Harris RF designers expand into networked sensors applications

Leaders of the Harris Corp. RF Communications Division in Rochester, N.Y., are making a strategic expansion into networked sensors applications to augment their state-of-the-art military radios that operate securely in bands ranging from HF to satellite communications.

By John Keller

ORLANDO, Fla. - Leaders of the Harris Corp. RF Communications Division in Rochester, N.Y., are making a strategic expansion into networked sensors applications to augment their state-of-the-art military radios that operate securely in bands ranging from HF to satellite communications.

The move is to augment Harris’s established product line and technical expertise, as well as to help insulate the company from the effects of a potential future downturn in the defense and electronics business, explains Robert Johnson, program manager for sensor systems at Harris RF.

“We were interested in an adjacent market, because how many radios can the U.S. government buy?” Johnson says. He made his comments in April at the SPIE Defense & Security Symposium in Orlando, Fla.

Central to Harris’s move into networked sensors are the Falcon Watch RF-5400 sensor systems, which blend Harris VHF and satellite radio technology with visible-light and infrared cameras, as well as seismic and magnetic sensors. This combination creates systems for remote monitoring, perimeter surveillance, and force protection, Johnson says.

The communications part of the Falcon Watch systems is based on the Harris Falcon II handheld radio for overseas users, which includes encryption, frequency hopping, and other advanced radio features, but does not include technology classified for U.S. military users.

Johnson says the company could quickly design a Falcon Watch system using the company’s most advanced radio technology, including secret U.S. encryption codes, if asked by U.S. military forces for a system with more security ad sophistication.

Off-the-shelf seismic and magnetic sensors, as well as a passive infrared sensor plug into a sensor relay unit, which provides radio communications to link sensor information back to command posts either in the surrounding military theater, or even back to the United States via satellite link.

This system, which can stay in place for six months or longer in continuous operation on battery power, can alert monitoring forces of the presence of soldiers, vehicles, or main battle tanks. The seismic sensor detects ground movement, the magnetic sensor detects metal, and the passive infrared sensor detects heat from people or vehicles, and indicates direction of travel. The systems can operate for much longer if they can be periodically serviced with fresh batteries and routine maintenance.

Johnson says Harris is in talks with the U.S. Border Patrol for potential application of Falcon Watch systems on the U.S. border with Mexico. He says the system also is applicable to perimeter security around U.S. military bases or other sensitive installations. This technology also is a candidate for potential use in the U.S. Army Future Combat System (FCS), Johnson says.

Falcon Watch is an offshoot of a system that Harris designed previously for U.S. Central Command called Silent Watch. Central Command leaders are using the Silent Watch systems in Iraq and Afghanistan, which they bought from Harris in a 2005 contract, Johnson says. The systems data link to the United States via the Iridium satellite constellation.

One of the latest developments to the Falcon Watch system is a combination visible-light and infrared camera that sends high-resolution images over RF links. Johnson says the two cameras focus on the same point, which eases camera setup in day and nighttime operations.

For more information contact Harris RF Communications online at www.rfcomm.harris.com.

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