For a fighter pilot, it can happen at any time, on any mission. The jet’s sensors pick up a signal, and onboard computers determine that it came from a threat – an enemy ground radar, an adversary aircraft.
They need that information to take appropriate action, whether it’s jamming the radar or taking evasive action. But what happens when they come across something their electronic warfare systems have never seen before?
“For adversaries, programming new behaviors into EW systems is as simple as a push of a button,” said Annabel Flores, vice president of Electronic Warfare Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “But finding, analyzing and creating new countermeasures against those new behaviors takes time. Threats are evolving very quickly, and pilots need ways to assess and counter them in near-real time.”
To help pilots respond faster to new threats, RI&S is developing an approach called converged EW. It combines electronic warfare, signals intelligence and cyber technologies into a single “all-in-one-box” system, powered by one computer and designed with open architecture for easy upgrades. This approach could prove especially advantageous in military operations centered on exploiting, attacking, protecting and managing the electromagnetic spectrum – where critical systems like radars, navigation and communications operate.
“An all-in-one approach yields a lighter, more cost-effective system that also provides more options for faster response,” said Leonard Koike, technical director of Electronic Warfare Systems. “Instead of waiting for traditional SIGINT-specific missions to collect data, bring it back to the lab and develop new countermeasures, operators could use converged EW systems to collect data about the threat, analyze it and respond to it, all while in the air.”
A variety of antennas on the aircraft would collect signals from different frequencies, digitizing the information and processing it on a back-end computer. Cyber capabilities would protect that computer – and particularly, that data – against adversary attacks.
To make the best use of that data, improved automation tools will be critical to manage tasks and set priorities autonomously.
“Artificial Intelligence will power the cognitive abilities on converged EW systems,” said Koike. “This will be important to help operators manage and reduce the workload and, ultimately, focus on making the right decisions.”
Converged EW systems could be integrated into a variety of platforms, including smaller unmanned aerial vehicles, which military services favor because they cost less to buy and maintain.
Open architecture is another idea integral to converged EW systems. As engineers develop new capabilities – whether they come from RI&S or any other vendor – open architecture allows them to be integrated quickly and to run on the onboard computer.
Switching between EW, cyber and SIGINT capabilities – all powered by modern, reprogrammable computers, means pilots will have a better chances to stay ahead of new and unknown challenges.
“Our adversaries are looking at new ways to challenge our troops every day,” said Flores. “To keep safe, pilots need a system like converged EW to quickly identify and respond to threats.”