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DARPA transitions ACT-IV multifunction array to support future testing

A novel sixth-generation digital multifunction active electronically scanned array (AESA) developed by Northrop Grumman under US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsorship has been delivered to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, for continued testing by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Sensors Directorate.

Developed under DARPA's Arrays at Commercial Timescales – Integration and Validation (ACT-IV) programme, the multifunction AESA system is designed to be capable of simultaneously performing different operations, such as radar, electronic warfare (EW), and communications functions, at different modes.

The system, intended to lay the foundation for a new generation of digitally reprogrammable multifunction radio frequency (RF) systems, has previously completed multiple demonstrations and acceptance testing at Northrop Grumman test facilities.

The ACT-IV system mounted on an automated test fixture in the AFRL Sensors Directorate Indoor Antenna Range. (AFRL)

The ACT-IV system mounted on an automated test fixture in the AFRL Sensors Directorate Indoor Antenna Range. (AFRL)

At the system's core is an advanced semi-conductor device – or common module – fabricated in commercial silicon that was developed by DARPA's Arrays at Commercial Timescales (ACT) programme. Now concluded, the ACT effort sought to shorten phased array design cycles and simplify the process of upgrading fielded capabilities.

The ACT common module – a digitally interconnected building block from which large systems can be formed – was developed as a more efficient alternative to substantial undertakings with traditional monolithic array systems.

In addition to the ACT module, the ACT-IV system employs a computational model capable of efficiently receiving and computing the significant amounts of input data generated by each module.

By exploiting the flexibility of digital AESA technology, the ACT-IV system can perform radar, EW, and communication functions simultaneously by controlling a large number of independent digital transmit/receive channels.

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