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Research Horizons

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Signal Achievement

Technology development for next-generation RF systems is driven by spectrum access and size, weight, and power. Fiber optic cabling allows bandwidth to be distributed through multiple kilometers with less attenuation than with coaxial cable.


Photonics, the technology that helps drive today’s telecommunications systems, offers major advances in the area of signal transmission. Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) are adapting optical techniques from the telecom arena to enhance U.S. electronic warfare (EW) capabilities.

Optical approaches provide greatly increased frequency coverage and long distance low-loss transfer of analog signals when compared to traditional radio frequency (RF) systems, resulting in substantial performance improvements. Chip-scale integrated photonics may also allow for extensive reductions in size, weight, and power needs.

“U.S. warfighters may soon face adversary systems that use signals outside the traditional EW spectrum, which creates a need for broadband frequency responses beyond the capabilities of conventional RF and digital equipment,” said Chris Ward, a senior research engineer who leads GTRI’s EW photonics development program.

“Photonic advances originating in the telecom world have given us the ability to provide EW, radar, and other military systems with unique and advanced performance capabilities.” Photonics technology uses photons to carry wideband signals used in communications, radar, and other applications via optical fiber efficiently over large distances. Photonics-based systems transmit data with far less signal loss than conventional metallic conductors and encounter little or no electromagnetic interference while propagating through fiber.

Moreover, photonics allows for radio frequency bandwidths far surpassing modern electronics, being limited by the constraints of the electrical-to-optical and optical-to-electrical conversion processes. — Rick Robinson

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