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by Kris Osborn

For small drones able to converge previously disparate radar, electronic warfare and communications functions into an integrated, flexible architecture.

The effort, called the CONverged Collaborative Elements for RF Task Operations (CONCERTO), streamlines small drone mission capability by allowing a single platform to perform a range of functions more efficiently, developers explained.

DARPA recently awarded BAE Systems a deal to collaborate on the effort, a technology initiative designed to change the paradigm for how small drones operate in combat scenarios.

At the moment, Soldiers and Marines need to send up multiple drones in order to perform numerous mission sets such as electronic warfare, ISR or radar; CONCERTO uses integrated antennas, circuitry, software and hardware to enable a single drone to quickly switch from one payload function to another.

“These single-function payloads can’t be installed on a compact UAS at the same time because of the size, weight, and power constraints of these platforms, limiting what they can do without swapping payloads on the ground — a process that seriously hinders mission efficiency,” a BAE Systems official said.

DARPA’s solicitation for development of CONCERTO explains this, stating that multi-function missions require integration and control of separate, discrete systems, either on a single larger platform or many smaller ones.

“These systems typically use dedicated apertures, are realized with tightly coupled hardware and software, and are not well-coordinated in their use of spectrum,” the DARPA solicitation states.

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For instance, if a fast-moving, high-threat combat scenario required rapid transition from an ISR mission to launching an electronic attack upon an approaching enemy, current compact drones would not have a mid-air ability to transition these functions. DARPA’s CONCERTO plans to make this possible.

BAE and DARPA are planning to demonstrate CONCERTO in the near future.

“Our technology is being designed for Group 3 UAS, and our initial technology demonstration is planned for an RQ-21a Blackjack.” Randall Lapierre, BAE Systems CONCERTO technology development manager, told Scout Warrior.

In addition to streamlining functionality, DARPA also explains that CONCERTO will help expedite modernization efforts as well.

“The rigid and constrained nature of the existing approach makes it difficult and time-consuming to adopt new technology, adapt to rapidly changing adversary threats, maneuver functions effectively in spectrum, and create comprehensive compact RF systems,” a DARPA statement said.

According to DARPA’s solicitation, the new converged payload will include an “RF front end including radiating aperture, a heterogeneous RF processing engine and multi-objective management system.”

BAE developers tell Scout Warrior they are focusing on maximizing the RR capabilities of the hardware to include bandwidth, frequency, distance and field of view – as a way to ensure multiple missions can be performed from the same components.

The emerging flexible RF technology hinges upon technical breakthroughs with chip technology able to operate with reconfigurable radio frequency, Lapierre explained.

“Adaptive RF technologies like MATRICs (Microwave Array Technology for Reconfigurable Integrated Circuits) and commercial digital components,” he said.