A Navy ship entering port can be a majestic sight. But the dramatic image is often marred by the many odd-looking antennae poking out in all directions—upwards of 150 of them on the newest destroyers. The real problem, however, is that each antenna requires a costly support system, and the antennas can interfere with one another. So in August, the Office of Naval Research will test a concept that aims to bring down the number of antennas used for receiving and transmitting radio-frequency (RF) signals.
The advanced multi-function radio frequency concept, or AMRF-C, is developing electronic modules and software to enable a limited number of transmit and receive antennas to handle multiple communications, radar, and electronic warfare (EW) functions. The goal is to halt the proliferation of so-called "stovepipes"—systems tailored for a single function such as super-high-frequency satellite communications or extremely low-frequency submarine contacts. Specialized computers, power hookups, and maintenance support for each antenna means higher costs, and risks, when they fail. The dissimilar antennas can interfere with one another or other ship systems, and degrade performance, thereby forcing ships to limit strictly the operations of certain RF systems when others are needed.
The AMRF-C program, run for ONR by the Naval Research Laboratory, involves dozens of industry participants and Navy labs. The August demonstration of full-up AMRF-C feasibility will be carried out at NRL's Chesapeake Bay detachment. The AMRF-C work is managed by ONR's Fleet Force Protection Future Naval Capability initiative, which seeks to move new ship-defense technologies quickly to operating forces.
The Navy has asked ONR to focus specifically on the EW component of AMRF-C for its newest shipbuilding program, the next-generation DD(X) land-attack destroyer. The first DD(X) is planned for delivery in 2011. For development of the system, dubbed the multi-function EW system or MFEW, ONR has organized a team of staffers from the DD(X) program office, the program executive office for integrated warfare systems, and the Navy's surface-warfare requirements office.
"ONR will manage the technology development for an acquisition program—it's an unprecedented role," says Keith Krapels, a program officer in ONR's surveillance, communications, and electronic combat department. Meanwhile, the NRL testbed will be used for fine-tuning the system and cost reduction, still focused on the communications and radar components, and aimed at that long-term goal: leveling those antenna forests.