Flights show that a Gray Eagle can carry out electronic attacks currently handled by C-12 aircraft.
The NERO jammer attached to the wing of a Gray Eagle.
The military’s fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles not only have to be protected from electronic warfare, they could soon be able to wage it.
The Army recently tested a jammer called the Networked Electronic Warfare Remotely Operated, or NERO, attached to a Gray Eagle unmanned combat aircraft at the Great Salt Lake Desert at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. In over two weeks of test flights, the aircraft flew for 32 hours, 20 of them while the jammer was operating, and was able to run the jammer at full power without interfering with the drone’s flight, the Army said in a release.
NERO was adapted from the Communications Electronic Attack Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or CEASAR, capability that has proved effective on C-12 aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army said. Because of the growing importance of electronic warfare, or EW, on the battlefield—and the increasing reliance on unmanned systems—taking the next step to trying it on a drone was logical. A NERO-equipped Gray Eagle also would cost less and be able to fly longer missions.
The Army's Unmanned Aerial System program worked with Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., Raytheon and General Atomics to modify CEASAR for the Gray Eagle. NERO was funded by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
The need for an electronic attack capability that could operate beyond line of sight became clear in 2009, the Army said. CEASAR was subsequently developed for the C-12 to support combat operations. With NERO, that job could now go to unmanned aircraft.
"This demonstrated the viability of a Gray Eagle based high-powered jamming capability to support the Army's EW counter-communications and broadcasting EW requirements in the future,” Clay Ogden, a subject-matter expert for airborne electronic attack programs for the Army's Electronic Warfare Division, said in the release. “Results of the flight testing will inform development of the Army's organic Multi-Function Electronic Warfare capability, which is an integral part of the Integrated EW System of the future."
With so many aircraft, sensors and communications systems in use on the battlefield, the military has upped its focus on EW. In April, the Pentagon updated its EW plan, defining EW as a “cross-cutting capability” that would be shared among the services. The Army and Navy joined together to fund Northrop Grumman’s development of an advanced radar and EW system. And the Army also has put out a call for new counter UAS technologies.
The NERO tests were deemed successful, though not necessarily conclusive for using the Gray Eagle. The Army has yet to decide what platform will be best for delivering electronic attacks. (The service’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate also has tested using smaller drones, though the Army at the moment doesn’t plan to sue them on small aircraft.) The NERO Gray Eagle, at least, gives them one more option.