Sandia National Laboratories is developing a new digital radar architecture which is expected to greatly improve military sensing. It will replace analog signal processing hardware with digitally based signal processing firmware and software.
The new system will take radar “from a few exquisite sensors to a distributed [electronic warfare], distributed communications, distributed intelligence paradigm,” said Jacques Loui, technical lead for Sandia’s multi-mission radar frequency architecture.
The architecture will allow a single sensor to perform multiple tasks, thus decreasing space, weight, and power requirements. In theory, the new sensors could be placed in a variety of unmanned aircraft, manned aircraft, and weaponry to form a distributed sensing network of platforms that can communicate and collaborate. Potentially, it could aid in the military’s plans to replace expensive, mission-dedicated aircraft with large numbers of inexpensive drones and smart weapons.
In creating the new radar system, Sandia adapted electronic components developed for 5G cell phone systems into digital processing tools to convert large quantities of analog data to digital signals and vice versa. The 5G components will also allow sensors to receive and transmit massive amounts of data over a much broader bandwidth and process it in real time at the sensor.
“The data is processed to output as actionable products,” Loui noted. “It doesn’t require post-processing.”
The new architecture is jam-resistant as users can digitally tune or change the characteristics of the signals they transmit in real time, making them harder to recognize..
The technology is currently being tested aboard a de Havilland Twin Otter aircraft, and could be in the field as early as 2025, according to Sandia.