The world is becoming a more dangerous place with the growth of potential threats to the population and specifically to U.S. military forces. Recent cyber and terrorist attacks and geopolitical events have reinforced the need for the Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure adequate resources are available to counter current and future threats.
In order to maintain full spectrum combat readiness by the military, the U.S. President’s Annual Defense Budget request for the Fiscal Year 2017 is $582.7 billion. Due to the strategic risk to the DoD, funding for defense initiatives will undoubtedly be available, but will it be enough?
The proliferation of readily available, new technology at a global level has allowed for the creation of new threats that are very dynamic and unpredictable in nature, and can challenge and potentially defeat current countermeasures systems.
Traditional electronic warfare (EW) systems were created to defeat specific, well-known threats which did not evolve over time. These are custom solutions based on closed architectures that are hard to retrofit. Highly customized system components have been replaced with Military Commercial Off-the-Shelf (Mil-COTS) to reduce cost and development time. However, component integration time and dependency on suppliers has increased. Parts have a shorter lifetime, fielded systems are not sustainable; obsolescence and technology refresh rates are increasing. The risk of having counterfeit parts is higher, the marketplace and supplier retain control over the critical components of the system. Greater efforts are spent in managing the procurement process, suppliers and mission systems that are upgraded or modernized versions of their predecessors, rather than pursue new, multifunction systems needed for future electronic warfare.
Legacy EW systems face new challenges that can lead to losing the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) dominance. From cell phones to WiFi the number of radio frequency emitting sources is constantly growing. DoD’s air, ground, naval, space, and cyberspace operations depend on access to the EMS. EW systems need to discriminate what is a threat, and select the appropriate countermeasure to defeat it.
As computer power has become smaller, faster and cheaper, life-cycle of COTS products has been reduced far exceeding traditional military research and acquisition rates. The biggest challenge that exists today is the short timeline for countermeasure advances verses the long development and upgrade cycle time of EW systems.
The unprecedented acceleration of new technology development has allowed the adversary to field new threats at increased rates. The U.S. is losing its military superiority over the EMS domain.
The EW paradigm has shifted, creating the need for rapid development and fielding of systems capable of transforming post deployment. As enemy threats become more sophisticated, EW designers need to create systems that can adapt and respond to changes in real time. Such systems have to conform to unseen changes with minimal addition of components/subsystems to support many cycles of countermeasures.
Inherent in all the above challenges are opportunities for technology innovation that will allow the DoD to remain ahead of the competition in the EMS warfare. Technology innovation expands beyond traditional electromagnetic weapons types, across the range of manned and unmanned air, sea, land, and space. For example, Cognitive EW uses artificial intelligence to provide adaptive decisions and actions against new threats. Cyberwarfare, advanced sensors and networks, and low-to-no power EMS warfare are part of the new technology.
In pursuing the vision, DoD systems must become more spectrally efficient, flexible, and adaptable, and DoD spectrum operations must become more agile in their ability to access the spectrum in order to increase the opportunities available to mission planners. This includes increasing the operating frequency range of systems; increasing the ability to share spectrum with other systems; amending DoD processes pertaining spectrum use; increasing the speed of system adaptation; avoiding potential interference with commercial networks; and developing near-real-time spectrum operations that integrate spectrum management, network operations, EW, cyberspace, and intelligence operations.
With tight defense budgets, there is major focus on identifying old technologies that can be used in new ways. Integrating new weapons into legacy platforms used to require changes to the operational flight programs which was expensive and time consuming. This is no longer the case with the modern systems.
Traditional airborne EW systems are proficient at identifying analog radar systems that operate on fixed frequencies. Once they identify a hostile radar system, EW aircraft can apply a preprogrammed countermeasure technique. However, identifying modern digitally programmable radar variants using agile waveforms is becoming more difficult. Adaptive Radar Countermeasures will allow systems to generate countermeasures automatically against new, unknown, or ambiguous radar signals.
Although the above strategy emphasizes advancing promising spectrum-dependent technologies, other initiatives address the challenges to retaining dominance of the EMS. These include Open Systems Architecture, new Database Management Systems, reduced Size, Weight, and Power electronics, Small Form Factor, and Future Airborne Capability Environment.
The Open Systems Architecture (OSA) enables acquisition and engineering communities to design for affordable change, utilize spiral development and evolutionary acquisition, and develop an integrated roadmap for system design and development.
Data Base Management System (DBMS) trends allow for many short, fast transactions, support event processing and shared data, provide design flexibility for complex data and offer fault tolerance through database duplication.
With the advancement of electronic systems that are small in size, weight, and power (SWaP) can now take advantage of open architectures and COTS suppliers that are developing Small Form Factor (SFF) standards and products. Modern systems and SFFs can provide ten times the performance in one fourth of the space compared to legacy systems. More importantly, the focus on small, lightweight electronic systems that don’t use much power brings as much capability to the forward edge of the battle as possible.
With the Future Airborne capability Environment (FACE), avionics can focus more on the re-use of software applications from one aircraft to another. To better manage development costs without sacrificing capability and innovation, FACE enables software migration from platform to platform, as well as third-party application, which leverages the nonproprietary software interfaces.
Modern Radar and EW systems operate in increasingly cluttered and complex environments, making their design, verification and test extremely challenging. Being able to model these systems and capabilities offers some opportunities to meet these challenges. Modeling and simulation of Radar and EW systems, in conjunction with integrated measurement instruments, can be used for hardware test and verification of Radar and EW components and systems. Using modeling, designers are able to shorten their development cycle, save time and money by minimizing field tests, and create the real-world test environments needed to produce the highest-quality products. Such capabilities and benefits are critical to ensuring successful development of future Radar and EW systems.
Platform Based Engineering and Capability on Demand are also initiatives that allow for the design of platforms that are reusable, reconfigurable, and extensible.
With the focus on identifying old technologies that can be used in new ways and other initiatives that include Open Systems Architecture; new Database Management Systems; reduced Size, Weight, and Power electronics; Small Form Factor; and Future Airborne Capability Environment success can be achieved in reducing development and upgrade time of EW systems.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense