Why Software Defined Radios are at the heart of CEMA

Technical Architect, Wireless Group, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Read time: 3 mins
How can organisations gain CEMA advantage and what role can Software Defined Radio play? Mike Winterbotham investigates
Why Software Defined Radios are at the heart of CEMA imageThe vision for cyber and electromagnetic activities (CEMA) is for ‘the synchronisation and coordination of cyber and electromagnetic activities, delivering operational advantage thereby enabling freedom of movement, and effects, whilst simultaneously, denying and degrading adversaries’ use of the electromagnetic environment and cyberspace’ (MOD JDN 1/18). CEMA is a key component of the future battlespace, but how can organisations gain CEMA advantage and what role can Software Defined Radio play here?
The electromagnetic activities mentioned in the CEMA vision cover a diverse range of operations involving radios eg receiving and demodulating signals and data, generating and transmitting new signals, or processing off-air signals to determine timing, location or other operational information. The key to successful CEMA will lie in the ability to do these things in a flexible, timely way that can be integrated with other operations and intelligence to give the overall CEMA capability.
This flexibility will be enabled through the use of Software Defined Radios (SDRs) - radio devices whose operation is defined and controlled via software rather than being ‘hard-wired’. An example could be a radio that is able to act as a Wi-Fi device, a mobile phone or a DAB radio by running different software ‘applications’. This ability for dynamic re-programming to undertake different roles and tasks is critical to achieving CEMA superiority, for example enabling communications, electronic surveillance (ES / SIGINT) and Electronic Warfare (EW).
One common misconception is that SDRs are ‘all about the software’. This isn’t the case; whilst the detailed operation will be software-defined, the abilities of the system will be limited by the underlying hardware capabilities and performance. This is especially true for challenging CEMA scenarios, for example where systems must receive weak signals in a crowded spectrum, carry out advanced processing on their content and then generate and transmit signals in response with tightly controlled timing and on-air characteristics. Headline figures such as output power and tuning frequency ranges are important, but so are more detailed characteristics such as noise figure, instantaneous dynamic range and timing accuracy. In order to obtain the best possible performance in a given scenario, an advanced SDR, such as those manufactured by BAE Systems, will be needed.
There will be cases, however, where the ultimate performance of the radio hardware is less critical, and other aspects such as cost, SWAP and deniability will have different levels of importance. In these cases it may be possible to also use simpler commodity SDRs, available commercially from a range of suppliers.
In order to allow the right SDR hardware to be selected for each scenario, it is important that different hardware designs can co-exist in a wider system and capability easily ported between the different types. This is why the adoption of open standard architectures across the MOD is so important. Standards such as OpenCPI and RedHawk allow applications to be written that are portable across different SDR devices.
The benefits go further; development time and cost is reduced through the use of pre-prepared functional components, multiple vendors can participate in application development since developers can concentrate on the application design without needing to understand the details of the underlying hardware, and capability developed for one SDR can readily be deployed to another. These benefits translate to improvements in pace and affordability of evolving deployed capability and a strengthened and sustainable supply base. 
BAE Systems has been at the cutting edge of SDR hardware and application development (for our own devices and those developed elsewhere) for over 25 years, and is a leader in the adoption of open standards for SDR applications in the UK. We believe the future electromagnetic environment will be heavily contested and congested and will demand whole force interoperability and ubiquity of devices. We are focused and committed to helping our customers accelerate on that journey.

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Mike Winterbotham Technical Architect, Wireless Group, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence 7 May 2020