The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded BAE Systems a contract for lightweight, handheld tactical sensors to provide better situational awareness and understanding of radio frequency signals.

The solution utilizes technologies related to what has been termed cognitive electronic warfare, which uses advances in machine learning to rapidly identify and adjust to signals in the field. BAE's handheld EW technology is capable of rapidly detecting and identifying multiple interfering signals such as jammers or communications signals across the spectrum using cognitive processing algorithms, an announcement from the company stated.

DARPA was interested in the ability to figure out if signals exist in a particular environment and what those signals are, Apurva Mody, group leader of the Dominance, Awareness and Sharing group at BAE, explained. BAE developed a chip that enables advanced signal processing to know what those signals are, he continued.

"We call it internally spectrum analyzing on steroids," he said.

BAE said that during field tests, their technology successfully detected and identified more than 10 signal types across a wide bandwidth with the presence of interference. BAE's efforts in cognitive EW, along with the concept in general terms, aims to use machine learning to understand what is happening in the increasingly crowded spectrum space to discern if there is the presence of a jamming, radar or comms environment to better understand the decision loop of an adversary and exploit signals.

"It's very difficult for us to very rapidly figure out in the electromagnetic spectrum environment, what kind of signals are present, what the signals are doing, whether they pose any threat, or maybe the signals that we can potentially exploit," he said.

BAE said their capability can be leveraged across multiple platforms and can integrate into EW, signals intelligence and signal receiver and communication systems of varying sizes.

"By drastically reducing the size, weight, and power of this new cognitive EW system, we're making it easier for our warfighters to be aware of, classify, and manage a wide range of signals in the battlespace, which is crucial for tactical situational awareness," said Joshua Niedzwiecki, director of Sensor Processing and Exploitation at BAE Systems. "Better situational awareness on the battlefield means superior protection for our troops and a greater ability to defeat hostile threats."

Mody said that there are plans to use their chip and accompanying technology for a variety of platforms, not just handhelds. This technology is just specific to the handheld platform, but also ISR platforms and we also envision this technology to be outfitted on larger platforms, he said. Given that the chip consumes very little power, a critical metric when outfitting soldiers and systems to maximize payloads, equipment and efficiency, this technology could be used for unmanned aerial vehicles, he said as small UASs typically only have about 200 Watts of power that must be dispersed to perform all the aircraft's functions. BAE's technology will allow systems to take little power and go into uncharted territory to figure out what exists in a particular region.

The technology was born out of two DARPA programs called Computational Leverage Against Surveillance Systems, or CLASS, and the Cognitive radio Low-energy signal Analysis Sensor ICs, or CLASIC.

"This new handheld EW capability improves on today's portable spectrum analyzers, which are often bulky, power hungry, and unable to handle interference or classify the signals they detect," BAE said. "Using advanced signal processing algorithms, BAE Systems radically reduced the time and the computing power needed to process detected signals to such an extent that the new system uses only one low-power chip. The result is a 10-times reduction in size, weight, and power compared to conventional spectrum analyzers."

Mody said while this capability is still in the prototype phase, BAE will continue to mature it and take it to the next effort. "This capability does not exist today, so this is a big leap," he said. For Special Operations Forces that enter into unknown territories with the intention of avoiding detection, this technology could allow them to fulfill their mission as current equipment consumes a lot of power and does not tell them what signals exist in the area they are operating in, he added.