The electromagnetic spectrum environment has become increasingly complex in recent years. Electronic warfare and the jamming of radio signals was a large concern reaching back to the Cold War, and a proliferation of emitters, jammers and overall devices in the past few decades has made understanding and planning effects an even more difficult task for operators and commanders.
For that reason, some believe the future of electronic warfare will require the development of visualization tools that conceptualize the non-physical effects in the electromagnetic spectrum.
“We’re seeing and hearing about cases where some folks are turning back and turning away prematurely because they just don’t have confidence in the systems on their jet, for instance,” Travis Slocumb, vice president, electronic warfare systems at Raytheon, told C4ISRNET in an interview. “They don’t understand them adequately and the world of EW is not kinetic. You can’t see what’s happening.”
These complications have led some to pursue depicting the electromagnetic spectrum as a maneuver space akin to the physical domain. However, given the variety of frequencies being used by systems and emitters, the fight to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum and enable operations in the physical world is no longer platform versus platform, solution versus solution, or a situation where a one-size-fits-all tool that can be used.
“There’s no single platform capability that can go create the effect we need and the kind of threat laydown environments that we anticipate seeing,” Slocumb said. “The only way you’re going to be able to get the effects we want is to have some level of collaboration between all the assets in theater, not just a couple of [EA-18G] Growlers.”
For example, the Navy is modernizing its legacy jammer, the ALQ/99, to what is being termed the Next-Gen Jammer (to be mounted on EA-18G Growlers), but the final product will result in not one but three jamming pods covering low, mid and high frequencies.
Rick Diamond, senior manager of electronic warfare business development at Lockheed Martin, told reporters in November that while Growlers could fly with all three pods, typically what will happen is there will be several aircraft flying with different configurations addressing different missions, so as not to load down the aircraft too much.
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However, in order to figure out and understand how to execute the maneuver and concepts, command-and-control and real-time decision aides of these different platforms, a visualization tool that can plan and manage will be foundational, Slocumb said.
Raytheon is currently on contract with the Army for a ground-based solution called the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) that provides spectrum management and can even plot courses of action for commanders.
“You have to start with being able to at least set up a plan for the day, you ingest data overnight, you know where the threat assets are, you know the effect you want to make happen, you lay it out, you plan it, then you manage it,” Slocumb said.
“The management part is where it gets interesting … by definition in any operation things are going to change. EW is all about counter-countermeasures and call and response. There are things that are going to happen you didn’t anticipate, how do you manage through that?”
He noted that the real challenge, after the initial planning and resourcing of assets for certain threats, is adapting to an environment that is capable of rapid change minute to minute.
“That’s where the EW community needs to go … everybody I talk to who’s thinking about this problem will tell you the exact same thing,” Slocumb said of a planning and management solution.