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EDF-2022-RA-SENS-CSENS: Covert sensing 

Given the sensors’ technological progress, the European military forces may encounter potential adversaries capable of obtaining a robust situational awareness by using advanced active and passive sensor capabilities, able to accurately locate and identify forces and their sensors in the three-dimensional battlespace (land, sea and air). For efficient Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions, armed forces therefore need to have sensors that reliably allow detection, classification and tracking of targets while being themselves difficult to detect, track and intercept. The capability to sense covertly allows unhindered operation without exposing location and identity to the enemy surveillance activities, thus lowering the vulnerability of own forces and conferring a key advantage in military conflicts. 

In the modern operational environment, there are targets with properties resulting in low probability of detection, due to their low signature or manoeuvring characteristics (very fast or very slow, up to hovering). Targets can also be difficult to detect due to the operation conditions (such as in urban scenarios, under foliage, underground or underwater operation or operating at low altitude) leading to strong clutter or a degraded visual environment. Recent advances in computing power, digital data and signal processing, together with the drastic reduction of size, weight and overall dimensions of equipment due to the advancement of microelectronics technology, have paved the way for better sensors, with increased sensitivity and better detection characteristics. 

Examples of use-cases, where covert sensing of difficult targets is of particular importance include: 

  • counter-battery fire; 
  • detection of sea surface targets (drones, periscopes, wooden boats, communication buoys…)
  • air defence and detection, recognition, identification and tracking of aerial targets (including low flying, slow, small drones); 
  • detection of fast manoeuvring and fast-moving targets with up to hypersonic speeds, like tactical ballistic missiles and anti-ship missiles; 

Modern surveillance sensors have to comply with operational requirements such as: 

  • To provide steady and reliable surveillance (detection, tracking, classification, identification), at various environmental conditions – for all battlespace dimensions, with guaranteed low probability of false alarms 
  • To detect and track targets that are difficult to detect in complex environments, like rural, coastal and mountainous areas with complex relief, semi-urban and urban environments, etc. 
  • To operate covertly, exhibiting low (for passive sensors) or reduced (for active sensors) signature to enemy counter- intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, thus reducing the possibility of being intercepted and countered, 
  • To be capable of supporting target acquisition in all mission phases and to support target engagement on the move, in particular by continuing interpretation and processing of data while the sensor and / or the target are moving or changing position. 
  • To have improve sustainability under harsh operational conditions in full battlespace dimensions (sea, air and land) 
  • To provide robustness in contested environments, with scenarios that are becoming more and more dynamic with highly agile targets. 
  • To be able to be integrated in various types of static and moving platforms (ground- based, shipborne, airborne, space-based), both manned and unmanned; 

Covert sensing concepts can in principle include: 

  • Passive sensors that are less traceable and are hard to target and 
  • Active sensors with very low probability of intercept, in particular when used in specific configuration (multi-static configurations…) 

Such sensors can be based on different types of physical phenomena (to detect different electromagnetic wavelength, acoustic waves, photons…) and on different working principle. 

To use the advantage of a multi-sensor and multi-spectral approach, the sensors may need to be integrated into a network of multiple heterogeneous sensors and provide data that can be merged with data from other sources. 

This topic aims at enhancing detection performance (such as range, sensitivity, resolution) of sensor systems to detect low signature targets, in the modern three-dimensional operational environment while maintaining covert operation, without exposing presence, identity and location. It encompasses innovative concepts of sensor use, in particular the combination of multiple, heterogeneous sensors, potentially on different platforms. 

Considered sensors may be electro-optical/infrared, radiofrequency and/or acoustic sensors, not excluding innovative sensor concepts. They must be passive or low-observable active. The topic covers the enhancement of individual sensors as well as their interplay. 

The sensors’ integration and interoperability with other sensors (networks) and connection to battlefield management systems must be addressed, e.g., through standardized data formats and interfaces or data processing (up to data fusion) on the sensor level. 

Proposals should address the optimization of available sensor resources in order to achieve optimum surveillance results. Proposals should also address aspects of efficient data exploitation and data fusion close to the data source. 

The following tasks may be performed as part of the optional activities of the project: 

– Generating knowledge: 

  • Research on low-signature active sensors as well as very high sensitivity passive sensors 
  • Activities aiming at improving the ability of sensors to operate in difficult conditions

– Integrating knowledge: 

  • Activities aiming at improving communication and connection between sensors 

Among other tasks that the applicants deem necessary, the following tasks must be performed as part of the mandatory activities of the project: 

– Studies 

  • Definition of relevant targets and operational conditions
  • Definition of performance evaluation techniques and parameters for detection and classification solutions. 
  • Study and modelling of relevant signatures of targets and of complex environments, e.g., rural, coastal and mountainous areas with complex reliefs, semi-urban and urban environments, etc., and under different weather conditions. 
  • Study on enhancing performance robustness when dealing with different platform dynamics, stability, and manoeuvring conditions, different targets and environments. 
  • Study of data fusion techniques for improving detection and classification performances in different sensors configurations 
  • Study on interfaces and data exchange formats to provide efficient data fusion and exploitation, taking into account standards used by the EU Member States and Norway armed forces. 

 – Design 

  • Design of a system of passive or low-observable active sensors to detect targets of interest 
  • Demonstration of the performance of the system in a simulated environment, if possible, including real data where relevant to improve modelling and demonstration 
  • Demonstration of the performance of the system in a laboratory environment 

Functional requirements 

Proposals should address technologies and solutions that: 

  • significantly increase detection performance with respect to new and challenging targets in harsh operational environment; 
  • significantly increase performance robustness against changes of the environment and the target characteristics; 
  • Are adaptable to different and complex scenarios (e.g., electromagnetically congested, dynamic, with degraded visibility and rapidly changing), enabling multi-mission and multi-platform applications (maritime, land and air); 
  • have reduced size, weight and power consumption, for scalable integration on differently sized manned or unmanned platforms; 
  • Are compatible with modular and scalable architectures; 
  • Are compatible with multi-sensor and multi-spectral approaches; 
  • Ensure interoperability with other systems by providing standardized interfaces and data exchange formats used by the EU Member States and Norway armed forces; 
  • simulate and automatically configure sensor configurations to carry out data fusion while optimizing the available resources and achieving the optimum surveillance results; 
  • Allow efficient exploitation and data fusion from multiple static or deployed sensors; 
  • are capable of executing data processing and analytics close to the data source to decrease the capacity needs to transfer sensor data; 

 Expected impact 

  • New knowledge in the field of covert sensors, sensor systems and their interplay, thereby strengthening the European technological and industrial base. 
  • Future EU critical land, naval and air ISTAR capabilities in highly dynamic scenarios, especially regarding challenging targets, increasing situational awareness, early warning, decision making and action planning capabilities.
  • State of the art, covert sensing capability that increases survivability of units/platforms
  • Increase of interoperability and efficient use of sensor systems thereby facilitating joint operations among armed forces of the EU Member States and Norway. 
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EDF-2022-RA-SENS-ART: Advanced radar technologies 

Passive and active radio-frequency (RF) systems in general and surveillance radar systems in particular remain vital assets for supporting multi-domain operations: incl. air and air defence missions, as well as ground/maritime operations. 

Management of the electromagnetic spectrum has increased in importance. Radar operation must be compatible with other communication and control systems running concurrently. Management of emission and sensing in both space and frequency increases the systems covertness. It also improves the system’s ability to discriminate reliably signals coming from passive and civilian sources as well as active disturbances such as jammers and decoys. 

Emerging technologies lead to the increased appearance of threats that are difficult to detect and track due to their low radar cross-section (RCS) (e.g., stealth technologies), manoeuvring characteristics (e.g., hypersonic weapon systems, slow-moving airborne units) or saturation attack tactics. Facing such a wide spectrum of threats (in terms of variation of speed, angle of approach and altitude), existing surveillance systems are reaching their limits in terms of detection range, angular domain coverage, and tracking capabilities. Specific operating modes (e.g., multistatic configurations) can improve detection and tracking performance. They however lead to an increased requirement on multiple beams forming. Proper detection, recognition and classification of different targets in a variety of operational conditions also requires a finely tuneable band. 

Those operational and technical challenges can be met by future systems with: 

  • agile digital beamforming to optimise observation time, volume coverage and detection reliability 
  • System characteristics such as wide or ultra-wide band coverage, low noise, high coherence 
  • Software defined waveforms with high degree of flexibility and use of multiple bands 
  • Data processing functions to enhance detection performance, target recognition and classification, notably with respect to new threats 

In order to be operated in various conditions and to be integrated in various platform, specific requirements moreover apply to the dimensions, weight and energy consumption of the radar modules (e.g., through miniaturization or grouping of functions in small electronic units) as well as their materials and electronics design to ensure optimal operability in harsh conditions. Efforts are also aiming at integrating multiple functions (radar, communication, electronic warfare) in a single radio frequency system for multi-role systems (e.g., see call PADR-EMS-03-2019). 

Recent research and development efforts in the field of radar and electronic warfare systems have the goal to create more flexible and adaptive systems in terms of modes of operation and beamforming. At the same time, new technologies offer possibilities to explore different frequency (or bandwidth) ranges while maintaining a high signal-to-noise ratio. A further objective is to integrate more functions, including internal computing capacities, while responding to the operational restrictions in terms of size, weight and power consumption and cost (SWaP-C). 

The scope of this call topic focusses on electronic components and their integration that help to accomplish the above-mentioned goals by achieving: 

  • improved size/weight/power ratios through miniaturisation and system integration
  • Integration of new technologies to increase the system’s adaptability to environments and operational scenarios.
  • Demonstration of agile and precise radar beam steering and detection performance.

The following enabling technologies serve as examples for the improvement and integration scope of this topic, without excluding other relevant technologies: 

  • direct sampling technologies able to perform data conversion in any radar frequency band, reducing the RF front-end complexity and maximizing the miniaturisation;
  • hardware and software components for digital beamforming, including using photonic components, that enable generic and reconfigurable digital beamforming, especially with true-time delay, broadband characteristics, multi-beam capability;
  • Hardware and software that would allow real time signal and data processing coming from digitized received signals at radiating element level in order to extract and store the information on targets including detection, tracking and classification; 
  • Components that enable the generation of extremely stable radio-frequency signals 
  • Antenna components that emit in a broad frequency band with low spurious emissions to adapt to the environment, e.g., by exploring fully polarimetric active electronically scanned array (AESA) antennas which are more robust against interferences and can enable enhanced performance in terms of detection and classification. 

Proposals should target a substantial technological advancement in order to bring the considered components to a maturity level corresponding to laboratory testing or higher (technology readiness level TRL> 4). 

Furthermore, proposals may include complementary aspects on: 

  • application of artificial intelligence as a means of enhancing target detection, classification and identification performance, notably with regards to new threats, including to enable cognitive radar concepts.
  • Integration aspects (such as interfaces with other sub-subsystems and data exchange formats) including high data rate transfer to other sub-systems (software and/or hardware aspects), in particular enabling distributed radar setup and Command and Control integration 

This topic complements past and ongoing research and technology efforts supported by the EU, e.g., through the calls PADR-EMS-03-2019, PADR-EDT-02-2018 and the calls EDF- 2021-SENS-R-RADAR, EDF-2021-MATCOMP-R-RF as well as Member States’ and Norway’s efforts, including in the EDA framework. 

Among other tasks that the applicants deem necessary, the following tasks must be performed as part of the mandatory activities of the project:

-Generating knowledge:

  • Research on software and hardware solutions for processing digital signals collected after RF direct sampling for sensors
  • Investigation of technologies and components for wideband or multiband direct sampling
  • Exploration of innovative antenna design
  • Investigate cognitive approaches that enables adaptability of the system to the environment and the scenario.
  • Investigation of technologies and components for ultra-low phase noise oscillators
  • Investigation of improvement of SWaP-C for the considered The proposal may also address optionally the following tasks under this activity:
  • Prepare suitable model of targets, threats and environment for training artificial intelligence (AI) -based algorithms;

– Integrating knowledge:

  • Explore scenarios and algorithms to improve the performance in scenarios including low RCS targets and highly manoeuvring targets such as hypersonic ones.
  • Explore the applicability or adoption of components and technologies from civil applications to defence designs

The proposal should moreover address the following tasks under this activity:

  • Investigation of solutions, such as algorithms, to increase system resilience against Cyber Electro Magnetic Activities (CEMA) and similar threats
  • Investigate “secure by design” technologies that can be used to increase system resilience in case of cyber-attacks;

– Studies

  • Selection of relevant operational scenarios
  • Exploitation of numerical simulations, e.g., based on digital twins, for testing new hardware and software solutions
  • Study of advanced antenna architectures, including innovative thermal management solutions and material, reducing size, weight and power consumption (acceptable SWaP for airborne applications) while providing enhanced surveillance and tracking capabilities;

The proposal may address the following tasks under this activity:

  • Study on technology for sharing and distributing classified data from RF sensor systems;
  • Study on the use of AI techniques for system design and concept

– Design

  • Design of digital beamforming and testing in a laboratory environment
  • Design on-board computing solutions for deployment of signal and data processing algorithms enabling enhanced and real-time computing capabilities and demonstration of performance in a laboratory environment;
  • Design of digital twins for testing of new hardware and software solutions and demonstration in a laboratory environment;
  • Design of advanced antenna architectures, including innovative thermal management solutions and material, reducing size, weight and power consumption (acceptable SWaP for airborne applications) and demonstration in a laboratory environment;
  • Validation of the adaptive capabilities of the system by tests in a simulated environment and in a controlled environment.

Functional requirements

Proposals should address technologies and solutions that

  • Integrating wide bandwidth components and building blocks for achieving better detection, tracking and, classification performances of radio-frequency sensor systems, including for challenging threats;
  • Enabling versatility and reconfigurability with respect to system functions and operational modes (e.g., tracking modes, imaging modes, beam modes, waveforms)
  • Enabling adaptability to the scenario and the operational conditions
  • Supporting innovative antenna design (e.g., ubiquitous approach decoupling the observed area from the physical antenna position, conformal arrays)
  • Enabling operation in multi-static radio-frequency system architectures, especially taking into account synchronisation issues;
  • Capable of coping with increased data rate and volume with respect to signal acquisition and data processing
  • Demonstrating modular and scalable architecture with suitable weight, size and power consumption (SWaP) to be implemented over a variety of platforms (including airborne applications as well as unmanned vehicles)
  • Ensuring compatibility with simultaneously operated civil systems (including telecommunication applications) and defence systems;
  • Ensuring interoperable interfaces and data formats with other military and civil sensor systems.

Expected impact

  • Contribution to the capacity and the technological autonomy of technological and industrial actors in the EU Member States and Norway to develop new radio- frequency systems.
  • Building capability to define, develop and operate radio-frequency systems for surveillance, detection, tracking and classification of objects that are difficult to detect and track in increasingly difficult environments and operating conditions.
  • Increased flexibility of radio-frequency systems to create multifunctional, fully digital systems, able to adapt to the situation and the environment.
  • Enhancement of the integration of radio-frequency systems in distributed control and surveillance platforms.
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