The Challenge of Electronic Warfare

July 1, 1982

The electronic warfare (EW) equipment in the operational inventory today is having a hard time keeping pace with the threat. A few examples should give you the idea. First, the equipment is unsophisticated. The jammers are largely brute force and jam radars only, not electro-optical or infrared sensors. The warning receivers have a hard time in a multithreat environment. Also, most of these systems are manual and require a high degree of operator attention. Each was built in relative isolation from other systems with which they should interact. These systems are characterized by the fact they are all hard-wired—making changes difficult—and generally have been added on to existing aircraft, in some cases taking up valuable weapons stations.

We have been modifying them in an attempt to keep them current. But each year the cost of modification has been increasing, the cost of modification has been increasing, and their utility has been decreasing.

We are trying to do better. We now have in production a more sophisticated generation of radar jammers and radar warning receivers. This new generation is software programmable. It has built-in test and in some cases has been considered along with the aircraft design. This equipment gives a more flexible approach to the threat and is vital to our aircraft missions. But we need to go a whole lot further, as I will try to show you.

The Growing Challenge

When we look at the evolution of the air defense threat, we see, coming out of World War II and continuing through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, a rather conventional air defense system. On the ground side, there was only a small number of fixed sites and their range was limited, so they could largely be avoided by clever mission route planning.

What’s more, there were separate radars for acquisition and for track, and each required a large number of radar pulses to get range and direction information. On the aircraft side, the radars generally weren’t good enough to complete an engagement without a lot of help from the ground. Thus, the ground acquisition radars were the primary consideration. If we could beat them—and we largely could—we had it made.

What we’re seeing today is a far cry from the earlier situation. The sheer number of radars (both red and blue) has grown astronomically, filling the sky with millions of pulses per second that have to be sorted out. Their range has also increased. It is no longer practical to talk about flying around them. Whereas they were at fixed sites before, now they are largely mobile.

Another serious complication has been the development of the monopulse radar where you can get range and direction information in a single pulse. This makes the radar much more difficult to defeat and has caused us to scramble to come up with much more sophisticated jamming techniques. Finally, we’re seeing more and more the development of radars that combine acquisition and track. Whereas before, ground acquisition radars were the primary consideration, ground trackers and aircraft radars are now becoming more capable of standing alone. At this point it’s not always clear exactly whom we have to beat.

Other Improvements

The quality and sophistication of these radars and systems have been improving in other ways as well. The radar systems are now computer-controlled and employ such techniques as rapidly changing waveforms and frequencies. In additional, a true lookdown/shoot-down capability is just around the corner. We must also cope with bi-static systems where the transmitter and receiver are some distance apart. Without knowing where the receiver is, the aircraft can only jam in the direction of the transmitter—leaving the receiver (and missile) unaffected. We see many new radars operating not only in the traditional frequency ranges, but also well above (into the millimeter wave range) and well below (into the longer wavelength area).

And it’s not just the radars. A more subtle and probably more deadly threat is the apparent growth in combined sensor weapon systems. For example, no longer can we be content to defeat the RF part of the weapon system—we must consider how to counter infrared sensors, TV sensors, and laser designators as well. When we look at how these sophisticated systems are used, we see an integrated defense system containing high-speed, redundant data links for information exchange, and digital computers for target identification and tracking.

The early warning and GCI radars are now supplemented by AWACS-type aircraft, and their command and control network gets help from the satellites. In addition to this active air defense network, we see deployed an extensive passive detection and tracking capability that will be much harder to locate and defeat. It will also tend to deny our use of such active sensors as terrain-following radars.

The threat is not increasing at a linear rate, but at an exponential one. Technology builds upon technology like compound interest. To counter effectively the changing, improving threats that are just over the horizon, we need to do more than just build a better black box, stick it on or in an airplane, and tell it to take on the world all by itself. We are going to have to integrate highly automatic—almost intelligent—EW systems with the host aircraft while retaining the considerable update flexibility to cope with even more advanced systems of the future. Further, the EW systems of the future must interact with the air defense systems, both red and blue. Finally, we must do all that at the same time we are reacting to the expanding use of the electromagnetic spectrum. A tall order indeed.

How We’re Going to Do It

As far as technology is concerned, the seed money from past years is beginning to yield some of the technology we need. I mentioned before the need to sort through millions of pulses per second and pick out and counter the ones that represent an immediate threat. That takes a very powerful computer. Very High Speed Integrated Circuit (VHSIC) technology promises a computer of very great capability in an extremely small package. It also provides for mean times between failure measured in thousands of hours.

New phased-array antennas provide much higher power with exceptional efficiency and reliability. The trend toward solid-state devices again promises smaller size, greater efficiency, and much more reliability. Stealth technology will add a new dimension to electronic warfare by making the target harder to find and track. Most of this technology was not dreamed of when our present systems were designed. We must continue to keep the seeds planted for yet the next generation.

In doing so, we must not despair at finding a few weeds. Technology as advanced as this will seldom result in an unbroken string of successes. We must learn to accept an occasional failure with equanimity as the price of playing in a high stakes game. We are trying to strike the right balance by pushing technology to get its benefits while at the same time providing a solid backup to hedge our bets.

In fact, we are pushing both innovative technology and management techniques. From a technical point of view, the Advanced Self-Protecting Jammer (ASPJ) is providing a very sophisticated radar jammer, which will be integrated with other on-board ECM and avionics systems. ASPJ is also using a new management approach called joint venture teaming. In this approach, we combine the design talents of several companies for the critical design and development phase, and then have the companies compete for a share of the production. This approach is designed to ensure that we get the best available technology at a competitive price.

In the New Threat Warning System (NTWS) we are taking the next logical step in innovative avionics development. Functionally, the NTWS will be the heart of future EW systems. Systems. NTWS will integrate all EW systems on the aircraft and will provide the EW interface with other avionics. In other words, it will provide both crew warning and the top-level EW management. We plan to continue our advanced development efforts on NTWS into the production phase so that changes required because of the evolving threat can be incorporated easily into the production equipment.

On the management side of NTWS, we have adopted the joint venture team concept, as in ASPJ, but we have also structured a single contract to take us from advanced development through engineering development. Thus, we are able to eliminate a large chunk of time that normally occurs between the completion of a successful advanced development and the start of an engineering development program.

Also, this approach will be the first Pre-Planned Product Improvement (P3I) effort in the EW area, a concept that we plan to make a way of life for all EW efforts because of their perishability. To us, P3I means establishing an update program as part of the original program itself, not simply adding it on afterward. The OSD and congressional climate appears to be favorable for this type of approach. We intend to push it for cases like EW, where the threat is likely to change substantially even as you are building the system.

Other Systems

In addition, we are building systems to take some of the burden from aircraft self-protection systems.

The EF-111A jammer aircraft is now coming on line, with two aircraft already having been delivered and the next ones on track. The Precision Location Strike System (PLSS) and an updated Wild Weasel system will be coming along very soon. These systems allow us to find emitters with great precision and knock them out so that our strike forces can hit the targets that the emitters are protecting.

A big challenge, maybe even the biggest, is the integration challenge. How do we put all of these systems together so that they work as a team and continue to work that way in the face of a constantly increasing threat?

At ASD, we have several things going. One, our engineering and laboratory people are working on a plan to build tools—mainly digital and hybrid computer simulations. These tools will be used by both functions not only to develop and evaluate one-on-one RF jammers, but to see what is needed in a multithreat, mutually supportive battlefield environment. A few of the tools already exist, and we will take advantage of them wherever we can.

Also, we have begun to get our arms around EW management. One of our problems is that the EW efforts are so scattered about, it’s hard to know what you have, what needs to be updated, and what the relative priorities are. We have just begun to put together a group that we call the Electronic Warfare Systems Control Point (EWSCP). This group will attempt to tie together all of our EW efforts so that we can make more intelligent decisions about them. The EWSCP has an ambitious charter that keeps them in the loop from the time a new requirement comes in, through systems development, production, and modification.

The charter provides for the group to operate across organizational lines with rather strong centralized control of efforts traditionally performed by an individual SPO “warlord” for his system alone. It includes working with the users to determine how those systems can best be used together. It also includes helping to define and implement the technology needed for a continuing update program.

It is difficult to summarize so complex a subject in so short a time, so I have only attempted to hit the highlights. EW is an extremely important part of our strike forces, as we have learned over and over. We have a formidable challenge, but we are capable of a formidable response also if we put our best efforts to it.

Some very exciting technology is on the way, and we are preparing to get it into our systems. We are also pushing to use our systems together better so that the whole EW response is greater than the sum of the parts. We are also putting more focus into the management side to ensure that we have an optimum EW investment strategy across the board.

If we play it smart—and we intend to—the outlook for EW in the future is bright.

Lt. Gen. Lawrence Skantze is the Commander of AFSC’s Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, General Skantze was commissioned as an Air Force second lieutenant and received B-26 combat crew training. He was a project engineer on the joint USAF/AEC Nuclear Powered Airplane Program, and served more than three years a Director System Engineering and Advanced Planning in USAF’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. General Skantze was also Deputy to the ASD Commander for the Short-Range Attack Missile Program, and served as Systems Program Director for the E-3 AWACS before assuming his present post. He is a command pilot and holds a master’s in nuclear engineering from AFIT. This article is adapted from an address by General Skantze to AFA’s Electronics Symposium last April.