The electronic warfare (EW) equipment in the operational inventory today is having a hard time keeping pace with the threat. A few examples should give you the idea. First, the equipment is unsophisticated. The jammers are largely brute force and jam radars only, not electro-optical or infrared sensors. The warning receivers have a hard time in a multithreat environment. Also, most of these systems are manual and require a high degree of operator attention. Each was built in relative isolation from other systems with which they should interact. These systems are characterized by the fact they are all hard-wired—making changes difficult—and generally have been added on to existing aircraft, in some cases taking up valuable weapons stations.
We are trying to do better. We now have in production a more sophisticated generation of radar jammers and radar warning receivers. This new generation is software programmable. It has built-in test and in some cases has been considered along with the aircraft design. This equipment gives a more flexible approach to the threat and is vital to our aircraft missions. But we need to go a whole lot further, as I will try to show you.
The Growing ChallengeWhen we look at the evolution of the air defense threat, we see, coming out of World War II and continuing through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, a rather conventional air defense system. On the ground side, there was only a small number of fixed sites and their range was limited, so they could largely be avoided by clever mission route planning.
What we’re seeing today is a far cry from the earlier situation. The sheer number of radars (both red and blue) has grown astronomically, filling the sky with millions of pulses per second that have to be sorted out. Their range has also increased. It is no longer practical to talk about flying around them. Whereas they were at fixed sites before, now they are largely mobile.
Other ImprovementsThe quality and sophistication of these radars and systems have been improving in other ways as well. The radar systems are now computer-controlled and employ such techniques as rapidly changing waveforms and frequencies. In additional, a true lookdown/shoot-down capability is just around the corner. We must also cope with bi-static systems where the transmitter and receiver are some distance apart. Without knowing where the receiver is, the aircraft can only jam in the direction of the transmitter—leaving the receiver (and missile) unaffected. We see many new radars operating not only in the traditional frequency ranges, but also well above (into the millimeter wave range) and well below (into the longer wavelength area).
The early warning and GCI radars are now supplemented by AWACS-type aircraft, and their command and control network gets help from the satellites. In addition to this active air defense network, we see deployed an extensive passive detection and tracking capability that will be much harder to locate and defeat. It will also tend to deny our use of such active sensors as terrain-following radars.
How We’re Going to Do ItAs far as technology is concerned, the seed money from past years is beginning to yield some of the technology we need. I mentioned before the need to sort through millions of pulses per second and pick out and counter the ones that represent an immediate threat. That takes a very powerful computer. Very High Speed Integrated Circuit (VHSIC) technology promises a computer of very great capability in an extremely small package. It also provides for mean times between failure measured in thousands of hours.
In doing so, we must not despair at finding a few weeds. Technology as advanced as this will seldom result in an unbroken string of successes. We must learn to accept an occasional failure with equanimity as the price of playing in a high stakes game. We are trying to strike the right balance by pushing technology to get its benefits while at the same time providing a solid backup to hedge our bets.
In the New Threat Warning System (NTWS) we are taking the next logical step in innovative avionics development. Functionally, the NTWS will be the heart of future EW systems. Systems. NTWS will integrate all EW systems on the aircraft and will provide the EW interface with other avionics. In other words, it will provide both crew warning and the top-level EW management. We plan to continue our advanced development efforts on NTWS into the production phase so that changes required because of the evolving threat can be incorporated easily into the production equipment.
Also, this approach will be the first Pre-Planned Product Improvement (P3I) effort in the EW area, a concept that we plan to make a way of life for all EW efforts because of their perishability. To us, P3I means establishing an update program as part of the original program itself, not simply adding it on afterward. The OSD and congressional climate appears to be favorable for this type of approach. We intend to push it for cases like EW, where the threat is likely to change substantially even as you are building the system.
Other SystemsIn addition, we are building systems to take some of the burden from aircraft self-protection systems.
A big challenge, maybe even the biggest, is the integration challenge. How do we put all of these systems together so that they work as a team and continue to work that way in the face of a constantly increasing threat?
Also, we have begun to get our arms around EW management. One of our problems is that the EW efforts are so scattered about, it’s hard to know what you have, what needs to be updated, and what the relative priorities are. We have just begun to put together a group that we call the Electronic Warfare Systems Control Point (EWSCP). This group will attempt to tie together all of our EW efforts so that we can make more intelligent decisions about them. The EWSCP has an ambitious charter that keeps them in the loop from the time a new requirement comes in, through systems development, production, and modification.
It is difficult to summarize so complex a subject in so short a time, so I have only attempted to hit the highlights. EW is an extremely important part of our strike forces, as we have learned over and over. We have a formidable challenge, but we are capable of a formidable response also if we put our best efforts to it.
If we play it smart—and we intend to—the outlook for EW in the future is bright.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
AFA is closed on Monday for the President's Day holiday. The next Daily Report will be Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Tweets by @AirForceMag