Optimize Power For RF/μW Hybrid And Digital Phased Arrays

Powering FPGAs for aerospace and defense applications.


Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are a critical component of both digital and hybrid phased array technology. Powering FPGAs for aerospace and defense applications comes with its own set of challenges, especially because these applications require higher reliability than many industrial or consumer technologies.

This blog post will provide a brief history on beamforming and beam-steering technologies for defense applications, a guide on powering defense and space FPGAs, and a reflection on the future of A&D communications systems.


Active electronically scanned array (AESA) and phased array systems are more affordable and available than ever, namely in full digital and hybrid configuration. These systems can cover a wide RF/uW frequency spectrum and are suitable for use in RADAR and other military communications systems. AESA and phased array systems also boast advanced capabilities in beamforming and beam-steering technologies.

The emergence of 5G communications and commercial space data communications, coupled with advancements in semiconductor efficiency, has enabled companies to deploy innovative phased-array designs. However, roadblocks in efficiently powering these systems given watts consumed and dissipated, plus size and geometry constraints, can complicate development for designers.

Recent developments

Despite digital phased array technologies providing improved performance across a large part of the RF/uW frequency spectrum, their deployment is hindered by various factors. Cost barriers, power consumption, thermal constraints, latency concerns, and efficiency losses in the amplification and gain stages are some key hurdles.

Hybrid phased array is an ideal solution for meeting system level requirements without compromising on cost or power losses. This technology allows for less power consumption and reduced thermal concerns, paving the way for cost-saving solutions. The “digitizers” of hybrid phased array, such as FPGAs, are fewer and farther away from the antenna.

Powering FPGAs

FPGAs are valuable in their ability to perform extremely fast calculations in support of signal isolations, Fast Fourier Transformers (FFTs), I/Q data extractions, and in functions that form and steer radio-frequency beams. However, a key challenge in working with FPGAs lies in the necessity for consistent, sequenced power delivery.

Conclusion and future considerations

Complexities and challenges associated with deploying digital assets should not overlook industry advancements in powering FPGAs within phased array systems. With a focused approach, thermal management challenges can be mitigated, and performance optimized. Existing power solutions provide a strong and mature foundation for the on-going development and deployment of next-generation phased array systems within military and space applications. For a full guide on FPGA power considerations in aerospace and defense applications, take a look at our feature in Military Embedded Systems magazine.

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