The Pentagon is aggressively implementing major provisions of its recently completed Electronic Warfare (EW) strategy by working closely with the military services to accelerate development of a wide range of EW weapons and technologies designed to meet fast-emerging, near-peer threats in the electromagnetic spectrum.
Emphasizing both offensive and defensive applications of EW, Pentagon officials familiar with the new strategy point to the Air Force's Electronic Warfare and Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority effort, the Army's growing investments in Multi-Function EW, and various Navy plans to advance the Next-Generation Jammer, among other things.
"While the air, land, and sea domains each have their unique features, all threat investments in A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) capabilities require long-range sensors, long-range guidance, very capable missile seekers, and long-range communication capabilities. Each of these threat capabilities depends upon the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum continues to grow in importance each year," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told Warrior in a statement.
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.
Captured fixed-wing insurgent drone. (Photo from Russian Air Force)
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 Air Force is revving up electronic warfare upgrades for its F-15 fighter to better protect against enemy fire and electronic attacks, service officials said.
F-15s from Kadena Air Base, Japan, taxi for takeoff at Gwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 04, 2017. The fighter aircraft are participating in the peninsula-wide routine exercise, Vigilant Ace-18. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessica H. Smith)
Earlier this year, 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.
A U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler assigned to the USS Carl Vinson breaks away from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron after conducting in-air refueling May 3, 2017, over the Western Pacific Ocean. The 909th ARS is an essential component to the mid-air refueling of a multitude of aircraft ranging from fighter jets to cargo planes from different services and nations in the region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Linzmeier)
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.
Baldanza told Warrior the Navy plans multiple technology development contracts for NGJ Inc 2. "The program will address the mission need for a robust low band radar and communications jamming capability from an airborne platform that will require capabilities beyond the currently deployed system," she said.
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.
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.
The majority of existing EW systems used by the Army, such as the vehicle-mounted DUKE v3, soldier portable Thor III, and GATOR V2 tower use standard RF jamming techniques; many of these, industry experts explain, are effective in thwarting detonation signals but often emit a larger, more-detectable signal themselves. A key emphasis when it comes to next-gen EW, is more targeted or pinpointed electromagnetic spectrum attacks to better obscure a point of origin from enemy detection.
The Army's Rapid Equipping Force, which works on near-term requirements to fast-track available combat technologies to the theater, has an interim solution and COTS focus. At the same time, REF leaders say, they often find that existing Army development programs have near-term, deployable solutions which can be brought forward.
Overall, particularly in light of Russia's use of EW in Ukraine and fast-evolving EW technologies around the world, the U.S. Army realizes it needs to think differently about EW to position itself for potential near-peer adversaries.
"As an Army, we have fallen behind because of where we have been the last 10 to 15 years. How do we close the gap? We are changing how we look at EW, including doctrine, organization and other things," REF director Col. John Lanier Ward told Warrior in an interview earlier this year.
Ward explained that more EW capability can, in the near term, come to fruition by a simple move to use a stronger, better antenna, improved software or more powerful amplifiers. Additional means of integration or application, also, can expand EW capability. The REF, Ward explained, is now advancing a program called EW TV, electronic warfare for tactical vehicles where cutting-edge functional weapons are placed on military vehicles.
The DUKE V3 vehicle-mounted jammer. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
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 battlespace.
Baldanza said the Army is growing its investment in Multi-Function Electronic Warfare from $4 million to $24 million from 2017 to 2018.
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 the 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.