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This new DARPA chip could give U.S. a leg up in electronic warfare

With the help of innovative new chips that can convert analog radar and other electromagnetic signals into processable digital data at unprecedented speeds, warfighters can look forward to enhanced situational awareness in battle. (Image courtesy DARPA)
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In eastern Ukraine, government forces have to face an array of conventional threats. Snipers, artillery and machine gun fire to name a few. On top of that, Ukrainian troops also have to contend with electronic warfare. The separatists, well-supplied and trained by Russia, have the ability to jam drones and communications — seriously hindering battlefield operations for their opponent.

What is happening in Ukraine has major implications for the future of U.S. warfare. Russia and China, both seen as “near-peer” adversaries, have robust electronic warfare capabilities. And while the U.S. is trying to expand its electronic warfare suite, it has been slow going because of budget restrictions and a shrinking military.

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Enter a new chip from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would give the U.S. military a much needed boost when it comes to operating in a combat environment where communications and radar can be jammed by the enemy. This chip — an “exceptionally high-speed analog-to-digital converter,” known as an ADC — would benefit U.S. equipment that operates on the electromagnetic spectrum (radios, radar, etc) by increasing the ability to process portions of the electromagnetic spectrum at a drastically higher rate than current jamming and anti-jamming equipment.

From DARPA’s release on the chip:

Today’s ADCs, however, only process data within a limited portion of the spectrum at a given time. As a result, they can temporarily overlook critical information about radar, jamming, communications, and other potentially problematic EM signals. DARPA’s Arrays at Commercial Timescales (ACT) program addressed this challenge by supporting the development of an ADC with a processing speed nearly ten times that of commercially available, state-of-the-art alternatives. By leveraging this increased speed, the resulting ADC can analyze data from across a much wider spectrum range, allowing DoD systems to better operate in congested spectrum bands and to more rapidly react to spectrum-based threats.

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According to DARPA, the only issue with the chip is the amount of power and processing speed required for it to operate. To rectify the issue, DARPA is working with the company GlobalFoundries to create a smaller processor that uses less power but is still able to compute the data required for the chip to work.