The US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle is one platform which could benefit from BAE Systems’ CHIMERA reconfigurable hardware in the future to enhance its EW and SIGINT collection missions.

BAE Systems has received funding from DARPA to advance its CHIMERA machine-learning hardware offering potential benefits to electronic warfare practitioners.

In July the company was awarded a contract worth up to $4.7 million to develop its Controllable Hardware for Integration for Machine-Learning Enabled Real-Time Adaptivity (better known as CHIMERA) for the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). CHIMERA takes the form of a reconfigurable hardware platform which can host machine learning algorithms. According to Josh Neidzwiecki, the company’s director of adaptive sensors, this could eventually yield a hardware and software combination which could outfit air, land and sea platforms that need flexible Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) or Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities.

Mr. Neidzwiecki told Armada Analysis that there is an increasing need for platforms involved in the collection of SIGINT and the prosecution of EW to have flexible subsystems which can be easily adapted to their electromagnetic environment. He cited the growing proliferation of software defined devices such as radars and tactical radios which employ complex, adaptable waveforms as a means of reducing their chances of interception: “More and more emitters are software defined. This means that they can change from minute-to-minute, even second to second.”

Mr. Neidzwiecki added that until now SIGINT collection devices were “fairly fixed in terms of their applications and functions.” This means re-configurability is now at a premium: “Maybe I want to do a SIGINT mission one hour. The next hour I want to do an EW mission, and following this, I want to do wireless communications. The CHIMERA hardware can be configured thus using the algorithms it will host.”

Spectrum congestion is another motivating factor for interest in reconfigurable hardware: “There are two big drivers: You have more subsystems and platforms using the electromagnetic spectrum, and that spectrum is becoming more congested with more signals.”

This is illustrated by the fact that every soldier and platform has their own radio, not to mention the proliferation of tactical datalinks and radars on and off the battlefield. This is mirrored in the civilian realm. Figures published in January by the World Advertising Research Centre predicted that 72.6 percent of global internet users, equivalent to 3.6 billion people, will access the internet solely via their cellular devices by 2025. For the SIGINT practitioner this will translate into an ever-increasing demand for bandwidth, and hence an increasingly congested electromagnetic spectrum in which signals of interest can hide.

BAE Systems’ efforts will see the company developing the hardware which can host SIGINT and EW algorithms realised by third party software developers as well as the firm’s own SIGINT/EW software produced by its research and development organisations.

Work on CHIMERA began in 2017. Hardware units have been delivered to other software developers involved in the programme for the porting of the algorithms as discussed above. The hardware will then be tested by DARPA. The goal is to advance the hardware to the US Department of Defence’s Technology Readiness Level Six. This will mean that a representative model or prototype system has been demonstrated in a relevant environment. Mr. Neidzwiecki says that once this is done, BAE Systems expects to invest its own research and development resources to take CHIMERA to the field.

by Dr. Thomas Withington