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Intel, Lockheed Martin develop small-sized EW circuits

Intel, with input from Lockheed Martin, has developed a new technology that reduces the size of circuits used in electronic warfare (EW), radar, and other military systems, improving overall performance while reducing size, weight, and power (SWAP) demands, according to the companies.

The technology integrates field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), analogue-to-digital convertors (ADCs), and digital-to-analogue convertors (DACs). FPGAs are integrated circuits that can be reprogrammed by the operator as required, providing customisable computational speed that systems like radar need to implement extremely fast digital signal processing.

An ADC, meanwhile, takes what is happening in an analogue waveform in the natural world – for example, voice communications – and translates it into digital form so it can work within the FPGA. A DAC does the reverse, translating digital data into analogue data: for example, converting it into a radar waveform.

Traditionally these elements are separated, with the ADC/DAC in one package and the FPGA in another, said Frank Ferrante, senior director of the Military Aerospace and Defense Division at Intel. Even if the distance is just one inch, it costs energy to transfer data from the ADC/DAC to the FPGA, he said. The difference could be between 15 picojoules per bit versus 1 picojoule per bit in the new, integrated package – tiny amounts of energy in isolation – but “considering the bandwidth that we’re talking now, it’s a very significant number in what is now a very small space”, Ferrante explained.

The integration also saves time by up to a factor of 10: the time to transfer the data from the data converter to the processing element, Ferrante said. This has significant implications for militaries, particularly in electronic defence, he added.

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