The Pentagon’s second ranking civilian said the U.S. military must invest in electronic warfare capabilities or risk putting the U.S. at risk against near peer militaries like China.
“The time to start investing in the next generation of electronic warfare is now,” said Christine Fox, acting deputy defense secretary.
The Navy is stepping up its offensive and defensive electronic warfare, or EW, technologies through testing, new programs, research and training as service leaders recognize the pace of global technological change and the likelihood that they will need to operate in more contested electromagnetic environments.
Led by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert -- who wants all sailors to possess a sophisticated and informed understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum -- the service is working on technologies designed to improve the potential use of electronic signals on ships.
Navy officials explain that the service was adept at addressing EW issues during the Cold War but that near-peer kind of focus has dropped off over the last 12 years of war.
“We have to be more mindful of how we operate in the electromagnetic domain – and in cyber space and how those capabilities come together,” said Margaret Palmieri, Navy director of Integrated Fires, Information Dominance.
Navy ships today have signals exploitation technologies wherein they assess and conduct analysis upon electromagnetic signals and identify EW threats, Palmieri explained. One such program is called Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program.
“The electromagnetic spectrum on an aircraft carrier is incredibly complex, given the number of antenna, the number of radars and the number of electronic systems and the information that you need to deal with,” she said.
In terms of preparing for the future, however, some of the current work involves technical efforts to give ships an increased ability to conduct offensive EW operations or use electromagnetic energy to thwart the signal of an incoming missile.
“The vision for the future is to take what are collection, exploitation and early warning capabilities and turn them into offensive ways to use electronic attack,” Palmieri explained.
For instance, it may prove more efficient to use electromagnetic warfare to disable the signals of an adversary without resorting to a missile attack
“If we can go after the command and control or the ISR pieces of that threat instead of putting a missile against a missile I can potentially disrupt that missile’s ability to find its target,” said Palmieri.
The Navy’s ongoing Next-Generation Jammer, or NGJ, program, designed to replace the 1970’s ALQ-99 pod, is also aimed at increasing offensive EW technology. The NGJ program, to be operational by 2020, is designed for the Navy’s EA-18G Growler aircraft.
Also, Palmieri explained that the Office of Naval Research is working on a new prototype EW technology called Integrated Topside, or InTop, designed to provide a greater range of EW flexibility and applications on a ship.
"Instead of having a number of antennae for different applications, we are looking at it from a wide spectrum and developing the ability to integrate all those apertures. Creating a shared aperture array able to take in signals from a wide range of frequencies and share them allows us to reduce the amount of hardware topside on the ship and make the capabilities on our ships much more agile," she added.
InTop is a naval prototype program which aims to reduce apertures through the use of integrated, multi-function and multi-beam arrays, according to ONR officials. The program, which has contracts with as many as 18 different vendors, works because RF functions simultaneously share apertures and signal processing through the use of a central resource allocation manager.
Navy officials said a big part of the push to modernize EW technologies through programs like InTop is grounded in the importance of what’s called open architecture. Essentially, this involves an effort to ensure that new hardware and software can more seamlessly integrate with existing systems.
Much of Greenert’s and the Navy’s effort is focused on educating sailors and Navy officers about the nuances of an electromagnetic signature, including those emitted signals which provide indications to a potential adversary.
“He (CNO) looks at the number one pieces as spectrum awareness and understanding our signature. What does the enemy see of us? We need to make sure that we are presenting ourselves to them the way we want to. We are working on better understanding how networks and signals and networks and information come together. What do we really look like to the enemy?” Palmieri asked.