Electronic countermeasures and counter-countermeasures maintain their quick evolution, as electronic warfare, optical warfare, and cyber warfare blend into a new discipline called spectrum warfare.
BY J.R. Wilson
Electronic warfare is one of the least known or understood areas of military combat. Far older than most, even in the military, realize, far more widespread and complex than most civilians imagine, it has become one of the most important offensive and defensive capabilities of any nation- or non-state organization, from drug cartels to terrorist groups.
EW's roots can be traced to the use of the telegraph as a means of military communications in the 1800s, which first led to blocking signals by cutting telegraph lines, then to intercepting-even spoofing-information and commands sent by wire. The arrival of wireless radio communications expanded the use of rudimentary EW and countermeasures, although the learning curve for those unaccustomed to such systems was steep.
An early example came during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, when a Russian warship captain discovered a Japanese ship was transmitting the position of the Russian fleet to the Imperial Navy. His superiors denied his request to jam the signal, which no doubt played some role in Japan's overwhelming victory at the Battle of Tsushima Strait, where nearly 80 percent of the Russian Baltic Fleet was destroyed. As a result, Czar Nicholas II abandoned efforts to curtail Japanese expansion in East Asia, enabling Japan to emerge as a major world power.
The introduction of radar and more advanced communications capabilities made World War II the first major electronic warfare battlespace, with all major combatants constantly fielding new EW measures, countermeasures and counter-countermeasures. Much of what happened in the then nearly century-old-but still largely tactically and strategically new-form of combat remained classified even long after the war ended.
|The Navy Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) is enhancing the AN/SLQ-32 electronic warfare system with new capabilities to defend surface combatants from advanced threats.|
In 1967, Alfred Price, a 17-year veteran Royal Air Force EW officer turned historian, wrote Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare, in which he chronicled the rapid evolution of combat radio and radar during World War II and the counter-measures developed against them.
"[Those developments] led to a technological battle that neither the Axis nor the Allied powers could afford to lose," wrote Price, now a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. "The result was a continual series of thrusts, parries, and counter-thrusts, as first one side then the other sought to wrest the initiative in the struggle to control the other."
As EW has grown in scope and importance in the military arsenal, secrecy has remained paramount. The vast majority of military users and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and contractor research and development labs decline comment on the state-of-the-art, much less new and evolving threats and technologies. Nonetheless, information does leak out, especially as DOD looks to a "Pacific pivot," where the U.S. has only two air bases west of Guam and the "tyranny of distance" creates new problems. That was highlighted in the "CNO's Navigation Plan 2014-2018," which Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, released last month.
"With our FY 2014-2018 budget submission, we will fully exploit cyberspace and the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum as a warfighting domain by fielding 20 additional E/A-18G Growler aircraft, developing the Next-Generation Jammer [NGJ] for airborne electronic warfare and delivering Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program [SEWIP] upgrades to improve the ability of DDGs [guided missile destroyers] to detect and defeat adversary radars and anti-ship missiles," he wrote. "[We also will] significantly expand the capacity of our offensive cyber capability and active defense by adding 976 cyber operators to stand up 40 cyber warfighting teams over the next three years."
Cyber warfare is a concept that arose with the use of computers and digital transmissions in the late 20th Century, but did not become a major (public) effort until the 21st. Today, every military service has a Cyber Command, as do all commands and units within the military. China, perhaps even more aggressive in developing military cyber capabilities, offensive and defensive, than the United States, has publicly declared its intention to be the world's top cyber superpower by mid-century.
"It is a huge capability that first requires you to get your mind around what it is, what it is not, and what it can be used for. The Air Force has done a good job of making it part of how we implement operations, giving commanders and planners a range of ops they did not have before. And if the enemy is complex, you need a complex toolbox," says Dan Faulkner, a former EF-111 EW jet officer who now serves as civilian chief of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's (AFLCMC) Materiel Integration Division. "I began with a very traditional EW mindset and I've had to get my head around cyber, which I now consider part of the planning and functions an EW warrior must have."
The emphasis given cyber in the same paragraph in which Greenert described the Navy's commitment to EW demonstrates how significant a part of electronic warfare it has become-and how it will continue to grow in importance as more and more military equipment, down to the individual warfighter level, and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) become reliant on computer chips and data transmissions and processing.
"What makes us smarter is knowing our enemies are smart and that we have to stay one step ahead of them," says Donn Rushing, project lead for the Navy's Maritime Unmanned Development and Operations. The cycle of EW systems development, threats, and counter-threats follows the same age-old pattern as armor/anti-armor-each new use of electronics leads to development of a way to intercept, jam, spoof, etc., which in turn leads to defensive counter-measures, then ways to counter the defenses, then a leap to new systems and so on. As computing power has become smaller, faster, cheaper, the cycle speed has far exceeded traditional military research and acquisition rates.
It also has expanded EW beyond its traditional weapons types-electromagnetic, directed-energy, and anti-radiation-across the full range of manned and unmanned air-, sea-, land- and space-based platforms. While the three major subdivisions of EW-Electronic Attack (EA), Electronic Protection (EP), and Electronic Warfare Support (ES)-remain, what they entail is constantly evolving under what some are now calling Spectrum Warfare.
Beyond traditional limits
EA involves the use of the three primary weapons types to degrade, neutralize, or destroy enemy equipment, facilities, or personnel. That includes jamming or spoofing the enemy's own use of the electromagnetic spectrum and directed energy systems, including lasers, radio frequency (RF) weapons, and particle beams.
EP is the flip side, using defensive and counter-threat technologies to protect personnel, facilities, and equipment from all aspects of electronic attack.
ES, meanwhile, comprises actions tasked by an operational command- er to search for, intercept, identify, and pinpoint electromagnetic energy-weapons and common background-to determine what EW operations, offensive and defensive, are required to avoid and target enemy threats. Data gathered by ES operations also can be used for signals intelligence (SIG- INT), electronics intelligence (ELINT), and communications intelligence (COMINT).
As the level of civil use of the electromagnetic spectrum, from cell phones to Wi-Fi, ES has become increasingly important and difficult. "There is a tremendous growth in the number of sources emitting into the RF sector-whether EW or cell phones or wireless networks. The challenge we face with legacy and new systems is being able to discriminate within that environment what is a threat and take the appropriate countermeasure in a way the aircrew can effectively act upon it in a timely manner," says Col. Michael Kelly, chief of the EW & Avionics Division of AFLCMC's Program Executive Office-Agile Combat Support. "We need to ensure the legacy systems can do that, which we approach in a number of ways, hardware and software.
"But equipping legacy systems with the right software loads and so on for the environment in which the aircraft will be flown is the challenge. Everything radiates on its own portion of the spectrum, so any EW player is going to try to understand those, determine what characteristics can be used to determine what is a threat and what is not, then equip and program their system to the best of their ability to identify the threat and ignore other emitters. But as the environment becomes more congested, that becomes more challenging."
|Electronic warfare technologies help protect the Navy's E-2D Hawkeye surveillance aircraft, which depends on sophisticated radar to pinpoint enemy and friendly forces.|
The past decade of war in Southwest Asia saw the development of more-and more accurate-precision-guided munitions (PGMs), from ship-, airplane-, and UAV-fired missiles to "smart" mortars. Those have reduced the number and destructive power needed to take out a specific target and the potential for collateral damage. That has been especially important in the SW Asian counter-insurgency (COIN) battle, where insurgents and terrorists have insulated themselves within or adjacent to mosques, schools, hospitals, and civilian homes and markets.
PGMs rely on precision GPS location and navigation, making efforts to jam or degrade GPS a top priority for the enemy. And, as adversaries acquire their own PGMs, for U.S. and allied forces, as well. Counter-measures include military-only signals that improve accuracy and enhance jam resistance.
At Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Facilities for Antenna and RCS Measurements (FARM) help test new GPS jamming and anti-jamming technologies. In July, the Navy conducted a series of tests on the use of miniaturized GPS protection devices to enable UAVs to operate despite enemy EW efforts.
A Small Antenna System (SAS) was mounted on an Aerostar UAV, then placed in a FARM room lined with signal-absorbent material and subjected to GPS jamming signals. Without its satellite guidance, a UAV would go off-course, possibly even crash, and be unable to relay critical intelligence back to a ground, sea, or airborne control station. That, in turn, would place U.S. and allied ships, aircraft, and submarines in jeopardy-a century-later version of the Battle of Tsushima Strait.
"If an enemy is trying to jam or interfere with the GPS frequency, this antenna allows us to track and acquire the true GPS satellites even in the midst of this jamming and interference," explains Eric Stevens, UAS Communications and Navigation lead for the Navy's Communications and GPS Navigation Program Office.
The tests were part of the Navy's effort to develop smaller and smaller GPS protection systems for UAVs, which have become an integral and crucial part of modern warfare, from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to deep strike. Similar efforts seek to counter a growing variety of new offensive and defensive systems, including hostile digitally programmable radar and communications.
"The move to digital is something to which we are sensitive in developing our programs," says Faulkner, who also is co-chair of the Air Force EW Advisory Group's Technology Sub-group. "We have to move countermeasures with the technology, to understand and be responsive to it."
New technologies and upgrades
"We're developing new technologies to have a system organic to the aircraft, so you can reach destinations without relying on GPS," says Air Force Col. Keith Bearden, AFLCMC's director of program development and integration. "We realize the importance of GPS and so do our adversaries, so we are looking at how to deal with those. We're looking at multiple domains-GPS, improved organic systems, other elements in the environment; there are no bounds to where we are looking."
The same is true for potential adversaries-state and non-state-forcing the U.S. not only to identify what systems, threats, and countermeasures an enemy could employ today or may be developing for tomorrow, then develop an effective counter to those, but also to make technology leaps to get ahead of everyone else. All those are further complicated by high technology becoming an increasingly available and affordable public commodity.
"There used to be a time when things were developed exclusively for the military; the problem now is other people have access to much of this," Bearden says. "You can go online and download the specs to build your own laser, even buy a kit; it's hard to control those things outside the military domain.
"Some of the threats are not very sophisticated, but effective, and we have to take that into consideration when developing the next generation," Bearden continues. "Precision navigation and timing are critical on just about everything we are developing and we incorporate the threat information we receive from intelligence into our new designs."
Non-traditional sources now have become an important part of the threat assessment provided by the intelligence community, Faulkner adds.
"We coined a term some years back-a confederated air defense system. You can even be a non-state actor, buying technology off the shelf, go on the black market to buy systems offered by some nations, and create your own air defense system. And that adds a level of complexity," he says. "Electronic warfare can be kinetic and non-kinetic. Non-kinetic tends to employ the EM spectrum and we run the gamut on electromagnetic, from classic EW jamming systems to cyberwar. We're not restricting ourselves along the electromagnetic, but balancing EM and kinetic. UAVs give us more of those capabilities, but we're also expanding our view of the EM spectrum to include cyber."
|The Navy EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jet, which will replace the legacy EA-6B Prowler, will be one of the nation's premiere spectrum warfare platforms.|
Some of those programs include:
1) Electronic Warfare Systems Integration Test Environment (EW SITE) upgrade-AAI is under contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division to provide one F/A-18 EW SITE test and measurement system and upgrade the Navy's existing EW SITE system by adding synthetic source instruments (SSIs).
2) Advanced Novel Spectrum Warfare Environment Research (ANSWER, nee Net-Enabled Electronic Warfare Technologies)-A planned AFRL-SD program to develop adaptive spectrum warfare technologies-electronic, optical, navigation, and cyber warfare-for use in future layered defensive systems and anti-access, anti-denial (A2/AD) scenarios.
3) Advanced Components for Electronic Warfare (ACE)-In July, AFRL awarded nine contracts for the ACE Phase 0 program to develop advanced and capable electronic and photonic components for tomorrow's EW systems.
4) The Boeing EA-18G Growler Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) and P-8A Poseidon long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and ISR aircraft.
5) Embarkable prototype shipboard EW system-An add-on advanced EW system being developed by ITT Exelis Electronic Systems and NRL to protect surface warships from a newly discovered, yet undisclosed, immediate threat to Navy fleet operations.
6) SEWIP-An evolutionary development, four-block upgrade program for the AN/SLQ-32 EW system to upgrade surface warship EW defenses against cruise missiles and other radar threats. Installed on aircraft carrier and surface and amphibious warships. Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics were awarded contracts in early 2013 for the first and second segments of the project.
7) Mixed-signal digital receivers-In February 2013, NRL's Tactical Electronic Warfare Division awarded a potential $16.7 million, three-year contract to Mercury Systems to supply advanced mixed signal digital receivers for prototype airborne and shipboard EW applications. The receivers will provide Navy EW researchers with ultra-fast tuning, high dynamic range, and extreme data processing.
8) Next Generation Jammer-A joint force wide-spectrum jammer, the NGJ could be applied to a wide range of missions; it also is intended to be the first in a family of open-architecture, software-driven, easily updated EW/EA systems able to conduct electronic attack from longer ranges than currently possible. Raytheon won the technology development contract in July, but a protest by BAE Systems has delayed start of the 22-month effort.
9) Army Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) - On 3 July, the Army awarded a contract to Sotera Defense Solutions to develop planning software enabling warfighters to jam enemy communications, remotely controlled explosives, radar systems and other RF assets while safeguarding U.S. and allied RF systems.
Increasingly tight budgets are cutting sharply into new RDT&E and procurement, forcing the services to continue using legacy platforms and systems beyond their original end dates and retrofit technology to upgrade them as much as possible. That also applies to EW platforms and systems, now a primary task for units such as the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
Although AFLCMC only stood up in 2012 with the consolidation of 12 Air Force Materiel Command centers to five, the Air Force Chief of Staff identified the need for a centralized effort in EW six years ago-including life cycle management.
"The EW & Avionics Division provides product support to fielded EW and avionics systems on U.S. Air Force and allied aircraft. We manage recurring operational flight software upgrades, sustaining engineering support, and occasionally modifying or acquiring new systems to go into fielded aircraft," Kelly explains. "We are not a basic research house and have relatively limited work in pre-acquisition technology development. Our focus is on supporting legacy systems and keeping them as viable as possible.
"We typically don't work directly with state-of-the-art technology; what we are bringing in terms of more modern technology is digital radio-frequency memory as an upgrade to some of our legacy systems. That basically expands their ability to assess what threats they are facing and the range of countermeasures that can be used. DRFM is not a new technology, but it is relatively new coming into the legacy and fielded systems."
In the current economic environment, then, a major focus is on identifying "old" technologies that can be used in new ways and applications. One such effort is the ALQ-131A electronic attack pod upgrade-a self-protection jamming pod for F-16 and A-10 aircraft. Prime contractor Northrop Grumman is taking legacy ALQ-131 shells and incorporating high-power RF transmitters from ALQ-184 combat pods with a modern receiver and processing chain. Prototype testing is expected to end in 2014, with the new pods fielded in 2015.
"This will put what Northrop Grumman calls 'digital receiver exciter technology' in the pods," Kelly says. "I can't discuss specific threats it addresses, but it does put more modern technology and improved capability in the F-16s and A-10s, connecting to existing carriage, electrical, and control interfaces on the aircraft. We will buy pods according to the budget Air Combat Command can procure and those will be assigned in the fleet by ACC; the intent is to make pods available for ACC and the Air Guard and Reserve."
A similar use of existing technology to create a new EW capability is the ALR-69A radar warning receiver, which began fielding on Air Mobility Command C-130s in 2012, replacing their analog receivers with a digital system.
"That digital receiver gives us greater capability to detect and discriminate radar signals coming to the aircraft and identify them as threats to which the aircrew would need to respond," Kelly says.
Faulkner's office, on the other hand, is dealing with long-term capabilities, some of which may be applied to future legacy platforms, such as the F-35 or unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs).
|The Navy's Communications and GPS Navigation Program Office is protecting GPS technologies on small UAVs to prevent interruption of mission-critical data.|
Living without GPS
"We are developing weapons systems that can operate in GPS-degraded environments. I can't talk about it in detail, but there are a lot of methods, including fully optical, that are effective, but really expensive," Faulkner says. "We deal largely with systems that are 20 to 30 years away from IOC [initial operating capability], so we're looking at the full trade space-aircraft, UAVs, satellites, etc. But even today, things useful in EW don't necessarily have to have an 'E' in front of them; we now have options we did not have in the past. Putting a Hellfire missile on a UAV is a form of EW as it can just as easily target the kind of site an F-4 used to target with an anti-radiation missile.
"Today things move much more quickly, so you hope to stay at least a little bit ahead. And some of the basic principles that had been around forever no longer apply with advanced technologies. For example, if your jammer was more powerful than their signal, you could overwhelm it. But now your signal may be filtered out or their signal made so unique that brute force is no longer a guarantee. Power is still important, but with new technologies such as phased array, it is subject to debate," Faulkner adds.
For Bearden, the sometimes conflicting demands of new technologies, threats, and defenses with smaller budgets have made development planning the organic mission for program development and integration.
"It is a methodical process to develop a capability to a range of alternatives. We only have X amount of money to spend, so you have to make sure you spend it on the right thing" Bearden says. "We do a lot of the analysis and trade space work to bring the leadership alternatives on where to put our dollars-upgrade an existing system, develop a new system, just improve TTPs, or some combination. As dollars shrink, those become more important, not only with respect to systems that do exist, but also to those that might exist."