DARPA's 'smart jammer' to throw enemy off balance

BLADE system would selectively block, or intercept, enemy communications

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing a project to create a smart jamming system that can selectively deny, or snoop on, enemy communications. The system would rely on artificial intelligence in the form of algorithms capable of sensing the electronic environment and quickly countering or alerting users of sudden changes.

A key goal of DARPA’s Behavioral Learning for Adaptive Electronic Warfare (BLADE) program is to develop a tactical level system able to detect, analyze and counter wireless transmissions in real time. One of the challenges with traditional electronic warfare is that enemy waveforms must first be recorded and then taken back to a lab for analysis.

BLADE seeks to put this capability into the field to allow troops to quickly analyze and counter a variety of threats, such as enemy communications, or to block wireless signals used to trigger improvised explosive devices. DARPA also wants to provide electronic warfare specialists with the option to simply passively record and analyze an adversary’s transmissions in the field.

Machine-learning technologies are at the heart of the program. BLADE’s algorithms will apply adaptive learning that will allow a radio or device loaded with the software to automatically analyze its local radio environment and modify its transmissions to maintain connectivity for communications purposes or to overcome enemy counter-jamming efforts. Specifically, DARPA wants a system able to quickly detect and characterize threat transmissions, automatically synthesize waveforms optimized to jam the detected signals, and analyze its own effectiveness against these signals in the field.

BLADE software will be written using open standards, permitting new modules and modifications to be quickly added as needed. In its project solicitation, DARPA notes that while the development of new hardware is out of the BLADE program’s purview, the agency intends the algorithms to be integrated into existing electronic warfare equipment.

DARPA recently awarded the development contract to BAE Systems National Security Solutions in Burlington, Mass. According to agency specifications, BAE’s system should operate as a single node or a multi-node network, with performance improving as other devices join the network. The program has three phases: the development of the system and algorithms, demonstrating a system that can operate in real time, and a networked prototype system. The effort is scheduled to be complete in 2012.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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