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Free Space Optical (FSO) Communications in a Radio Frequency (RF) Denied Environment


OBJECTIVE: Develop a low-cost, low space, weight, and power (SWaP) Free Space Optical (FSO) communications capability for tactical fighter aircraft operation in a radio frequency (RF)-denied environment. 

DESCRIPTION: RF Interference (RFI) generated by either adversaries or fratricide (friendly jamming) has significantly degraded aircraft tactical communications. Recent advancements in FSO communications technologies can be used to provide an anti-jam, low probability of interception and detection (LPI/LPD) communication alternative to RF. The primary advantages of An FSO communication solution is needed and should consider coherent detection of weak signals for improved detection and processing, compensation for atmospheric effects such as absorption, scattering and scintillation, a preferred transmission bandwidth, atmospheric modeling (e.g., CLEAR1, Hufnagel-Valley), conformal, and low cost/low SWaP. An effective range greater than 100nm, if achievable, as part of a low cost/SWaP solution would be a future goal of the development. A digital data link, operating at Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) frequencies, that supports encryption and 2-way communications is the goal of this SBIR topic. Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor and/or subcontractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DSS and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract. 

PHASE I: Define and develop a concept for FSO communication capability in a tactical war fighter environment. Detail the key design considerations and trade-offs associated with the approach. Prioritize technology risk areas going forward and potential mitigation procedures/alternatives. Analyze implementation issues and determine the feasibility of effectively implementing a low-cost/low-SWaP FSO communications solution. Develop prototype plans for Phase II. 

PHASE II: Demonstrate functionality and achievable performance using modeling and simulation. Prototype critical elements and demonstrate the technology in a controlled environment. Quantify benefits of the innovative techniques compared to existing techniques in similar environments. Develop an approach to air vehicle integration and identify any remaining technology challenges. It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details). 

PHASE III: Further refine the design from Phase II for transition to an operational test asset. Issues related to test platform integration will be addressed in cooperation with the Government. Risk management and mitigation versus the test plan and schedule will be a focus of the Phase III effort. Operational assets will be tested on an F/A-18 test bed for ground and air functionality. Other DoD components (USAF, Army, Marine Corps, SOCOM, etc.) could benefit from similar application aboard air and ground assets. Other Government applications within the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Intelligence Community for use with non-RF, covert communication are also a consideration. Private sector use in telecommunication and local, urban communication (communication nodes – line of sight) would benefit from this technology due to its high bandwidth. 


1: Henniger, H. & Wilfert, O. "An Introduction to Free-space Optical Communications." RadioEngineering, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 2010.

2:  Sullivan, M. "Synopsis of: Risley Prism Beam Pointer." Lockheed Martin Space Systems, November 13, 2006.

KEYWORDS: Laser Communication; Free Space Optical (FSO); Risley Prism; Low Cost Low SWaP Lasers; RF Denied Communications; Low Probability Of Interception And Detection (LPI/LPD) Communication; No-RF Tactical Communications 


Kyle Prentice 

(301) 342-1735 

Shay Pontsler 

(301) 757-4460 

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