HRL to Develop Revolutionary Microwave Receiver

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HRL Labs has been granted the first award in a three-phase program to develop a revolutionary new microwave receiver front end designed to protect a receiver system against threats such as high-power microwave weapons, directed-energy weapons, and electromagnetic pulses arising from nuclear blasts.

HRL Laboratories, LLC, has been granted the first award in a three-phase program to develop a revolutionary new microwave receiver front end designed to protect a receiver system against threats such as high-power microwave weapons, directed-energy weapons, and electromagnetic pulses arising from nuclear blasts. The HRL team will lead a group of subcontractors in the Electromagnetic Pulse-tolerant Microwave Receiver Front-end, or EMPiRe, program to design, test, and develop a newly conceived receiver with an innovative front end that protects electronic components from damage or breakdown.

The Department of Defense employs a wide range of communications, radar and electronic systems that utilize microwave receivers, which are particularly vulnerable to high energy signals, even with state-of-the-art protection. Current microwave receiver front ends, which reside between the antenna and signal-processing electronics, cannot use conventional protective metallic enclosures to protect them from high-energy fields because of the very necessity that they transmit and receive electromagnetic signals. As a result, receiver electronics are exposed to potential high-energy electromagnetic attacks, which can cause semiconductor junction breakdown or damage, significantly compromising entire military systems.

The HRL concept is based on a front end that does not absorb incoming microwave power or expose sensitive semiconductor devices to high-energy fields. Rather, the protective HRL front end senses incoming electrical fields through a high-performance microwave photonic link, which then provides a microwave-modulated optical signal to the shielded receiver. The sophisticated front end houses all its opto-electronics, lasers, photo detectors, and associated electronics in an electromagnetically shielded enclosure that is penetrated only by tiny glass-filled apertures through which laser light is fed.

"Our architecture provides several important advantages over other conventional approaches to microwave receiver front ends," said Dr. James Schaffner, EMPiRe Program Manager and Senior Scientist at HRL Laboratories. "This front end will be designed to have wider bandwidth than existing technology and will achieve a much higher concentration of electromagnetic fields, providing greater sensitivity. The thermal effects of a high-energy attack will be insignificant because our sensor head absorbs negligible radio-frequency power. Thus the system will offer essentially instantaneous recovery time."

The initial 15-month Phase 1 of the EMPiRe program is the first in a proposed three-phase, four-year effort funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design, test, and develop a fully functional microwave receiver for the military.

HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California (http://www.hrl.com) is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.

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Michele Durant
HRL Labs
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