to 2 GHz and 0.75 from 2 to 18 GHz. Average power is 5 W with SMA female connectors.
View our photo gallery from the show.
If you are interested in learning more about UAVs and their future, please read our cover story from the August Military Microwaves supplement, "UAVs Unleashed."