Air Force electronic weapons to get an electromagnetic power boost

The Air Force is working with Raytheon to integrate high power electromagnetic (HPEM) capabilities with cyber and electronic warfare weapons systems to increase the effectiveness of EW weapons through higher energy pulses and the use of new methods of backdoor penetration.

Raytheon, along with other industry developers, will experiment with and develop the most efficient and effective way to integrate HPEM technology with cyber and electronic warfare weapons systems.

The goal is to identify the ideal radio frequency power density, pulse width, and pulse repetition rate for the cyber and electronic warfare systems, and then experiment with HPEM technologies to see how they can augment and improve those system factors.

For a HPEM integrated weapons system, the radio frequency power density will depend on both the power source and the range, determined by the size of the antenna. According to researchers, the key is to create compact and portable antennae that can still maintain a long-range power density level.

Electromagnetic energy is typically emitted in pulse form, which creates wideband frequency signals. Wideband signaling means that the frequencies of the content are wider than the scope of the relay channel, and it is often used in cases where there is a high volume of data or energy power being transferred. Raytheon’s task will be to determine the pulse width, or exactly how wide the wideband frequency should be, along with the timing of how often the system should emit the electromagnetic pulses.

According to Raytheon, these calculations and experiments will essentially revolve around maximizing the amount of electromagnetic energy that reaches the enemy system.

The electromagnetic pulse waves travel at the speed of light and penetrate the enemy electronic system through its antennae or satellite dishes, going straight to the internal electronics system. However, recently the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and industry developers have been focusing on back door methods, meaning that the electromagnetic pulse energy penetrates the enemy system through gaps in the external metal shielding or apertures and reaches the critical electrical circuits in a more nuanced way.

Once reaching the enemy system, the HPEM electronic energy pulse can disable it either directly or indirectly. A direct disabling effect occurs when the energy pulse is strong enough to overload the critical electrical circuits and cause the system permanent damage, report industry developers. Indirectly, the energy pulse might incorrectly activate some of the enemy system’s internal power mechanisms, which then cause the system to short out. Or, the energy pulse might simply cause one circuit to malfunction, but that malfunction could cause the system to provide false data or perform the wrong function.

According to the AFRL, HPEM technology is already being examined for use in electronic warfare through projects such as the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) and the Active Denial System (ADS).

CHAMP represents the type of next generation HPEM and electronic warfare integration that Raytheon has been charged with expanding and improving. It consists of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a payload of HPEM technology that uses high power radio frequencies to inhibit enemy electronic signals. Using a UAV platform means that the CHAMP system can enter conflict zones without endangering airmen and defeat enemy systems without firing a shot, according to the AFRL.

According to the Air Force, CHAMP was tested through the joint efforts of Boeing Phantom Works and the AFRL in October.

“This technology marks a new era in modern-day warfare…In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive,” said Keith Coleman, Program Manager of CHAMP at Boeing Phantom Works at the time of the test.

Air Force researchers are now looking for Raytheon to be able to demonstrate the characteristics of HPEM technology that will allow it to be integrated with and enhance cyber and electronic warfare weapons systems at field experiments like Black Dart or Vigilant Hammer.

Hosted by the Navy, these field exercises focused on missile defense and electronic warfare, respectively, and in the future would provide opportunities for experimenting with HPEM electronic jamming of missile sensors and other electronic systems.

Raytheon was awarded a $10 million contract to conduct the HPEM electronic warfare integration experiments, along with Booz Allen Hamilton and CSRA LLC. Work is expected to be completed by 2020.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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