Miniaturizing electronic warfare microelectronics for next-gen military applications

Electronic warfare (EW) technologies, normally deployed in ground, naval and airborne platforms, provide a strategic and tactical advantage in the modern battlefield. At the same time, modern military forces continue to transition from conventional weapons to precision-guided weapons (PGW), with enhanced strike capabilities. In response, adversaries are turning to electronic attack technologies to disrupt the navigation and guidance systems of PGW, thereby reducing their efficacy to that of conventional weapons used in the first half of the 20th century.

To counter this emerging threat, self-protection microelectronics from ground, naval, and air platforms must be adapted and greatly miniaturized in a form factor sufficiently compact and ruggedized for PGW. Achieving this goal requires a fundamental shift in perspective on digital RF memory (DRFM) design methodology given the extremely space-constrained environment allocated for microelectronics in modern PGW.

DRFM microelectronics for a PGW face challenging space constraints such that all available volume must be considered as viable space. Leveraging vertical stacking technologies and interconnection of multiple printed circuit boards (PCB) techniques enables for near complete utilization of all physical space available.

As DRFM microelectronic components are allocated to individual PCBs for vertical stacking, the concept of modularity becomes important. Maximum space efficiency is achieved only if components serving a common functionality are integrated on the same board. For example, all digital components are placed on a single board while the circuitry is co-located on a separate board. The separation of digital processing from the noise-sensitive RF circuity naturally enables higher performance of the entire sensor chain.

Additionally, if performance-limiting components — such as analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) or field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) — are updated by the manufacturer, modularity enables rapid upgrade cycles.

The DRFM module must also be designed to withstand any combination of high frequency mechanical vibration, rapid acceleration during launch, extremes in thermal shock and exposure to moisture, salt water, or corrosive environments. Addressing all of these challenges simultaneously requires the DRFM architect to rethink the approach completely. A thoughtfully reengineered (MCM) can achieve both of these requirements simultaneously.

The microelectronics content of weapons systems must continue to increase, both in RF performance and in processing complexity, to address the evolution of the modern threat environment. Innovative approaches, such as the one described in this post, are required to create a new generation of more effective military platforms.

Maintaining a strategic and tactical advantage requires the defense community to continue embracing commercial technology advances while deploying upgradeable microelectronics platforms. In addition to the PGW application described above, this miniature DRFM architecture also finds applications in other military platforms, including unmanned aerial systems (UASs). However, that is a subject for another post in the future.

Topics covered in this article