SWATs, SWEATERs, and ANSWERs: Air Force gets serious about spectrum warfare

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 18 Nov. 2014. Three new military technology research programs are showing us two things. First, the term "spectrum warfare" is evolving quickly well-understood mainstream usage, and second, spectrum warfare rapidly is taking its place as a top U.S. military priority.

Nov 18th, 2014
After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
After big defense cuts, what lies ahead?
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 18 Nov. 2014. Three new military technology research programs are showing us two things. First, the term "spectrum warfare" is evolving quickly well-understood mainstream usage, and second, spectrum warfare rapidly is taking its place as a top U.S. military priority.

For the uninitiated, spectrum warfare is an umbrella term that comprises the hitherto separate military disciplines of electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and navigation warfare.

Of these separate components that are morphing into a spectrum warfare whole, electronic warfare (EW) probably is best known. EW involves controlling the radio frequency (RF) spectrum to enable the U.S. and its allies freely to operate RF systems like radio communications and radar, and denying this ability to adversaries.

EW involves encompasses technologies and applications that involve RF jamming, signals intelligence, electronic intelligence, and other disciplines to control and deny use of the RF spectrum.

Related: Air Force eyes digital radio technologies for spectrum warfare and jam-resistant AESA radar

Cyber warfare involves computer hacking, introducing malicious computer viruses without the recipient's knowledge, theft of computer passwords, and spying on data flowing over sensitive networks. Cyber also involves information security and cyber security technologies designed to protect sensitive government and business networks and computers from hackers.

Optical warfare is similar to EW, except that it involves light instead of radio waves. Optical warfare involves simple applications like surveillance with visible-light cameras and infrared sensors, to laser targeting, laser-based defenses against infrared-guided missiles, and high-energy laser weapons to defend against rockets, mortars, and artillery shells.

Navigation warfare the use and denial of satellite navigation technologies like the Global Positioning System. It describes the free use by the U.S. and its allies of GPS technologies for navigating ships, vehicles, and aircraft to and from their destinations, as well as for guiding smart munitions to their targets.

Related: Air Force launches SWAT program to help develop and evaluate spectrum warfare technologies

The lines between these formerly separate disciplines are blurring, hence the need for the overall spectrum warfare name. The Raytheon Next Generation Jammer, for example, is being designed not only to jam enemy radar, but also to inject malicious viruses into the enemy's digital radar systems.

Military researchers have a variety of spectrum warfare programs in place, but three by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, underscore the underscore the growing importance of spectrum warfare and the seriousness with which military researchers are taking it.

First is the Spectrum Warfare Evaluation and Assessment Technology Engineering Research (SWEATER) program, which seeks to develop sensor-assessment technologies involving AESA radar and jamming systems using digital RF memory (DRFM) and devices that are software-defined or use RF-cognitive based technology. A formal industry solicitation for the SWEATER program is expected in January.

Second is the Spectrum Warfare Assessment Technologies (SWAT) program, which seeks to integrate sensor and electronic warfare technologies on advanced simulations to identify development opportunities and risks. A SWAT solicitation also is expected in January.

Related: Air Force Research Lab chooses seven companies to take on advanced spectrum warfare work

A third, called the Advanced Novel Spectrum Warfare Environment Research (ANSWER) program, is farther along and has seven contractors involved. ANSWER seeks to develop adaptive spectrum warfare technologies to maintain warfighting capabilities in contested and denied environments. This initiative previously was known as the Net-Enabled Electronic Warfare Technologies (NEWT) program.

Earlier this fall the Air Force Research Lab chose seven companies to participate in the ANSWER program: Dynetics Inc. in Huntsville, Ala.; Berriehill Research Corp. in Dayton, Ohio; Leidos Inc. in Reston, Va.; Riverside Research Institute in New York City; Georgia Tech Applied Research Corp. in Atlanta; MacAulay-Brown Inc. in Dayton, Ohio; and the Northrop Grumman Corp. Electronic Systems segment in Linthicum Heights, Md.

With these and other programs planned or in progress, we're going to be hearing a lot more about spectrum warfare in the future.

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