Command the spectrum

Electronic warfare tools evolve to give the USAF a signal advantage

Electronic warfare

Jammers. Radars. Signals engineered to deceive. In electronic warfare, the attack can come from a wide range of sources on the ground or in the air.

And systems like sophisticated radars and surface-to-air missile installations are operating in new ways. They are targeting faster, fusing multiple sensors, creating unexpected waveforms and operating at increasingly higher and lower frequencies, where they are harder to detect and jam. 

The U.S. Air Force faces a range of advanced technology in the crowded arena of the electromagnetic spectrum. There's only one way to meet the challenge: with a full suite of electronic warfare technologies.

“Air dominance starts with spectrum dominance,” said Stefan Baur, vice president of Raytheon Electronic Warfare Systems. “You need electronic attack and support to fly, fight and win. That starts with now-term electronic warfare systems like advanced jammers and radar warning receivers that work with all of the other systems.”

Those EW systems can help protect USAF fighter jets, large body tankers and cargo aircraft – and make enemy systems unreliable.

Raytheon has demonstrated EW tech that is based on open systems architecture. OSA allows systems to be rapidly upgraded and easily maintained. It also enables use of third-party technologies, similar to the way apps are used to give smartphones new powers.

“Industry can’t have a death grip on its own intellectual property,” said Baur. “Non-proprietary OSA systems can lead to technological competition and open the door to fielding the best available solution from any company – big or small.”

Take, for example, the modular, non-proprietary Multi-Function Integrated Receiver-Exciter, or MFIRES. It’s built with OSA and can be installed on a variety of aircraft and other platforms, from fourth- to fifth- and even sixth-generation systems.

“MFIRES can be what you need it to be,” said Joey Gold, director, Raytheon Electronic Warfare Systems. “It can change into any number of configurations – a radar warning receiver, a jammer or a single, integrated electronic sensing and electronic attack solution. And it can include digital payloads not traditionally associated with EW.”

MFIRES and other EW tech, like advanced jammers and battle management systems, already have machine learning and cognitive features and enough processing power for future autonomous functions. Cognitive EW interprets radar signals and adapts to keep the platform hidden, even in a congested and unpredictable signal environment.

“For pilots and operators alike, there’s only so much a human brain can process in any given time frame,” said Dan Kilfoyle, technical director and principal fellow at Raytheon Electronic Warfare Systems. “Future-term systems will need to ‘think’ and react on their own within mere seconds.”

Raytheon's Electronic Support Critical Experiment and Reactive Electronic Attack Measures programs are already embracing this futuristic tech, allowing EW systems to quickly determine new threats based on existing information about how those threats behave.

“These programs bring us one step closer to the future of electronic warfare - cognitive and artificial intelligence systems that will be able to think and react on their own, on the fly,” said Kilfoyle.

Published On: 01/11/2019
Last Updated: 01/31/2019