Antenna innovation in the defence industry

Antenna innovation in the defence industry
Jürgen Dresel - CEO Alaris Holdings

11-08-2015, Centurion; South Africa has some of the sharpest minds in the world, so it’s no surprise that some inventions used across the globe that are forever changing the face of technology were invented by South Africans. For the global defence and security markets, Alaris Antennas is part of South Africa’s innovation legacy by delivering customised high quality antenna solutions to its partners and clients across the world.

Alaris Antennas designs and manufactures specialised wideband antennas and other related radio frequency (RF) products. These products sell in the Electronic Warfare (EW), frequency spectrum monitoring, test and measurement, communication and other specialised markets and finds application in the system integration, frequency spectrum regulation and homeland security market space.

Today, more than ever before, the military and homeland security forces rely as much on their communication devices and networks as the weapons in their arsenals.

Technology and its functionality have evolved in terms of the hardware responsible for secure communication and monitoring. The single most integral part of any wireless communications hardware is arguably the humble antenna. Easily dismissed as some pointy looking bits of metal that adorn our roofs or the bunny ears on the televisions of yesteryear, the true complexity and precision engineering that lies behind these devices is easily underestimated with their modern ubiquity. Their origins lie in the pure scientific research of such greats as Heinrich Hertz and James Clerk Maxwell and their technological development furthered by the dual forces of the defence research and consumer communications industries. Their enduring need for innovation and specialisation has driven the antenna’s multiple application evolution, making it one of the most crucial pieces of hardware for all secure communication and monitoring needs.

In the defence and military industries in particular, antenna applications are almost endless, encompassing such activities as radio communications; radio direction finding, usually used as early detection systems; jamming, used to incapacitate a possible threat from being able to communicate, particularly with remote detonation devices; radio monitoring, used to track and follow frequencies that the opposing forces might be using and radar, used to seek and track military assets from a distance.

A quick overview of applications for the Alaris Antenna’s product range:

Communication: Antennas designed with receive and transmit capabilities, typically geared towards field communications and applicable to both traditional HF/VHF and UHF communications as well as modern data network deployments. These antennas support a number of operational deployments including vehicle, handheld and fixed platforms.

Jamming Antennas: These high power antennas are used to prevent unauthorised communications from functioning by facilitating localised domination of the electromagnetic spectrum. Typically these antennas are wide band in nature, with very good impedance matching.

Counter-RCIED: A special case of jamming antennas, these are typically deployed specifically to counter the threat of Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (RCIEDs). The focus is on man and vehicle deployments with a strong move towards radiator co-localisation and wide band performance.

Monitoring: Antennas specifically designed with the intent to detect signals. These antennas are typically deployed on vehicle and fixed platforms. The focus is on wide band, high sensitivity performance, and includes the use of active antenna concepts.

Direction finding: A class of monitoring antennas designed with the specialised capability of being able to determine the direction of arrival of incoming signals. These antennas are widely diverse, deployed across the spectrum from large scale fixed sites to compact man-portable scenarios, airborne platforms and even submarines.

Growth

Starting as part of a small consultancy from WITS University (South Africa) in 1990, Alaris Antennas has grown to become a substantial supplier of advanced antenna solutions with more than 75% of all sales being international. The holding company, Alaris Holdings (previously Poynting Holdings Limited), is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s (JSE) ALTx. For the last 5 years, Alaris Antennas has shown a steady annual growth rate with a year on year average exceeding 20%.

Always looking towards expanding their footprint, Alaris Holdings announced in February 2015 this year, their plan to acquire Antenna Research Associates (ARA), which is based in the USA. ARA is a world class supplier of RF and antenna systems to predominantly the military system integrator and homeland security markets. ARA also plays within the fields of VSAT and Satellite Communications with more than 90% of sales being in the USA.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, worldwide military spend was roughly 1 776 billion US Dollars in 2014 with the USA being the top spender at roughly 610 billion US Dollars. The immediate and biggest opportunity for Alaris Antennas remains to establish a larger footprint in the US market. Even though only 10% of Alaris’ current revenue is generated in the USA, the opportunities are almost incomparable, especially if one considers that the US defence budget is larger than the next 9 countries’ budgets, combined.

Commenting on the acquisition, CEO for Alaris Holdings, Jürgen Dresel said: “ARA is a logical extension of the Alaris Antennas business and all parties are excited about the apparent culture fit between the companies. In combining our business and product development expertise, we aim to grow into a significant industry leader in the antenna market.”

South Africa Today – Press Release