Scalable Wideband Multifunction Radio Frequency (RF) Payloads

Navy SBIR 24.2 - Topic N242-077
NAVAIR - Naval Air Systems Command
Pre-release 4/17/24   Opened to accept proposals 5/15/24   Closes 6/12/24 12:00pm ET    [ View Q&A ]

N242-077 TITLE: Scalable Wideband Multifunction Radio Frequency (RF) Payloads

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Advanced Computing and Software; Integrated Sensing and Cyber;Microelectronics

OBJECTIVE: Design, develop, and demonstrate wideband multifunction Radio Frequency (RF) payloads using an innovative Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) that is scalable across Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Groups 1 through 3 with Electronic Warfare (EW); Radar; Command, Control, Computing, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Targeting (C5ISRT); and edge-based High-Performance Computing (HPC) capabilities.

DESCRIPTION: UAS require Rugged Small Form Factor (RSFF) multifunction payloads adhering to the MOSA that conform to stringent Size, Weight, and Power and Cost (SWaP-C) constraints. The American National Standards Institute/VMEbus International Trade Association (ANSI/VITA) standards based on the 3U Printed Circuit Board (PCB) dimensions of 100 mm X 160 mm (e.g., VERSAmodule Europe (VME), Virtual Path Cross-Connect (VPX), and OpenVPX) have been very successful in military applications for larger UAS (Groups 35). However, 3U is too large in most SWaP-C aspects for Groups 12 UAS. To address smaller-than-3U implementations, the Sensors Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) Consortium is provisioning for two different approaches: Short VPX (sVPX) and VNX+.

sVPX leverages just about all of the VPX/OpenVPX standard by adding an additional printed circuit board (PCB) dimension option of 100 mm x 100 mm. While sVPX does shrink the module to smaller than 3U, the primary motivation for this additional PCB option is to support VPX/OpenVPX integration into cylindrical/tubular platforms such as 8 in. (20.32 cm) diameter or larger pods/fuselages. VNX+ proposes an entirely different backplane/module/connector definition that does not provide any inherent interoperability with the 3U VPX/OpenVPX ecosystem but is capable of smaller SWaP-C than sVPX, enabling possible integration into 5 in. (12.7 cm) diameter pods/fuselages. Both sVPX and VNX+ are immature at the moment, with very few commercial-off-the-shelf products available. Ultimately, the commercial marketplace will determine the success of sVPX and VNX+ as a solution for the smaller-than-3U space. However, solutions are required now for advanced Science & Technology (S&T) and Research & Development (R&D) efforts aiming to deliver advanced capabilities to the warfighter in a variety of custom and standard form factors.

A highly-scalable MOSA methodology is needed that enables HPC, mixed-signal acquisition/generation, and RF front-end building blocks to be combined to provide solutions that span across UAS Groups 13, without having to use completely different hardware/software solutions for each group. While sVPX, VNX+, or 3U VPX/OpenVPX may be the ultimate form factor utilized, the desired building blocks should be modular and able to be integrated into any of these standard form factors. The ANSI/VITA community has leveraged the use of mezzanine cards (e.g., PMC, XMC, FMC, etc.) to perform digital and mixed-signal processing functions for decades; this approach could be further explored to accomplish the modularity and scalability objective, such as Single-Board Computer (SBC), System-on-Chip (SoC), and Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) mezzanine cards that can be integrated onto a standard VNX+, sVPX, or 3U module, or into a custom form factor. A similar approach must be applied to the RF sub-systems as well, likely incorporating the latest Multi-Chip Module (MCM) and System-In-Package (SIP) technologies. As SWaP-C constraints are alleviated, additional building blocks can be added to improve digital/mixed signal processing capabilities and/or RF performance specifications. For instance, the number of RF channels or additional frequency bands can be added to the system as more SWaP-C is available. Other examples include improving maximum power output by adding additional stages of amplification or in-band/out-of-band spurious performance by incorporating better RF filter sub-components.

Specifications for the desired scalable wideband multifunction RF payload include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. Total Payload Volume: scalable from 406,550 cubic cm (2.5400 cubic in.)

b. Operating Frequency: scalable across multiple frequency bands from 0.0140 GHz

c. Instantaneous Bandwidth: configurable based on the function up to 2 GHz wide as the threshold with goal of 4 GHz or more

d. Number of full-duplex phase-coherent TX/RX channels: scalable from 1 up to 4 as the threshold with 16 as a goa,

e. Radar and Electronic Attack (EA) Digital RF Memory (DRFM) RF front-end performance considerations (i.e., coherency, latency, sensitivity, flatness, receive/transmit gain, RF/digital tuning, etc.)

f. Power Output: scalable from 1 W100 W depending on application and frequency band

g. Heterogeneous Processing Elements: combinations of Single Board Computer (SBC), General Purpose Processor (GPP), Graphical Processing Unit (GPU), Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Accelerator, Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), System-on-Chip (SoC), Microprocessors, and other advanced processors

h. Designed for rugged operating environments including sub-sonic/super-sonic flight

The following will be used as evaluation criteria of the proposal and at each phase:

a. satisfying the modularity and scalability objectives while adhering to Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) principles

b. maximizing the incorporation of open standards and commercial-off-the-shelf solutions

c. potential to become a U.S. Government or Industry standard (e.g., MIL-STD, ANSI/VITA, etc.)

d. satisfying the wideband multifunction RF payload technical specifications

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by 32 U.S.C. 2004.20 et seq., National Industrial Security Program Executive Agent and Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) formerly Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances. This will allow contractor personnel to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DCSA and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material during the advanced phases of this contract IAW the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM), which can be found at Title 32, Part 2004.20 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

PHASE I: Develop a highly-scalable MOSA methodology and system architecture that supports multifunction EW, Radar, C5ISRT, and HPC capabilities using digital/mixed-signal processing and RF modules targeting the following payload form factors: Custom (2.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 10 cm), VNX+ (78 mm x 89 mm x 19 mm), and 3U VPX/OpenVPX (100 mm x 160 mm x 25.4 mm). Evaluate through modeling and simulation and/or laboratory testing of the anticipated digital/mixed-signal processing and RF performance characteristics of the three payloads while detailing power, cooling, and environmental requirements, assumptions, and considerations. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Produce a prototype of the custom form factor payload, with primary focus on developing the sub-systems that are novel and critical to the approach. For non-critical sub-systems, commercial-off-the-shelf or other solutions can be utilized, but feasibility on how these sub-systems can be modified and integrated must be addressed in detail. Demonstrate the modular and scalability of the approach by producing a VNX+ payload (threshold) and a SOSA-aligned 3U VPX/OpenVPX payload (goal). Quantify digital/mixed-signal processing and RF performance improvements/gains between the payload prototypes.

Work in Phase II may become classified. Please see note in Description paragraph.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The prototype(s) generated in Phase II will be further developed for the intended mission(s) and aerial platform(s), and then tested to ensure environmental and EMI/EMC qualification requirements are satisfied.

The U.S. Government desires the private sector provide MOSA solutions that adhere to standards such as ANSI, VITA, and SOSA. Developing digital/mixed-signal processing and RF sub-system solutions that can be integrated into different industry standards such as VNX+, sVPX, and 3U VPX/OpenVPX will enable wider use of the technology/capability. Commercial industries that can leverage this technology include: very small and low-power wireless devices for the Internet of Things (IoT); mobile/fixed 5G and 6G cellular technologies; commercial satellite and digital land mobile radio (DLMR) communications/datalinks; portable RF test and measurement devices; and radar for automotive and UAS applications.

REFERENCES:

  1. St. John, M. C.; Su, W.; Serrano, C. J.; Rudd, K. E. and Goverdhanam, K. "A wide spectral range, multi-function adaptive RF front-end for agile spectrum access and RF interference mitigation." 2015 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium, May 201, pp. 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1109/MWSYM.2015.7167064
  2. McMahon, B.; Lapierre, R.; MacCabe, A.; Campbell, N.; Dresser, T.; Fontaine, D.; Boal, K. and Bryant, J. "ORCHESTRA: Optimizable RF converged hardware expression of a scalable transmit/receive architecture." 2018 IEEE International Symposium on Antennas and Propagation & USNC/URSI National Radio Science Meeting, July 2018, pp. 2139-2140 https://doi.org/10.1109/APUSNCURSINRSM.2018.8609390
  3. "Requirement for modular open system approach in major defense acquisition programs, 10 U.S.C 4401 (2023)." https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title10-section4401&num=0&edition=prelim
  4. "National Industrial Security Program Executive Agent and Operating Manual (NISP), 32 U.S.C. 2004.20 et seq. (1993)." https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-32/subtitle-B/chapter-XX/part-2004

KEYWORDS: Modular; Open; Unmanned; radio frequency; RF; Radar; electronic warfare; EW; System


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Topic Q & A

05/17/24  Q. 1. Can I use 28 VDC as the available input voltage or would I be required to produce a second set of systems with 270 VDC?
2. Would a small set of modules capable of acquiring digitized L-band be a sufficient model?
   A. 1. Yes 28V is acceptable or some standard voltage 12V, 15V.
2. The point of this SBIR topic is to develop a hardware ecosystem similar to 3U VPX or VNX+ but for small UAVs or applications that are constrained by Size, Weight, and Power.
Their approach should show they could build an ecosystem of cards/modules. They can use the L band module, but they have to show it can scale to other modules such as GPUs, CPUs, and other advanced processors.

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