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By Julian Nettlefold

BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold interviewed Lou DeBenedetto, VP Business Development and Sales and Rob Diefes, Chief Technology Officer, DRS Signal Solutions, Inc.


The source of technology used by DRS in the development of the Picoceptor radio came from its acquisition of the legacy Watkins Johnson defense segment in 2003.

The Watkins Johnson Company was founded in 1957 and produced telecommunications equipment and semiconductors. In the late 1960s, Watkins Johnson purchased Communications Electronics Inc. (CEI) of Gaithersburg, Maryland, which became its Communication Electronics division. Prior to this purchase, Watkins Johnson did not manufacture radios for surveillance use. Watkins Johnson receivers and telecommunication equipment is mostly used by military services and agencies. The Telecommunications Group (Division) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was sold to Marconi, BAE Systems and Integrated Defense Technologies IDT and was finally taken over by DRS Technologies Inc. in 2003 and became DRS Signal Solutions, Inc. (DRS-SS).

DRS Signal Solutions, Inc. (DRS-SS) is the legacy of the Watkins-Johnson Company. With more than 45 years experience leading technology development for the signal intelligence community, the company has established a standard of state-of-the-art-surveillance equipment that has become the benchmark of the industry. CEI became Watkins-Johnson Company in 1971, extending its RF performance leadership in the market while introducing digital signal processing capacities into the mix. Although in today’s marketplace, many companies tout their prowess in the DSP arena, few have developed the ability to integrate that high performance DSP with RF performance of similar caliber. Watkins-Johnson Company refined the techniques for tightly integrating these two capabilities into small packages. A series of acquisitions beginning in 2000 and ending with DRS Technologies acquiring the company in 2003 saw the division renamed DRS Signal Solutions, Inc. and its commitment to providing high performance signal intelligence equipment endures.

DRS-SS has a broad product profile covering all aspects of SIGINT. Major product areas include tuners, receivers, DSP/demodulator and microwave products. DRS-SS reinvests a significant portion of its revenue back into the company in the form of internal research and development. This, in combination with extensive customer-funded research and development, maintains the company at the leading edge of technology.

DRS-SS is in a unique position to supply proof of concept technology as well as define, design and develop the small, lightweight, low power software definable radio assets necessary to address the various mission requirements. Its background in SIGINT system development provides significant insight into the problems and necessary development to achieve high performance equipment under real world conditions. Its understanding of system tier problems, combined with its extensive experience in the development of high performance software defined receivers makes it an ideal partner.

The mainstay of the surveillance receiver business has been VHF-UHF receivers. This began in the late 1950’s with 19-inch rack mounted equipment which was continually updated with technology improvements like the transition from tubes to transistors and integrated circuits. In order to select signal frequencies, the earliest receivers used direct mechanical tuning of the circuit elements driven by a front panel tuning knob. Beginning in the late 70’s operation changed from mechanical frequency tuning to automated electronic scanning under internal microprocessor control.

Development of the Picoceptor

“Can you give us a background to the development of the Picoceptor?”

“Advances in miniature electronic components as well as customer demand for smaller and lower power equip

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