DARPA asks industry to develop photonic-electronic processor for advanced signals intelligence

July 26, 2017
ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are asking for industry's help in developing a combination hybrid analog, digital, photonic, and electronic processor to help analyze RF and optical signals for situational awareness.
ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are asking for industry's help in developing a combination hybrid analog, digital, photonic, and electronicprocessor to help analyze RF and optical signals for situational awareness.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., issued a solicitation last week (HR001117S0044) for the All-Signal Tactical Realtime Analyser (ASTRAL) program.

The future ASTRAL hybrid analog/digital photonic/electronic processor is to demonstrate real-time nonlinear cyclostationary and convolutional processing, as well as low-probability-of-intercept signal processing gain over input electromagnetic signals filling a bandwidth of 1 to 10 GHz.

The project also seeks to identify architectures and algorithms for military applications that are well-suited to real-time wideband hybrid analog,digital photonic/electronic use. DARPA briefed industry on the program on 18 July 2017.

The program seeks to develop and demonstrate a system for RF and optical electromagnetic signal surveillance, situational awareness, and understanding that improves current signal awareness speed and spectrum coverage by 1,000 times. This technology also should be suitable for mobile tactical operations.

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The project seeks to plug technology gaps in the U.S. military's ability counter ever-increasing electronic attack and cyber technology threats from potential enemies.

The ASTRAL program seeks to ensure U.S. military access to the congested and contested electromagnetic environment of the battlefield by using hybrid analog/digital photonic/electronic processor technologies of wideband real-time signal processing to detect hidden electromagnetic signals in real time and to perform high-value military signals intelligence (SIGINT), surveillance, and reconnaissance.

The electromagnetic signal environment contains valuable information about the enemy's order of battle, their maneuvers and actions, and early indications of potential threats, DARPA researchers point out.

The electromagnetic signal environment, however, is crowded and cluttered, and DARPA experts say they expect it to grow exponentially more so as new technologies enter service, like 5G wireless communications, unmanned vehicles, and millimeter wave radar.

The project seeks to enable U.S. and allied warfighters to understand in near-real-time all the waveform details, source type and class, signal format, and geolocation of detected RF signals, as well as the information these signals carry and whether or not the information is encrypted.

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The ASTRAL program will enable superior electromagnetic signal awareness at the tactical edge with new technology suitable for tactical mobile units, DARPA officials say.

ASTRAL technology will enable U.S. tactical forces fighting in all kinds of conditions to understand what adversaries are doing around them, anticipate adversaries’ future actions, and recognize potential threats.

Many of the signals U.S. forces need to observe and understand are hidden -- either intentionally transmitted below the noise or clutter floor, or unintentionally buried in the clutter and interference of other irrelevant signals. To overcome this, systems need the significant processing gain of high-order nonlinear algorithms that a hybrid analog/digital photonic/electronic processor could offer.

ASTRAL seeks to combine new analog photonic technology with state-of-the-art digital electronics in a hybrid photonic/electronic processing system.

The analog photonic elements could take advantage of the wide bandwidth, wide optical dynamic range, ease of parrelization, and ability to implement multiplications by square-law detection that photonic technology offers. the digital elements, meanwhile, could implement general algorithms, low costs, and programming flexibility of electronics.

Related: DARPA needs industry's help to develop hybrid analog/digital photonic/electronic processor

Some spectrum awareness applications of interest to DARPA include optical communication real-time internet protocol (IP) packet identification and exploitation for physical layer network defense; city-wide wireless device geolocation; X-Ku-Ka band low probability of intercept radar warning; and theater-wide spread-spectrum radio geolocation.

DARPA officials say they expect to award several contracts in each of the two technical areas.

Companies interested should submit proposals to the DARPA BAA Website no later than 5 Sept. 2017 at https://baa.darpa.mil. Email questions or concerns to DARPA at [email protected].

More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/HR001117S0044/listing.html.

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