Army scientists have developed a first-of-its-kind antenna that could change how ground vehicles and airborne systems communicate, transmit, and receive radio frequency communications.

The Army matured a manufacturing process using a special class of engineered materials known as metaferrites to make an ultra-thin wideband antenna. The antenna conforms to curved surfaces, making it ideal to integrate in unmanned aircraft systems, rotary wing aircraft, and ground vehicles.

Said Dr. Philip Perconti, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology and Chief Scientist for the Army, “Our technical experts used their knowledge in material properties, modeling, and test and evaluation to further advance these materials.”

In addition, the Army also invested in the development of the manufacturing processes in collaboration with coalition and industrial partners to advance from a prototype material to one that could be mass-produced.

More than 10 years ago, the Army recognized that metaferrites have special properties that could potentially be used to create RF antennas performing to standards impossible at that time. When metaferrites are sandwiched in pancake-thin antenna structures, good performance is achieved over a wide frequency range, with the antenna having a broad hemispherical antenna pattern.

Metaferrite antenna prototypes have been integrated into land platforms, as well as onto a Black Hawk helicopter. Data from lab and field testing verified the antenna is a suitable replacement for antennas with higher profiles, including X-wing and eggbeater antennas.

The metaferrite antenna has a wider frequency, which enables it to operate in both legacy satellite systems and with the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS). The MUOS provides a beyond-line-of-sight capability that allows soldiers to maintain connectivity anywhere in battle. The antenna's wide, hemispherical reach enables more reliable contact with satellites. In addition, it is self-contained and does not need to be grounded to a metal surface like commercial antennas.

The project supports the Army's Network/031, Future Vertical Lift, and Next Generation Combat Vehicle modernization priorities by providing a low-profile antenna for satellite-on-the-move communications. The antenna also eliminates drag for rotary-wing and other aircraft. With reduced drag, meta-ferrite antenna solutions could provide a path forward to integrate satellite communications capabilities previously too size, weight, and power (SWAP)-heavy for smaller unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

ARL worked with its defense, industry, and international partners to mature the technology before establishing the Man-Tech RF MetaFerrite Devices Program in 2017. The ManTech program advanced the project and transitioned manufacturing from a foreign source to a domestic supplier, while also increasing manufacturing from 500 antennas per year to more than 1,000. ManTech also improved performance of the antenna using 50 percent less material.

The ManTech program enabled the Army to understand the unique characteristics of the technology in order to develop a consistent manufacturing process to create the metaferrites. As a result, antenna developers have a new capability to design low-profile conforming antennas for warfighter applications.

For more information, visit the Army Research Laboratory here .


Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2020 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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