Electronic warfare (EW) applications are growing more complex due to near-peer threats and the explosion of commercial products that clog the spectrum and can be adapted to make adversarial systems. Our future is a vast array of autonomous and semi-autonomous machines tethered wirelessly to people, businesses and governments. They will implement and realize some of the most complex wireless systems-of-systems ever built, operating in the electromagnetic spectrum and largely controlled in software. EW systems must operate in this congested spectrum with the ability to analyze and respond to signal data in ever-increasing frequencies and shorter reaction times.
To address this reality, Spectrum Control developed the SCi Blocks family of RF components, modules and subsystems to deliver RF signal fidelity in small modular building blocks with plug-and-play architectures. Built around the company’s new digital gateway, a hierarchical, modular and open approach to controlling RF components, modules and subsystems dubbed the SCi Block Controller, these building blocks can be used to realize more agile EW subsystems, systems and systems-of-systems.
The first SCi Block release is a dense, modular, open architecture, 3U OpenVPX wideband down-converter and up-converter. Among its benefits are:
1. All surface-mount technology, a significant departure from historical modules of this type and an important step in shortening the design/delivery cycle
2. Digitally enabled for no mechanical tuning and online monitoring and rapid integration into higher-level systems
3. Modular, allowing multiple configurations of up to eight transmit/receive channels
4. Open and aligned with SOSA™.
The wideband down-converter and up-converter are miniaturized into a 13 x 2 cm printed circuit board. Table 1 outlines the specifications for the SCi Block wideband up-/down-converter. The RF Stick module is shown in Figure 1.
The long march of Moore’s Law continues to enable miniaturization in digital functionality. Spectrum Control leverages this capability with integrated digital control in every SCi Blocks device, which reduces product development and bring-up activities by 50 percent. This plug-and-play functionality translates into significant integration, qualification and low-rate initial production savings.
A 2 to 18 GHz electronic support (ES) mission can be implemented as eight RF down-converter sticks in one 3U Open VPX slot, providing 16 GHz of instantaneous bandwidth and greater than 60 dBc of spur-free dynamic range. Traditional ES receivers in a 3U VPX module cover around 4 GHz. The SCi Block 3U module provides a tremendous reduction in size, weight and power (SWaP) for the RF elements.
The SCi Blocks can be used in an EW transceiver with four up-converters and four down-converters. Each block covers 2 GHz, for a total of 8 GHz of bidirectional frequency coverage. Two SCi Blocks modules can produce 16 GHz of receive and transmit capabilities in a wideband digital RF memory (DRFM) EW system.
Another module advantage is the ability to easily integrate various RF functions into a system. The SOSA-aligned hardware and software of the SCi Blocks module make them extensible, flexible and highly adaptive. The digital gateway on the 3U OpenVPX module is implemented in the SCi Block Manager system on chip (SoC) device that commands and controls the 3U Open VPX modules. This device is an Intel Arria 10 SoC field programmable gate array (FPGA) with embedded dual-core Arm Cortex-A9 MPCore processors (SX270). The FPGA interfaces to the P1 Open VPX connector per the Payload Slot Profile SLT3-PAY-1F1U1S1S1U1U2F1H-14.6.11-5. The SoC is responsible for the data and control plane physical interfaces like Ethernet and PCI Express. Various SOSA software protocols, such as MORA Low Latency Bus and VICTORY Data Bus messaging, are implemented via the SoC device. A representative device is shown in Figure 2.
Spectrum Control also implements a scalable physical architecture for the GbE, 10 GbE and 40 GbE interfaces to enable retrofit into currently deployed systems without changing existing system software. The SoC may also be used to implement Vita 49.2 messaging and data path protocols for future products. The SCi Blocks Manager allows system integrators a common command and control infrastructure for various RF circuitry, lending itself to much faster system integration.
The SWaP and ease of system integration of the RF Sticks are realized without compromising performance in the RF chain while creating other benefits. The reduction in SWaP into one slot in a 3U VPX chassis for an ES receiver opens the ability to add a general-purpose GPU (GPGPU) to a system, enabling cognitive or adaptive scanning of unknown threats or signals of interest. Unique small form factor EW systems are enabled by the RF Sticks. An example of this is shown in Figure 3.
The SCi Blocks module utilizes four down-converters for an ES receiver to provide situational awareness. Two up-converters and two down-converters are paired to produce the RF front-end for a wideband DRFM. The common command and control architecture for the SCi Blocks module along with the SOSA-aligned interfaces allows for quick and easy integration with the various digital signal processing elements and single-board computers. The combination can add new EW capabilities to small platforms such as unmanned aircraft systems previously unavailable due to SWaP constraints.
Spectrum Control’s new SCi Blocks family is ideally suited for military and commercial Open Systems Architecture and SWaP-conscious platforms. Flexibility and adaptability without compromising RF performance bring a new level of creativity to system designers.