The age-old electronic warfare adage “friend in war, enemy in peace” is about to be tested again.
With the drawdown of military forces in Afghanistan clearly on the horizon, the era of relatively healthy levels of spending on improvised explosive device jammers and helicopter self-protection equipment may be drawing to a close. The potential turning point comes as many technologies are just starting to come into their own, such as two-color missile-warning equipment and detectors programmed to act as hostile fire indicators (HFI) that can alert pilots when they are being fired at by rocket-propelled grenades or small arms.
In Europe, where spending levels and, commensurately, the pace of technical development lags that of the U.S., some of these technologies are on the cusp of entering the market, which could mean that a sharp funding decline would cut those developments off at their knees. Research for HFI detection “will mature in the next few years,” says Steve Roberts, Selex Galileo vice president and chief technology officer for electronic warfare. “We are getting that sorted.”
So what is the outlook for electronic warfare in Europe? The bleak prospect is that—with defense spending increasingly under pressure and troops being removed from “hot” zones—EW will be a convenient area to cut.
But industry representatives see a more positive landscape, where requirements may shift but the underlying need for EW capabilities remains.
Rather than money disappearing, buying behaviors may change. “With the reduction of military budgets, especially in Europe and the U.S., it is likely that nations will be more hesitant and selective as to which aircraft to protect,” says Bjarke Legind Larsen, director of strategic business development at Terma Airborne Systems. “It is therefore to be expected that customers will demand shorter delivery times, and tend to favor systems that are mounted externally in pods or pylons to allow for fewer systems that can be rotated within the fleet.”
Another factor to be considered is the Libya experience, which has highlighted the need for radar protection, says Andreas Hulle, head of EW strategy at EADS’s Cassidian defense unit. Some of the existing equipment, such as on Tornados, is aging.
The Royal Air Force experienced some of these issues during the Libya operation. Wing Cdr. Dicky Patounas, commanding officer of the 3(F) Sqdn., says that because of its greater capabilities, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Praetorian electronic warfare suite was also used to provide situational awareness for Tornado GR4 crew.
The renewed attention on radar-guided threats could manifest itself in multiple ways, including greater interest, again, in towed decoy devices. The advent of more sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems will also require advances in radar warning equipment to a higher-end, almost electronic support measures-type capability.
The increasing availability of digital radio frequency memory technology should help tackle the advanced threats to produce jamming waveforms that more accurately represent the radar return and thereby spoof an adversary’s surface-to-air missile system, Roberts notes. Representing the complex scattered returns would not have been possible in the past, he says. The waveform generation is coupled with advanced phased array jammers that can allow airborne platforms to deal with multiple threats at different locations and frequencies.
The underlying technologies to handle the increasingly complex threats exist, but managing that information is a work in progress. The U.K. has been funding the common defensive aids system technology demonstrator program. The goal is not just to better integrate elements of a self-protection suite, but to optimize the use of the systems in a tactical scenario, Roberts says.
For instance, the system is supposed to alert pilots during an engagement where to fly to gain the maximum effect from their countermeasures or, depending on the distance between the helicopter and an infrared threat, adjust the pattern at which flares are dispensed. “The combination of maneuvers and countermeasures is more effective than maneuvers alone or countermeasures alone,” Roberts notes.
The concern regarding radar-guided threats could also lead to a shift in priorities in signals intelligence. During the focus on insurgency campaigns, low-band communications intelligence has had primacy over the traditional high-band electronic intelligence-gathering domain. Given the uncertainties in the global political landscape related to where the next conflict may erupt, it increasingly important to have both strong communications and electronic intelligence capabilities, Hulle says.
Another threat that may gain increasing attention is laser-guided surface-to-air missile systems. Warning systems already exist to detect those threats, but developing the appropriate countermeasures has lagged. Options are available, Roberts notes. One is to try and defeat the missile in its final phase of flight, which may be difficult, while another is to disrupt the optical tracking system. Directed infrared countermeasures (Dircm) systems, now used to defeat infrared-guided-missile sensors, may have applicability when it comes to disrupting optical trackers.
The underlying theme regarding electronic warfare developments—whether to defeat radar, infrared or small arms threats—is a reduction in systems costs. Larsen believes demand will remain for infrared protection for post-Afghanistan operations, given the ubiquity of the man-portable air defense threat. And, he adds, “with several ongoing Dircm development and test programs under way, it could be anticipated that the price of such systems could go down and thus gain a more widespread use.”
Hardware and software reuse will also become more important, Hulle says. In the RF domain, for instance, he sees a move to using a common core across a variety of applications, starting with equipment serving as an improvised explosive jammer and then being modified for electronic countermeasures or even electronic support measures.
On the signals-intelligence side, too, he adds, the key will be to reduce size, weight and price so the technology can go on smaller mission aircraft or unmanned air systems.
The new market outlook is already shaping product strategies. For instance, the increased interest in radar threats helps explain Terma’s decision to add a third Mil-Std. 1553 bus interface to its ALQ-213 as part of the new reliability, maintainability and performance upgrade that is slated for next year. The feature is aimed at allowing for an easier interface of radar warning systems, such as the ALR-56M.
Moreover, the company is adding a gigabit Ethernet interface aimed at keeping pace with the employment of advanced radars, such as active, electronically scanned arrays, and more modern displays.
EADS is looking to bring to market this year a Block 2 upgrade to its ubiquitous Milds missile warning sensor to provide hostile-fire-indicator functions.
Selex, too, has been working in this area. The company’s Sage digital electronic-support measures system and the related Seer digital radar warning receiver are aimed at bringing those technologies to lower-cost platforms.
Developments in Italy prove that even cash-strapped countries are finding funds for electronic warfare. The defense ministry recently contracted Elettronica to develop the Virgilius self-protection suite for the country’s AW101 combat search-and-rescue helicopter. The multi-phased effort first will see an electronic-support measures system with radar-warning-receiver functionality added to the helicopter. Later, radar-jamming electronic countermeasures are to be added, as is the ELT/572 Dircm system.
Because budgets in Europe will not be sufficient to sustain all these development paths, industry is focusing on the export market. Hulle says that though EADS sees a business case in places such as India or Saudi Arabia, it still needs to spend its own money to develop a product and bring to market a new technology that it then can also sell elsewhere.
Photo: Northrop Grumman