MPD: Please describe what you consider to be your company’s most significant technological achievements in 2023.
We introduced the SCi Blocks family of digitally-enabled, plug-and-play RF solutions this year that addresses the size, weight, performance, and modularity requirements for electronic warfare, signal intelligence, and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance applications.
SCi Blocks has achieved this breakthrough with an “RF First” approach coupled with integral digital control. Our analog technology delivers significantly higher signal fidelity and dramatically wider frequency coverage than purely digital solutions. Spectrum Control is the only RF company to develop ultra-miniature RF surface-mount solutions that deliver high RF fidelity and wideband coverage with open interfaces and integral digital controls.
The first solutions in the SCi Blocks family are ultra-miniature, high-performance and digitally tunable wideband downconverters and upconverters. They deliver total spectrum awareness from 20 MHz to 18 GHz, for up to 16 GHz of contiguous spectral coverage with 2 GHz of instantaneous bandwidth (IBW).
A 3U VPX 8-channel wideband transceiver is also available that delivers the full fidelity of RF signal handling with integral digital control and minimal interconnects to create a wide range of design and usage options. Up to 8 transmit and (or) receive modules can be combined for wideband performance in a SOSA-aligned 3U VPX form factor.
MPD: Has EDA software improved in recent years, and if so, how is it helping your company meet its goals?
EDA was extremely beneficial in the development of our SCi Blocks technology. We challenged our engineers to completely rethink how RF solutions should be designed and developed. Given that freedom, our design team used advanced EDA tools to create models that would otherwise have taken much longer to develop at much higher costs and manpower. Simulations were run through the software, which allowed our engineers to push boundaries that even a few years ago could not have been achieved. By doing so, the team realized we could create solutions that could be significantly smaller, consume far less power, and provide greater flexibility, among other benefits. These advantages could not have been realized in the same timeline without EDA tools.
MPD: What does the Department of Defense need most from the microwave industry?
DoD’s focus is on emerging technologies that enable all-domain operations from cyber to the electromagnetic spectrum. In parallel, the DoD continues to pay close attention to the supply chain building blocks of future weapons systems ranging from open standards and smaller form factors to controlling costs and shortening development cycles.
Successful platforms will require technological innovation and smaller, more cost-effective solutions that can be developed and deployed rapidly. There is also a need for RF miniaturization and integrated RF and digital control in the same compact package. Smaller RF packages and more densification allow more transmit/receive channels or additional systems to be integrated into a system. Military and aerospace systems can be developed much faster using this approach because only software enhancements are required rather than extensive tuning. As a result, what had traditionally taken months can now be accomplished in weeks.
MPD: An increasing number of applications rely on RF and microwave technology. What application is most likely to significantly contribute to the industry by the end of the decade?
Digital, cloud computing, and AI seem to get all the love, but RF and microwave technology is the invisible glue for modern society, connecting people, systems, and devices with reliable, higher-data-rate transmissions and an increasing use of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Electronic warfare is the application we believe will benefit most from RF and microwave innovation as the future battles will be won or lost in the electromagnetic spectrum. On the threat side, the increasingly crowded spectrum allows more opportunities for adversaries to hide. On the offensive side, smaller form factors of new RF technology allow deployment of new disruptive EW systems to deny and degrade adversaries’ ability to see the battlefield and identify incoming threats.
From attritable systems and precision munitions to unmanned vehicles, EW systems are becoming smaller and lighter while defeating more complex RF threats. Threat detection is enhanced with systems that can consistently see the entire threat spectrum and process that information rapidly to shorten decision times.
DoD is mandating shorter and more cost-efficient project timelines, from concept to deployment. This is necessary in today’s battlefield, which is advancing faster than previous generations. To that end, the DoD is placing greater focus on open standards, especially Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA™). Open environments are expected to control costs, create more design options, and make adaptability and project updates easier and more efficient.
At Spectrum Control we have invested in developing the next generation of RF and microwave technology to support EW and protect the warfighter. Our SCi Blocks family offers an open-standard, building block approach with ultra-miniature, wideband RF capability and an integral digital gateway. These blocks will allow EW systems to be smaller, nimbler, and operate with greater range, and reduced energy cost.