WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s ship-based electronic countermeasure system will provide an unlimited supply of ammunition against incoming threats, allowing the service to be more dynamic, and will open up new concepts for other capabilities, the system’s contractor said.
The Block III of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, or SEWIP, provides ships a non-kinetic, electronic attack capability and will be outfitted to Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, but contractor Northrop Grumman said there are bigger plans in the works.
The Navy awarded Northrop a contract in June to develop a technology data package based on the SEWIP technology for larger-deck ships such as aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.
“This system was developed at a really good time because as our peer and near-peer adversaries are growing in capability, one of the areas that they’re growing in is anti-ship missiles,” said Mike Meaney, vice president of land and maritime sensors at Northrop. “Really, really essential that all of our deployed forces have effective EA [electronic attack] against some of our adversaries’ weapons.”
The SEWIP system essentially provides an “unlimited supply of bullets” against incoming missiles or any other threats, Meaney said, to non-kinetically confuse the missile or deny it information, forcing the weapon to crash into the ocean.
Meaney added that with further development and deployment of this type of technology, ships will have the ability to increase their kinetic missile magazines and be more flexible to use those kinetic weapons in other ways rather than dedicating some to shooting down incoming missiles.
“What we see as the future is by having effective electronic attack systems like SEWIP on ships, it’s going to allow the ship’s captain and crew to depend on them and solve the anti-ship threat with non-kinetic solutions, allowing them more missiles than their magazine to shoot for offensive purposes,” he said. “That’s the opportunity that SEWIP provides to the Navy, is an opportunity to rely out how they configure their ships’ missile magazines. And as it’s proven out there and fully demonstrated, the confidence will grow, and then the Navy can look at putting more offensive weapons into their ship magazines than they currently have today.”
In terms of deployment, for the two systems on which Northrop received low-rate initial production approval, Meaney said the service will install them to the destroyers later this year. He declined to identify the warships or offer a concrete timeline. The equipped ships will then undergo sea trials — the capstone test for the system.
SEWIP was built with an open-architecture, hardware-designed, software-enabled approach, allowing for rapid upgrades to keep pace with changing threats. It was also designed to be multifunctional, providing the Navy additional options, including signals intelligence capabilities, limited radar and communications.
“We developed an advanced communications link using some of the best technology and showed a brand-new communications signal coming out of our system,” Meaney said. “That was a new comms link we demonstrated, but we have the capability to interface with and interact with other communications systems that are out there. We also are integrated into the combat systems on the ship, so the information flowing from our system can be connected to those combat systems, and those combat systems are being connected via other activities into the larger kill web, if you will.”
He said this approach is in line with the Defense Department’s larger push to ensure sensors and platforms are interconnected to rapidly and seamlessly share data so commanders have what the department calls decision advantage.
In terms of forthcoming capabilities, Meaney said Northrop is investing significant research and development dollars toward introducing artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms to the system. The aim is to have these capabilities be able to rapidly identify unknown emitters and provide estimates on what those are, and create jamming waveforms on the fly.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.