Admiral: Navy's Surface Fleet Vulnerable to Attacks Without EW Upgrades


Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Eubanks works in the blue light of the Electronic Warfare module as he stands the Advanced Combat Direction Systems watch aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. (Navy photo)The Navy needs to upgrade electronic warfare technology faster on more of its surface ships because potential enemies are developing weapons designed to penetrate defensive systems on many U.S.  cruisers and destroyers, service leaders said.

The service is now in the process of upgrading its existing SLQ-32 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, or SEWIP -- an electronic warfare sensor now on many guided missile cruisers and destroyers.

SEWIP is designed to detect approaching threats, such as anti-ship cruise missiles in time for ship commanders to take defensive or protective actions. It is configured to provide early detection, signal analysis and threat warnings against a range of threats.

“We need to keep working on our electromagnetic spectrum but we need to also be able to counter the weapons that they build. I am buying as many SEWIPs as I can. The SLQ-32 is a little panel that looks like an old electronic TV set with panels on the front. We had SLQ-32s when I was a junior officer – on a lot of our ships and that is still what we have,” Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Integration of Capabilities and Resources, said Tuesday.

Ship-based electronic warfare is designed to detect electromagnetic signals from potential adversaries and provide counter-targeting and counter-surveillance technology. For example, the receiver, antenna and software built into the SEWIP system would help detect the presence of an incoming enemy missile, enemy radar or radio activity and aircraft or a surface vessel.

The Navy has already configured an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, with what’s called Block 2 of its SLQ-32 SEWIP. However, many more upgraded systems are needed if surface ships are going to stay ahead of weaponry being developed by potential adversaries, Mulloy explained.

“The advantage of the SLQ-32 is fabulous in terms of having an ability to recognize signals and weapons.  The problem we have is certain countries on the Eurasian land mass are building weapons that a SLQ-32 will not detect. If you are a cruiser or a destroyer and you do not get a SEWIP improved – you will never know when something bad is coming so you cannot deploy your decoys.”

While Mulloy did not specify the countries he was referring to or provide details regarding these new weapons, he did say they were being engineered as multi-seeker weapons coming in at supersonic speed.

“We need to keep working the R&D (research and development) so that we are buying as many as we can,” he added.

Mulloy emphasized that upgraded SEWIPs were being acquired for many of the Navy’s forward-positioned ships in strategic locations such as Japan and Rota, Spain.

The USS Bainbridge went through operational testing last year as the Navy acquired its first 24 Block 2 SEWIP units. The technology is being produced by Lockheed Martin in a deal that could be worth up to $147 million, Joe Ottaviano, SEWIP program director, Lockheed Martin, told

“SEWIP is the Navy’s continued push to keep electronic warfare excellence ahead of the threat. It is an incremental set of upgrades to the SLQ-32 which was designed in the late 70s and deployed in the 80s. It gives the Navy the ability to upgrade and outpace the threat. It provides the ability to quickly upgrade processing as new threats come online and become more complex without overhauling the antenna,” Ottaviano said a few months ago.

The Block 2 SEWIP advancements include upgrades to the antenna and digital receiver, Ottaviano said. Block 2 upgrades also include the addition of new software engineered to ensure the system is equipped to recognize new, emerging threat signals.

“It provides the digital architecture so it can quickly upgrade and provide additional capability as threats increase in capability,” Ottaviano added.

The Navy plans to configure as many as 140 surface ships with Block 2 SEWIP technology, including carriers, cruisers, destroyers and amphibs, among others.

The hardware to the system consists of above and below deck components including a display screen and processing technology, he added.

The hardware may be configured differently depending upon the structure of a given ship, Ottaviano explained. For example, the EW antenna on the Navy’s new destroyer, the DDG 1000, is conformed to align with the ship’s hull.

Following SEWIP Block 2, the Navy plans to develop and acquire a Block 3 SEWIP electronic attack technology, Navy and Lockheed officials said. In addition to “listening” or passive electromagnetic detection, Block 3 will include the ability to transmit signals and potentially jam or disrupt enemy signals.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at

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