Reinventing electronic warfare
- By Kris Osborn
- Sep 06, 2017
The Pentagon’s recently completed Electronic Warfare strategy calls for increased investment in advanced electronic warfare technology designed for defense, as well as a proactive use of emerging electromagnetic spectrum systems to attack enemies.
While the new strategy is described by DOD as being “For Official Use Only” -- to be shared with relevant U.S. military developers and defense industry sources – officials familiar with its contents did describe some of it broad parameters and goals.
"The vision of the Electronic Warfare strategy is to be agile, adaptive and integrate electronic warfare to offensively achieve electromagnetic spectrum superiority across the range of military operations,” Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb told Defense Systems.
Babb further articulated that the strategic goals include organizing the electronic warfare enterprise to ensure electromagnetic spectrum superiority, training and equipping EW forces and strengthening partnerships with allies, industry and academia.
This DOD electronic warfare strategy took on new urgency following Russia’s successful use of advanced EW technologies in Ukraine and the pace of global technological progress in the area of EW systems, according to industry and government sources.
Electronic weapons can be used for an increasingly wide range of combat activities – from detecting and defending IED attacks to jamming enemy communications or even taking over control of enemy drones.
“Hardening the kill-chain,” for example, uses EW tactics to prevent an armed U.S. drone from being “hacked,” “jammed” or taken over by an enemy. Also, EW defenses can better secure radar signals, protect weapons guidance technologies and thwart attacks on larger platforms such as ships, fighter jets and tanks.
An emerging area of EW innovation quite relevant to the new strategy includes industry initiatives to leverage existing SIGINT platforms and technologies to improve and streamline key elements of electronic warfare. CACI, for instance, is refining new EW systems designed to pinpoint areas of relevance by utilizing SIGINT technologies and infrastructure to inject a small, less detectable amount of power to disrupt enemy signals and communications.
The method is described by developers as a solution that relies upon a much lower level of power or signal emissions than that used by traditional jammers. An approach of this kind, intended to minimize the electronic signature of offensive and defensive EW systems, is based on the simple premise that a larger signal is naturally more detectable by enemy forces and therefore more vulnerable.
“We look at this from the signals intelligence background. We look at what type of signal it is and then precisely attack different portions of that signal, only precisely pinpointing a little bit of power to disrupt that signal,” said Jerry Parker, senior vice president, CACI EW solutions.
The strategy also identifies cross-geographical boundary radiated energy technologies designed to strengthen U.S. platforms and allied operations, DOD officials said.
The concept is to use less-expensive electromagnetic weapons to destroy, intercept or jam approaching enemy missiles, drones, rockets or aircraft. An electronic weapon is much less expensive than firing an interceptor missile, such as a ship-fired Rolling Airframe Missile or Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
This tactic prods enemies to spend money on expensive weapons while decreasing the offensive and defensive weaponry costs to the U.S.
Improving electronic warfare modeling and simulation to better prepare for emerging weapons systems is also a key element of the strategy. This can help anticipate or train against future weapons threats which may not exist yet but nevertheless pose an emerging threat.
Authors of the new Electronic Warfare strategy have worked closely with the Pentagon Electronic Warfare Executive Committee, which was created in August 2015 to translate electromagnetic experimentation into actual capabilities for deployment.
The new strategy is designed to inform and operate alongside existing Army, Navy and Air Force efforts to develop next generation electronic warfare systems.
The Air Force is, for example, revving up electronic warfare upgrades for its F-15 fighter to better protect against enemy fire and electronic attacks, service officials said.
Boeing secured a $478 million deal to continue work on a new technology with a system called the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS.
These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 first deployed. The service plans to operate the fleet until the mid-2040’s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy, the service said.
Various upgrades will be complete as early as 2021 for the F-15C AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and as late as 2032 for the various EW (electronic warfare) upgrades, Air Force officials said.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is also integrated with an AESA radar.
The Navy is engineering a new, more powerful, high-tech electronic warfare jamming technology, called the Next-Generation Jammer, designed to allow strike aircraft to destroy enemy targets without being detected by modern surface-to-air missile defenses.
The Next-Generation Jammer, or NGJ, consists of two 15-foot long PODs beneath the EA-18G Growler aircraft designed to emit radar-jamming electronic signals; one jammer goes on each side of the aircraft.
The NGJ departs from existing EW systems in that it can jam multiple frequencies at one time, increasing the scope and effectiveness of attacks. This better enables U.S. aircraft to elude or “jam” more Russian-built air defenses able to detect aircraft on a wide range of frequencies, such as X-band, VHF and UHF. Russian-built S-300 and S-400 air defenses are believed to be among the best in the world.
Radar technology sends an electromagnetic ping forward, bouncing it off objects before analyzing the return signal to determine a target's location, size, shape and speed. However, if the electromagnetic signal is interfered with, thwarted or "jammed" in some way, the system is then unable to detect the objects, or targets.
The emerging system also uses AESA. It will be the only AESA-based carrier offensive electronic attack jamming pod in DoD.
The NGJ, slated to be operational by 2021, is intended to replace the existing ALQ 99 electronic warfare jammer currently on Navy Growler aircraft.
The new jammer is designed to interfere with ground-and-air based threats, such as enemy fighter jets trying to get a missile "lock" on a target, developers explained.
The Army is progressing with an EW modernization plan which uses an “open architecture” approach to allow it to be efficiently upgraded with new technologies as they emerge. Existing hardware, for instance, can be updated with new software when new enemy higher-tech threats emerge.
Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the emergence of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or roadside bomb as a major threat, the Army has fielded a host of technologies to thwart or “jam” the incoming signal from a Radio-Controlled IED (RCIED), thus delaying or preventing detonation and potential injury to soldiers.
Some of the jammers fielded during the initial years of the war, such as the vehicle-mounted Duke V2 and Warlock jammers, were the basis for subsequent upgrades designed to defeat a greater range of threat signals. For instance, the Duke V3 vehicle-mounted jammer, now fielded on thousands of vehicles in theater, represents a technological improvement in capability compared to prior systems.
The Thor III is a soldier-portable counter RCIED “jamming” device designed to provide a protective envelope for dismounted units on patrol. The device is configured with transceivers mounted on a back-pack-like structure that can identify and “jam” RF signals operating in a range of frequencies. Thousands of Thor III systems, which in effect create an electromagnetic protective “bubble” for small units on-the-move, continue to protect soldiers in theater.
GATOR V2 is a 107-foot retrofitted surveillance tower equipped with transmit and receive antennas designed to identify, detect and disrupt electronic signals. The GATOR V2 establishes a direction or “line of bearing” on an electronic signal and can use software, digital mapping technology and computer algorithms to “geo-locate” the origin or location of electronic signals within the battle space.
Overall, the new strategy could be described as two-fold; it will work to sustain an open architecture approach in order to upgrade existing EW technologies, often by adding software upgrades to hardware. Also, the effort is expected to emphasize exploration of a wide range of emerging technologies, such as the utilization of more SIGINT platforms, directional antennas and use of a greater number of frequencies simultaneously. Pentagon officials say the new strategy will provide the basis for new plans for months, even years to come.
Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.