Software-defined radio and JTRS | Military Aerospace

The flexComm SDR-3000 MRDP platform from Spectrum Signal Processing integrates Spectrum’s SDR-3000 with a DRT-2110 radio frequency (RF) front-end transceiver from Digital Receiver Technology.
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Spectrum engineers have released a new SCA-enabled platform called the flexComm SDR-3000 MRDP, a MILCOM rapid prototyping development platform. It’s the industry’s first “RF to Ethernet” commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution for military communications programs, Spectrum officials say. This platform integrates Spectrum’s SDR-3000 with Digital Receiver Technology Inc.’s DRT-2110 radio frequency (RF) transceiver. (DRT) in Germantown, Maryland.

The SDR-3000 MRDP provides a ready-made turnkey black processing system for JTRS and other MILCOM developers. This system includes sample application software that supports frequency-flexible operation and is for rapid prototyping and development of wideband and narrowband waveforms, Spectrum officials say. Additional benefits and features of this platform can be found at

“Using an off-the-shelf system like the SDR-3000 MRDP is expected to save our customers months of integration effort, even if they are already familiar with the individual components,” said Mark Briggs, Spectrum’s director of marketing. “This platform, when combined with the training, support and sample source code applications that Spectrum provides, can be the critical difference between a MILCOM development team hitting or missing their project milestones.”

Combining our compact, ffrequency-flexible RF transceiver with the Spectrum subsystem running on the SCA mainframe provides a scalable solution that should appeal to JTRS waveform developers and others making multi-channel MILCOM applications,” said Frank Hannold, application engineering manager in the DRT.

The SDR-3000 MRDP includes Spectrum’s SDR-3000 software-defined radio processing and analog-to-digital converter/digital-to-analog converter boards (PRO-3100, PRO-3500, ePMC-8311 and TM1-3300) in a four-slot 2U CompactPCI chassis. These components are integrated with the DRT-2110 RF transceiver subsystem consisting of four cards (RFT2, TEX, REF2 and CTRL12 single-board computer) in a 21-slot 3U CompactPCI chassis.

The system includes all software application libraries, including FPGA DAC and DAC cores, operating systems, and the SCA mainframe. An example of a working software data stream demonstrating an application of frequency-shift modulation and demodulation (FSK) provides a starting point for customers’ design efforts, Spectrum officials say.


Field programmable gate arrays or FPGAs also play an important role in improving the performance of the SDR and thus the JTRS program.

“Reconfigurable computing will play a very important role in JTRS, especially as bandwidth and data throughput continue to increase,” said Manuel Um, DSP marketing manager at Xilinx Inc. in San Jose, California. Um also co-chairs the Marketing Committee of the SDR Forum ( “Complex waveforms, such as WNW (Wideband Networking Waveform, the new JTRS waveform) and MILSATCOM waveforms and data links, require parallel processing on the FPGA to do most of the signal processing because the digital signal processors and processors general purpose do not have the required performance.

“It is no exaggeration to say that reconfigurable computing provides real-time video and data to the warfighter,” continued Wm. “In the JTRS Cluster 1 modem architecture, FPGAs account for most of the value of the signal processing circuitry.

Xilinx officials are addressing key issues for the JTRS community, most notably the cost and power consumption of software-defined radio modems, says Wm.

“Xilinx has a unique enablement technology that can significantly reduce costs and power consumption in the modem, perhaps even leading to savings of larger of 50 percent, especially for high-channel-density radios such as those required for AMF,” says Um. “Essentially, Xilinx’s off-the-shelf FPGAs can be used as SCA-enabled systems-on-chips (SoCs) supporting shared resources.”

Xilinx demonstrated the technology at MILCOM in Monterey, Calif., last month “with a great response,” says Wm.

Um says there are two aspects to Xilinx’s solution.

First, Xilinx’s partial reconfiguration of the FPGA allows the radio to share resources as the SCA executes a waveform within a specific portion of the FPGA. While this waveform is running, one or more waveforms are being executed in other parts of the FPGA while maintaining the first waveform. “This is in contrast to dedicated resources, where only one waveform can be supported on a set of processing devices,” says Um. “For multi-channel radios, this can result in a significant reduction in processing resources, thereby reducing cost and power.”

Second, the Xilinx Virtex-II Pro and Virtex 4 FX FPGAs have embedded solid-state 405 PowerPC processors that allow them to function as true systems-on-chips, explains Um. Xilinx partner ISR Technologies runs the Green Hills INTEGRITY real-time operating system, CORBA and SCA Core Framework on the embedded 405. “Previously, a discrete general-purpose processor was needed in the radio to run all this infrastructure,” says Wm.

SDR market

Researchers at Venture Development Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts, say the US military is almost single-handedly creating the SDR market.

VDC experts estimate that the military market for SDR software will be between $2.5 million and $3.5 million between 2003 and 2007. Military software spending will peak in 2004 due to the growth of the JTRS cluster, but are declining dramatically as work shifts from research and development to manufacturing, they say.

“The military has successfully demonstrated the capabilities of SDR and will continue to push this technology to its limits,” VDC analysts say. “Meanwhile, commercial wireless products have slowly evolved toward SDR architectures. New devices and advances in architectural design open up a wealth of opportunities in existing and new wireless markets.”

The global market for commercial embedded computer boards in military and commercial communications will be around $1.4 billion. SDR hardware platforms represent a very small portion of this market today, but should grow to more than 11 percent of the market by 2007. “Military applications currently dominate this market, but the mix is ​​expected to shift to commercial applications as these markets appear,” say VDC experts.

“These recent contracts will help further establish traditional military players such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman,” said VDC Telecom/Datacom Senior Analyst Chad Hart. “However, these recent awards will also help catapult the revenues of several smaller SDR vendors such as PrismTech and Vanu, as well as create many new opportunities for many other emerging players outside of contract teams.”

The JTRS program has four subroutines known as clusters. Contracts are awarded for cluster 5 and cluster AMF. The initially awarded contracts, main contractors and subcontractors for the four clusters are:

Cluster 1-initial award $857 million

Prime contractor: Boeing

Subcontractors: Agile Communications, Nova Engineering, BAE Systems, BBN Technologies, Harris RF, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Vanu, ViaSat, Xetron

Cluster 2-Update of an existing contract

Main contractor:Thales

Subcontractors: Innovative concepts

AMF CLUSTER(formerly clusters 3 and 4)

Team 1 General Contractor: Boeing (initial award $54.6 million)

Subcontractors: BBN Technologies, Harris Corp., L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman Space Technology, MILCOM Systems Corp., Rockwell Collins

Team 2 General Contractor: Lockheed Martin (initial award $51 million)

Subcontractors: BAE Systems, Cisco Systems, General Dynamics C4 Systems, NOVA Engineering, Raytheon Integrated Communications Systems, Scientific Research Corp., Thales

Cluster 5-initial prize $295 million

Main contractor: General Dynamics

Subcontractors: Agile Communications, Altera, BAE Systems, Motorola, PrismTech, RedZone Technologies, Rockwell Collins, Thales, Vanu

Harris will participate in the AMF Joint Tactical Radio System program

Officials at Harris Corp. in Rochester, New York, won a 15-month preliminary system development and demonstration contract for the US Department of Defense’s (DOD) Airborne, Marine/Fixed Radio System (AMF JTRS) program. The Boeing-led team was one of two teams awarded a development contract. The second phase of the AMF program should be awarded by the end of next year.

The AMF program brings together air and sea/fixed station communications requirements into one combined acquisition approach, Harris officials say. Once operational, AMF radios will be incorporated into more than 150 aircraft, ships and ground stations, allowing them to communicate seamlessly and efficiently.

“This program win expands our role in marine systems to be a full-spectrum communications systems provider,” said Chet Massari, president of Harris RF Communications. “It also strengthens our relationship with the US Air Force Electronic Systems Command,’ which Harris also supported with their AN/PRC-117F(C) radios.”

The Harris RF Communications division leads the system security architecture and marine radio system integration and is one of two radio developers and manufacturers for the Boeing team. The Harris Government Communications Systems division in Melbourne, Florida provides systems support for the program.

Harris develops software-defined radios, JTRS-compatible hardware, Software Communications Architecture (SCA) compatibility, waveforms, and programmable cryptology solutions. The company is the US Navy’s supplier of advanced high-frequency (HF) communications systems and was recently selected to develop SCA-compatible Advanced-EHF (extremely high-frequency) communications systems.

Boeing selects Mercury for JTRS Cluster 1 test program

Boeing officials in Seattle selected equipment from Mercury Computer Systems in Chelmsford, Mass., for the Joint Tactical Radio System Cluster 1 test program.

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