New generation radars and Electronic Warfare technologies are changing the face of the battlefield which will witness a massive revolution in military affairs in coming decades that weapons of hitech warfare can be launched without sound, fire and smoke but can be radically destructive in nature.
Indeed, in the arena of EW scenario, the evolution of the electromagnetic spectrum is much more agile and complicated than what it used to be 50 years ago, and the pace of changes is accelerating quite fast.
Although modern radars pose growing challenges and with it the operational requirements from the EW systems are getting more demanding, certain enabling technologies allow the EW designers to keep the pace.
The growth of electronic warfare (EW) over recent years has been a reflection of advancing technology, combined with increasing demand due to operational deployment overseas.
The major factor, however, expected to impact the EW market over the course of the next decade is the state of public finances, and as a consequence the size of military budgets.
While analyzing various reports, it appears that economic and budgetary fears are less profound in emerging nations within Asia and the Middle East such as India, China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, yet the ability of these nations to continually increase their procurement of EW systems is also dependant on wider defence modernisation programs.
In fact, electronic warfare capabilities are sought by various militaries worldwide for both offensive and defensive tasks, with the protection of troops and hardware at the centre of the quest for electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) dominance.
Indeed, achieving superiority over enemy forces in the EMS domain is seen as vital for the success of any military operation within the context of modern warfare.
Here, armed forces are seeking to nullify threats such as missiles and improvised explosive devices (IED) by employing a full range of solutions including jamming, anti-radiation missiles, counter radio controlled improvised explosive device (RCIED) systems, and ELINT (electronic intelligence).
Modern warfare has made impressive strides in the past century, especially in the areas of communications, RADAR and surveillance.
On the opposite side of the coin are the military SIGINT (SIGnal INTelligence) systems which attempt to detect, copy, jam and geo-locate signals emitted by radios, RADARs, etc. as a means of providing the commander with a reasonable visualization of the Battlefield and with an EOB (Electronic Order of Battle).
Military SIGINT platforms are taxed to the limit of modern technology in trying to cover the spectrum from HF to Ka band, sometimes over an enormous dynamic range.
One can see the current and future Army SIGINT systems along with the role thin films (such as ferrites, ferroelectrics, magnetostatic films, metamaterials, etc) can play in devices such as filters, phase shifters, limiters, smart antennas, etc. for extending their usefulness into the 21st century.
Air forces, as well as other branches of the armed forces of leading countries in the world, utilize many electronic systems. However the advantage of electronics as a highly effective combat weapon is diminished because of its vulnerability. As we know, any radio signal can be jammed.
The Russian company Radio electronic Technologies Group (KRET) has partially solved this problem by developing a unique electronic warfare system called Krasukha-4, which is already being supplied to troops.
The Krasukha-4 was developed to operate in strategically important areas where the reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites of opponents are particularly active. According to open sources, the effective radius of the system is more than 300 km (186 miles).
“The system creates an environment where it is very difficult for an enemy to shoot at our aircraft or shoot down a plane. It is 99 percent impossible,” said Nikolai Kolesov, KRET chief executive officer.
The antennas of the Krasukha-4 are mounted on a four-axel KAMAZ all-terrain vehicle. This mobile unit can operate in the Arctic Circle as well as in the Arabian desert. It is guaranteed to work reliably at temperatures from minus to plus fifty degrees centigrade.
Taking into account the modern-day situation on Russia’s borders, one of the main goals is to effectively counter attacks from potential enemy aircraft.
Oleg Antonov, the director of Aviakonversiya, which develops electronic equipment for defense, said jamming just the signals of satellite navigation systems would effectively counter attacks from potential enemy aircraft.
According to him, foreign pilots are not trained to fly without these systems, and jamming satellite navigation signals would make it much more difficult or even impossible to navigate and operate in adverse weather conditions.
And if these signals are jammed, the opponent would end up without communications, without the ability to identify aircraft, without intelligence, etc. In addition, this would significantly complicate the use of guided weapons, which are directed to their destination using satellite navigation.
Aviakonversiya has found a way to effectively disrupt enemy radio signals. The company has created a special device that simulates the signal of the jammed system. For example, instead of the satellite signal, the navigational equipment would pick up a similar signal from an electronic warfare station. It is almost impossible to counteract this type of signal disruption.
Aviakonversiya developed the Zontik (‘Umbrella’) territorial defense system (TDS) to provide comprehensive electronic warfare coverage over a particular territory. Its main task is to prevent attacks using modern precision weaponry and to interfere with enemy aircraft.
Roots of EW systems
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 battle space, 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.
As EW has grown in scope and importance in the military arsenal, secrecy has remained paramount. The vast majority of military users and US 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 US has only two air bases west of Guam and the ‘tyranny of distance’ creates new problems.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, US Navy recently said “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.”
“We will be developing the Next-Generation Jammer 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.”
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.
US military EW options
The US Air Force has made it part of how one can 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 US 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 US 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.
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, said Col Michael Kelly, chief of the EW & Avionics Division of AFLCMC’s Program Executive Office-Agile Combat Support.
He said, 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.
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.
In fact, recently at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Facilities for Antenna and RCS Measurements (FARM) help test new GPS jamming and anti-jamming technologies.
In July, the US 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 US 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,” explained 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, said Faulkner, who also is co-chair of the US Air Force EW Advisory Group’s Technology Sub-group. “We have to move countermeasures with the technology, to understand and be responsive to it.”
We are developing new technologies to have a system organic to the aircraft, so you can reach destinations without relying on GPS, said US 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 are 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 US 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 said.
You can go online and download the specs to build your own laser, even buy a kit, it is 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 added.
“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 said.
Electronic warfare can be kinetic and non-kinetic. Non-kinetic tends to employ the EM spectrum and militaries run the gamut on electromagnetic, from classic EW jamming systems to cyber war.
One should not restricting itself along the electromagnetic, but balancing EM and kinetic. UAVs can give more of those capabilities, but one needs to expand view of the EM spectrum to include cyber.
We are developing weapons systems that can operate in GPS-degraded environments. I cannot talk about it in detail, but there are a lot of methods, including fully optical, that are effective, but really expensive, Faulkner said.
But even today, things useful in EW do not necessarily have to have an ‘E’ in front of them, one can now have options one 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 added.
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 said.
“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.”
Electronic warfare will play an increasingly greater role in future conflicts. The belligerents will use numerous reconnaissance, target acquisition and telecommunications satellites, which will have to be destroyed or suppressed.
Smart hi-tech weapons, due to be adopted by many countries, will also become an attractive target for electronic warfare systems. The United States has maintained an electronic warfare force for many decades, while China is now moving to create a force of its own.
The US electronic warfare force has special units for suppressing the work of military and civilian administrative divisions. It appears that the Russian military have started copying this example.
Russia’s electronic warfare systems developed in the 1980s are, in fact, highly effective multirole complexes, making it possible to quickly assess the radio-electronic situation on battlefields, to jam enemy reconnaissance, troop control and weapons control systems.
In some cases, Russian electronic warfare systems perform better than their foreign equivalents. These systems along with smart weapons can effectively disorganize troop control systems, possessing a number of advantages over other means of warfare.
Russian electronic warfare complexes can emit powerful electromagnetic impulses to disable any electronic device ranging from cell phones to fifth-generation fighters’ avionics and weapons control systems.