Communication Breakdown: The Evolution of Military Antennas

Mike O'Brien

Two men face a maximum of five years in prison after pleading guilty in Washington DC last week to plotting to illegally export military antennas from the U.S. to Singapore and Hong Kong.

Antennas are controlled for export as U.S. munitions, but the men – both from Singapore – were planning to ship them from a Massachusetts company to Singapore and Hong Kong without the required State Department license.

The case highlights both how highly prized the technology involved is and how America still leads the way in communications capabilities.

The advancements in air, ground, maritime and space-based communications come under the spotlight at IDGA’s popular 11thAnnual Military Antennas summit in the DC metro area in September.

The need for wireless communications and information superiority has led the Department of Defense to relentlessly pursue new antenna technologies in recent years.

DoD programs are currently focusing on miniaturization and the development of new materials and structures to make antennas lighter, cheaper and more effective.

Robert Harwood, the Aerospace and Defense Industry Director at leading technology company ANSYS, Inc., says the evolution of military antennas in the last half a century can be characterized by a series of both incremental and major changes.

He said: "Some of the consistent development trends we have seen include the demand for and deliver of higher bandwidth and data transfer rates, the reduction in size, weight and power (SWaP) while increasing capability and the practical application of more exotic materials."

All the major defense contractors are currently involved in the development of antennas. Lockheed Martin has been granted the task of replacing and updating all the radars’ data and signal processors to state-of-the-art commercial technology to help extend their operational lives through 2025.

So what else do we have to look forward to in the future in the way of technological advancements.

Mr. Harwood believes the trends for increased bandwidth and data transfer rate while reducing SWaP will continue to drive innovation in the near term.

He said: "I work with other areas across the aerospace and defense community and see lots of very interesting developments in the areas of advanced multi-functional materials.

"When you combine the potential of these materials with the needs to improve stealth or reduce weight the ability to develop an antenna that is also a structural component that works reliably offers significant potential.

"These are not just two components coupled together to bear load and be an antenna, they are a single antenna/structural system for which the development of the right material properties is key. This may be a little beyond the near term but is something that is potentially game changing."

Engineering the next generation of antennas is one of the many areas explored at IDGA’s event, for which ANSYS is the head sponsor.

Mr. Harwood said: "The Military Antennas event is always a great forum for a meeting of the minds between the end customers, the solution providers, cutting edge researchers and supporting technologies.

"I always come away with some key insights. I think at this event, in the current fiscal environment, the affordability aspect of antenna solutions will be a very relevant topic for discussion."

For full details of the conference in September, go to