Military Embedded Systems

GUEST BLOG: Consolidated avionics improves helicopter capability


May 16, 2024

Jason Wilden


GUEST BLOG: Consolidated avionics improves helicopter capability

The consolidation of federated systems into a modular open system approach (MOSA) changes the way helicopter avionics systems operate, interface, and communicate with one another. New capabilities can be quickly inserted, resilient technologies can be emphasized, and digital beamforming antennas expand applications.

Federated systems – interconnected but autonomous – often use many of the same parts, but don’t share them from system to system. This structure results in excess weight and power consumption, reducing platform capabilities. The use of open architectures and technologies enables the sharing of resources, reduces excess weight, shrinks power consumption, and increases platform efficiency.

Open architectures: MOSA maximizes capability as a function of size, weight, and power (SWaP). Modules are now tailored to specific mission needs and interchanged as needed. This design technique provides commonality across platforms, giving military users more flexibility and control in acquisition and any subsequent upgrades. Commonality staves off concerns regarding obsolescence and the maintenance cycle. Two examples of areas in which open architectures have been used recently are the Multiple Effects Launcher (MEL), an open systems launcher that can host a number of payloads; and open software-defined radios (SDRs).

Software-defined radios: Open SDRs are a turning point in helicopter avionics, enabling a real paradigm shift to occur. Traditionally each radio has been a federated system that hosted a limited set or singular waveform tied to one vendor’s implementation. Several federated radio systems were needed in order to communicate with every device and platform to achieve successful missions.

In contrast, a singular MOSA system can host dozens of different waveforms, enabling the previously federated space to be reallocated to different platform needs. As the need increases for not only resilient waveforms but also resilient networks, MOSA enables designers and users to quickly and more easily insert the most modern capabilities on various platforms, thereby keeping pace with mission needs.

Digital beamforming: Digital beamforming apertures offer an exciting opportunity to consolidate radio-frequency front ends and antennas into a smaller footprint. As with legacy radios, each waveform uses frequency within a band to communicate, with some bands hosting multiple waveforms. Depending on the band used, a highly directional antenna is needed to achieve meaningful communication ranges. These apertures are typically limited to only supporting a singular link.

Digital beamforming apertures support multiple simultaneous transmit and receive links removing the need for larger, more limiting analog apertures. Digital beamforming apertures also are suitable for use in hybrid satellite-communications architectures that have multiple beams communicating with multiple constellations in different orbits, while still maintaining line-of-sight (LOS) communications. Since each RF sample is digitized, multiple applications can run simultaneously. Digitized samples can be used for communication, building a spectrogram that shows which frequencies are in use, and interference nulling for increased communication range.

Through the use of open architectures and new technologies such as digital beamforming, resources can be efficiently shared among several different helicopter systems. (Figure 1.) This approach reduces the SWaP footprint, freeing up space to enhance current capabilities, introduce new ones, or extend endurance.

[Figure 1 ǀ An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter. Cubic maintains, upgrades, and supports deployment of the KnightLink full motion video (FMV) system for the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) MH-60 Sierra (MH-60S) helicopter fleet. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dylan McKay.]

Jason Wilden is currently a Technical Fellow with Cubic Defense.

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