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DARPA receives multifunction ACT-IV phased array sensor system

Arrays at Commercial Timescales Integration and Validation (ACT-IV) digital AESA system
Photo: Northrop Grumman

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) have received the Arrays at Commercial Timescales Integration and Validation (ACT-IV) system that will support future research and development efforts.

The system is based on an advanced digital active electronically scanned array (AESA) and was delivered by Northrop Grumman after completing multiple demonstrations and acceptance testing.

ACT-IV is a novel multifunction AESA system that is capable of simultaneously performing different operations, such as radar, electronic warfare (EW), and communications functions, at different modes.

At the system’s core is an advanced semiconductor device – or common module – fabricated in commercial silicon that was originally developed by DARPA’s Arrays at Commercial Timescales (ACT) program. Now concluded, the ACT program sought to shorten phased array design cycles and simplify the process of upgrading fielded capabilities.

The ACT common module – a digitally-interconnected building block from which large systems can be formed – was developed as a more efficient alternative to substantial undertakings with traditional monolithic array systems, DARPA said.

In addition to the ACT module, the ACT-IV system employs a computational model capable of efficiently receiving and computing on the significant amounts of input data generated by each module.

“The development of the ACT-IV system is a breakthrough in AESA performance and marks an important milestone in the nation’s transition to digitally reprogrammable multifunction radio frequency (RF) systems,” said William Phillips, director, multifunction systems, Northrop Grumman. “The new ACT-IV capabilities have the agility to defeat complex emerging threats and will be used to enhance the next generation of integrated circuits and AESAs that are currently in our digital AESA product pipeline.”

The ACT-IV system will be a foundational research asset for the Department of Defense’s multi-service research initiative for digital radars and multifunction systems. This initiative will support a community of researchers that are developing new algorithms and software to explore the possibilities of next generation digital AESAs for national security missions.

The algorithms, software and capabilities developed on ACT-IV will transition into next generation multifunction RF systems to support advanced development programs throughout the Pentagon.

“This delivery is the culmination of the close collaboration between the teams at AFRL, DARPA and Northrop Grumman,” said Dr. Bae-Ian Wu, ACT-IV project lead, Sensors Directorate, AFRL. “The ACT-IV system is being prepared for initial testing by the AFRL Sensors Directorate as part of a strategic investment to develop and test the technologies for multifunction digital phased array systems in an open-architecture environment for the larger DoD community.”

“With the ACT-IV program, we were able to realize the vision of ACT by developing an advanced sensor system with ACT common modules,” said Tom Rondeau, the program manager leading ACT-IV. “The resulting system went through extensive testing and demonstrations to validate its capabilities, proving out a sixth-generation array with a scalable, customizable core that could work across varied application spaces. Transitioning the ACT-IV system to AFRL will enable continued exploration of digital, multifunctional RF technologies for defense needs.”