Software drives multi-channel radio for digital battlefield

WASHINGTON - Using application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) of their own design together with commercially available software, designers from Hughes Communications Products in Torrance, Calif., have developed a software-programmable multi- purpose digital radio.

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Software drives multi-channel radio for digital battlefield

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON - Using application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) of their own design together with commercially available software, designers from Hughes Communications Products in Torrance, Calif., have developed a software-programmable multi- purpose digital radio.

Hughes leaders are proposing their software-driven digital radio as the U.S. Army`s planned next generation future digital radio for the digital battlefield of the future.

The heart of the Hughes entry is what company officials call their advanced communications engine (ACE), which they contend has dual-use potential to increase volume and thus drive down costs.

The ACE model, which company representatives demonstrated at the company`s annual technology briefing in Washington last month, featured a six-channel tuner, a pair of three-channel communications signal processors, A-D converters for receiving signals from VHF and UHF antennas, and D-A converters for the output antennas. The entire process is under control of commercial digital signal processing and memory chips.

The prototype covers the VHF bands of the Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System - better known as SINCGARS - (30-88 MHz), the UHF bands of Have Quick (225-400 MHz) and the 1575 MHz coded signal of the Global Positioning System.

Military leaders could use it for transmitting and receiving data and voice, including encrypted data. Civil authorities could apply the same concept initially in law enforcement and cellular communications base stations. Hughes officials are not quoting prices for the militarized versions, but William Spaller, group vice president and general manager of the Communications Products organization, estimates the commercial equivalents would run around $1,500. Units built around the ACE approach could be available early next year.

ACE evolved out of a project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) under its technology reinvestment program, now reoriented as the dual-use technology program. DARPA put up $5.5 million, to be matched by $9.2 million from Hughes, and signed a contract last June for the two-year project, Spaller says. Hughes engineers have been working on digital transceivers for eight years.

Hughes designers use the IBM wafer fab at Burlington, Vt., to produce the ASICs in CMOS at an initial feature size of 0.3 microns, due to decline to 0.18 microns. The ASICs have a complexity of 720,000 gates (for the six-channel model) and have a sufficiently open architecture for upgrades.

The software package would essentially be an operating system to be supplied from Hughes, plus sufficient standard software toolsets for users to write their own applications. Another dual-use potential is in commercial avionics, including cockpit radios.

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A demonstration unit of the Hughes software-programmable multi-purpose radio houses a 3U VME board with a DSP-based ASIC (bottom right).

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