Two SSC Pacific Researchers Receive 2015 Top Scientists & Engineers of the Year Awards

By Katherine Connor, staff writer at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific

Joint warfighters can now quickly identify radar systems and the type of vessel the system is on, and can detect the direction and distance from which a high-frequency (HF) radio signal is coming, thanks to the work of two scientists at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

Mark Owen and Dr. Michael Daly were honored with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (ASN RD&A) 2015 Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists & Engineers of the Year Award on June 22 at the Pentagon for their pioneering research that has led to tangible and significant benefits for United States Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines.

Owen was one of seven scientists selected in the Individual category for his work on the Automated Radar Characterization Development (ARCADE) project, which increased the efficiency of radar analysts by more than a thousand-fold. Instead of each analyst spending more than 200 hours, or eight days, logging detailed information about each radar system a ship or plane or land craft encounters, Owen and his team used several mathematical algorithms and a data aggregation method to automate the process, leading to results in hours.

“What we provide are the models that form databases, and those databases are what the warfighters use to determine what’s around them and if those ships or planes are threats,” Owen said. “ARCADE is an analyst multiplier—it allows the radar analyst to do their job faster, providing the warfighter a radar picture that shows them which systems could potentially be an adversary, and which are just fishing radar that can be ignored, much more quickly than before.”

Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientist and Engineers Annual Awards Ceremony on 22 June 2016 at the Pentagon.  U.S. Navy photos by Matthew Poynor.

Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientist and Engineers Annual Awards Ceremony on 22 June 2016 at the Pentagon. U.S. Navy photos by Matthew Poynor.

Owen said as radar signals become increasingly cheap to manufacture, the need to automate the identification of these systems is even more important. ARCADE  is currently able to automatically learn and characterize new radars and their modes for maritime navigation radars without manual interaction. The system is used by joint warfighters—Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard users—but Owen and his two-person team at SSC Pacific aren’t satisfied.

“Right now we’re developing a follow-on project called PINBALL—that’s ARCADE Part Two,” he said. “While ARCADE looked at the maritime radar problem, what we’re doing for PINBALL is looking at the land and air radar problem to develop the algorithms for that. Most of what we have fits already, but we’d like to find a solution for that small remaining portion.”

Daly was one of two researchers selected in the Emergent Investigator category for scientists with less than 10 years of non-academic experience. Daly, who joined SSC Pacific through the Department of Defense’s Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship program, completed his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois in 2012 and has been conducting antenna research at the Center since then.

He was honored for his breakthrough developments in HF signal propagation, including the significant addition of direction-finding capability.

Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientist and Engineers Annual Awards Ceremony on 22 June 2016 at the Pentagon.  U.S. Navy photos by Matthew Poynor.

Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientist and Engineers Annual Awards Ceremony on 22 June 2016 at the Pentagon. U.S. Navy photos by Matthew Poynor.

“Figuring out where these signals came from—both for friendly and enemy signals—is extremely important,” Daly said. “Normally you have a group of antennas that, together, will figure out where a signal came from. You want the size of the receive sensor array to be as large as several wavelengths of the frequency you’re trying to find. But with HF, each wavelength could be up to 150 meters long, which is out of the question for most platforms except ships.

“What I helped to design is called a vector sensor. Instead of making those spread out antennas, you co-locate a bunch of them—in our case six antennas—in the same space.”

This vector sensor allows warfighters to determine what direction an HF signal came from, helping paint a more accurate situational awareness picture. It is also half the size of other prototype HF vector sensors, making it much more useful to deployed troops in the field.

In addition to this HF work, Daly also received the award for his contributions to the development of the beamspace multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) antenna, which doubles the data throughput rate between radios.

“It can be used as a very robust communications link because you get a squared scaling of your received power. For example, if you have 10 radios and they’re 10-watt radios, you can make it operate as though you have a kilowatt radio,” Daly said.

While Daly and Owen both said they were humbled and honored by their selection, they also noted that the resulting capabilities were far from solo efforts.

“I’m very honored to receive this, but it’s obviously not just one person doing any of this work,” Daly said. “It’s a team effort from start to finish.”

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