Consolidation Is the Course for Army Electronic Warfare
Melding the disciplines of spectrum combat will enable greater flexibility and more capabilities.
The growth in battlefield electronics has spurred a corresponding growth in electronic warfare. In the same manner that innovative technologies have spawned new capabilities, electronic warfare is becoming more complex as planners look to incorporate new systems into the battlespace.
No longer can electronic warfare (EW) function exclusively in its own domain. The growth of cyber operations has led to an overlap into traditional EW areas. EW activities for countering remote-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Southwest Asia led to an increased emphasis on EW defense and offense. It also exposed the problem of signal fratricide when those EW operations interfered with allied communication.
The U.S. Army sped many systems into theater, and now it is working to coordinate those technologies into a more organized capability. The effort focuses on an integrated EW approach that will reconcile many of the existing conflicts and clear the way for more widespread use of EW in future conflicts.
“The Army definitely has wrapped its arms around the importance of EW,” declares Col. Joe DuPont, USA, project manager for electronic warfare at the Program Executive Office (PEO) Intelligence Electronic Warfare and Sensors (IEWS), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
The majority of the Army’s EW assets currently come from quick reaction capabilities (QRCs) that have been fielded over the past decade; these capabilities are attack, support and protection. The requirements largely came from theater, and the next systems due for fielding reflect those requests.
One, the Ground Auto Targeting Observation/Reactive (GATOR) system, detects signals and helps determine their source. A commander then has the option of attacking those signals and shutting them down, Col. DuPont notes. One of these attack capabilities is a repurposed version of the remote-controlled counter-IED electronic warfare (CREW) Duke system. Duke has been adapted from its counter-IED role to serve as an offensive electronic warfare attack asset—a “powerful jammer,” the colonel offers.
The Army will be fielding an individual CREW (ICREW) system now known as Balder, which is related to the CREW Thor III. Where Thor III provides protection at the squad level, Balder will provide individual protection even if a soldier leaves the protective bubble of a Thor III. In Norse mythology, both Thor and Balder are sons of Odin.
Another direction-finding system, the Roadmaster, is vehicle-mounted. Col. DuPont explains that it provides a capability similar to that of the GATOR but from vehicles. A stand-alone deployable direction finding system, the multiple intelligence sensor (MISER), can be set up by soldiers in an austere environment. Once in operation, MISER can be left in place by the setup team to provide information to the force.
These four systems are being fielded over the next six months, the colonel says. They will join other QRCs to constitute a family of systems that provides all of the EW capabilities under the three disciplines the Army requires, he adds. But, these systems are not integrated, and this shortcoming is a driving force for future Army EW development.
The IEWS now is trying to provide more of a system-of-systems approach, Col. DuPont says. “Where all this equipment today is stand-alone, in the future it will be integrated. These QRCs that we have fielded today will help inform us on what IEWS should be,” he emphasizes, explaining that these technologies will be carried into the future.
One future system, multifunction EW (MFEW), will provide electronic attack and electronic support capability. It should hit Milestone A later this year, after which it would enter technology development for about 30 months. A program of record called Electronic Warfare Integration will develop more of the electronic protect systems that the Army needs, the colonel notes. This program is developing an electronic warfare planning and management tool, which is heading into Milestone B. A request for proposals was released in December, and a milestone decision is expected this spring.
A third element entails defensive electronic attack, or DEA. Col. DuPont notes that the Army’s existing DEA capability is provided by CREW, but that system largely is just a remote-control counter-IED system. For the future, the Army is aiming for its DEA capability to be provided by MFEW. This way, electronic attacks can be executed in a defensive mode or an offensive mode, he elaborates.
“Initially, when we started looking at multifunction EW, we were looking at a particular system to provide an offensive electronic attack capability and our electronic support measures,” the colonel relates. “But what we found is that the technology involved with electronic attack is pretty much the same, [whether] offensive or defensive. It’s just how you’re using the system.”
This points to the elimination of separate gear for offensive and defensive EW, he continues. Existing CREW systems have helped prove that; Duke was developed as a defensive EW attack capability, but it has been repurposed to be able to provide offensive EW attack. An upgrade to Duke—the Duke technology insertion effort—allows it to be used strictly for direction finding or electronic support. Duke has shown that its technology can provide both offensive/defensive electronic attack and electronic support capabilities.
“Our future under MFEW is a system that provides [both] those capabilities,” Col. DuPont offers.
The DEA serves a near-term bridging strategy to the MFEW, he continues. Duke systems will continue to provide needed EW capabilities for the foreseeable future, and then they will be subsumed by the MFEW. With the MFEW, planners will look at architectures for a system-of-systems approach that allows the incorporation of different variants. Ultimately, the technology development that tackles these issues will involve individual efforts.
The MFEW and the Office of EWI are two new programs of record. A lieutenant colonel will take over the EWI office this summer, Col. DuPont reports. The MFEW program of record will begin in fiscal year 2014 with a goal of achieving initial capability by 2020.
Another element of the EW effort includes the signal community. Col. DuPont relates that this community is looking to the IEWS to begin addressing spectrum management and communications interference issues. The colonel notes that the EW community is the cause of much of the communications interference because of its development of jammers, especially for counter-IED efforts. The plethora of jammers that burst onto the battlefield led to inadvertent jamming of friendly signals—in effect, electronic fratricide.
When that problem began to dominate the battlespace a few years ago, the primary way of addressing it was to employ new tactics, techniques and procedures. But this approach did not address the technology issues involved. With spectrum management being a part of EW planning and management, the EW community has direction for making use of the spectrum effectively, Col. DuPont points out. The signal community is looking to the EW community to build spectrum management capability into the toolsets that it is developing.
Michael Ryan admits to having “a vested interest in making sure that there is peaceful coexistence across the C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] community.” Ryan, the deputy project manager for electronic warfare in the PEO IEWS, has helped field many EW systems of the past decade. He is concerned about not just jammers and tactical radios, but also jammers and sensors. The Army is rife with documented cases where a soldier had to choose between protection from an active jammer or turning off the jammer to communicate, Ryan notes, and some of these forced decisions led to loss of life.
“There are two sides to this equation,” he declares. On one side is the need for EW experts to reduce spectrum fratricide. On the other is the responsibility of the radio or sensor designers to ensure that their system can operate in a harsh environment. Unfortunately, most of these efforts have been ad hoc.
One of the missions for the future program manager of EW integration will be to gain control of these issues from an enterprise perspective, Ryan says. The goal will be the establishment of a one-stop shop for spectrum interference mitigation solutions across the C4ISR community. “Just as we have a PM common hardware/software within the Army who provides everyone with common computing solutions, we want to be able to provide everyone with a common interference mitigation solution,” he states.
“The difference between the CREW of yesterday and the integrated EW system of tomorrow is [a transition from a] family of systems, not integrated, and focused on a very narrow set of electronic warfare threats … to a system of systems approach, architected, modular, scalable, reuse of components—because we are going to have a number of variants [such as] dismounted, mounted, fixed-site, airborne and ground variants. Some of these are going onto unmanned systems,” Ryan says.
As warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq winds down, the EW community must shift its focus to a global threat. “The EW target set and threat set is much larger,” Ryan declares. Accordingly, the future of EW is far more complex than in existing disciplines.
Ryan outlines that the Army wants to design for countering remote control, countering communications, countering command and control, and waging offensive and defensive EW. The goals include being able to take out unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) datalinks and frequency hopping radios, as well as going after position, navigation and timing devices. This will require an incremental technology approach, and the IEWS is the start of that, he offers.
Another focus area is cyber. Ryan notes that cyber and EW have an area where they converge. “There is an overlap, and how do we utilize these tactical sensors to be not only electronic warfare devices—offensive and defensive—but also enablers of cybermissions?” He adds that the IEWS has a couple of near-term demonstrations to show the utility of using tactical EW sensors as enablers to cyber activities. Col. DuPont offers that, while these are two different domains, “EW can enable cyber, and cyber can enable EW.”
Now that the IEWS is not operating in an urgency mode, it will move toward integrated EW along an architecture path. The Army already has conducted two series of analyses of alternatives (AOAs) for future EW. One is for the planning and management software, which would comprise mission rehearsal and planning as well as coordination of nonkinetic fields of fire and post-mission battle damage assessment, including deconfliction.
Col. DuPont notes that all of these efforts may lead to the integration of communications and EW. Both disciplines rely on antennas, amplifiers, transmitters and receivers. As planners strive to integrate EW capability into a single box or platform, the next step may be to integrate EW with communications. The technology enablers are the same for both disciplines, so future communications systems also may incorporate EW capabilities. The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) already is pursuing research aimed toward that goal (see page 44, “One Small Step...”).
Ryan offers that the challenge is affordability. “Although the technology may be quite similar or exactly the same, you have differences of missions or requirements,” he explains. “These include timing differences, fidelity—power levels are different for a long-range offensive electronic attack device versus a line-of-sight radio. So, there are some challenges that still must be overcome, and I would say that nirvana of an integrated communications/EW device probably is 10 to 15 years away, at the earliest.”
Col. DuPont observes that programmatic challenges also must be overcome—for example, determining which of the two communities has responsibility and takes the lead. He adds that this effort is off to a good start with the signal community looking toward its EW counterpart to help mitigate communications interference. Integrating communications and EW is one way to solve that problem, he suggests.
Other elements pose their own challenges. Electromagnetic interference is a problem with antennas on a small UAV, for example. Power generation always is an issue, again as a more difficult challenge on a small UAV. And, the modular scalable approach will present its own difficulties.
Industry will play a key role in providing new EW technologies, Col. DuPont allows. The expertise it has gained building airborne systems for the U.S. Air Force and Navy will contribute to future Army needs, especially in addressing size, weight and power issues. “They understand the technologies and how we are trying to take very similar capability and expand it,” the colonel offers.
Ryan reports that the IEWS is standing up an EW standards body with the assistance of industry. This cooperative venture will help determine the best standards, protocols, interfaces and architecture for integrated EW. The other services will be represented, he adds.