The recent Defence White Paper and associated Integrated Investment Program (IIP) together forecast an investment of around $17.4 billion in the Electronic Warfare (EW) domain.
This is more than most major platform capital acquisition projects, with only ‘major ticket’ programs such as the Future Submarine, Future Frigate and Joint Strike Fighter being larger.
In the light of the White Paper and IIP, there is a great deal of research and development work in the electromagnetic spectrum underway within Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group), particularly in the Air and Maritime domains.
To find out more about what the future of EW might look like, ADM recently spoke to Dr Anthony Szabo, Research Leader Spectrum Sensing and Shaping, in DST Group’s Cyber and EW Division.
“Aside from the very successful counter IED program we have not performed a lot of work in the Land domain but that is something that will change in the future. All of a ship’s above-water information and all of an air platform’s information comes via electromagnetic spectrum and in the future, more of the information in the Land domain will be derived by these means as well,” Dr Szabo said to ADM.
“It is crucial for our forces to be able to control the electromagnetic domain and what we are trying to do is provide a capability which is the equivalent of always fighting ‘downhill’ in this domain. But it means that our systems will need to be more dynamic, more flexible, more adaptable and more manoeuvrable to achieve these goals.”
DST Group is one of the R&D leaders in the development of EW technologies, stretching back to programmes such as the Nulka shipboard active missile decoy, which is still in service around the world and is an ongoing development program in its own right.
One of the major areas of focus for DST Group in the maritime domain is a replacement capability for the successful Nulka, which is being undertaken under the aegis of Project Sea 5011. The evolving threats faced by Navy surface combatants, not least of which is the shortened engagement time available, is driving the consideration of Australian technologies which may be able to support a new capability.
The work is focussing on two main areas, which together may form a future capability to succeed Nulka. One of these is the study of persistent off-board attack technologies, which may be either based on unmanned aerial system and/or unmanned surface vehicles platforms. The other element is considering an onboard electronic attack capability and what the requirements for such a system will be in the future.
“One big thread for us is applying automation and machine learning to EW, once again trying to address the evolution of the threat systems. What we anticipate over time is that such systems will become more and more adaptive – it’s all about addressing the environment and optimising their performance,” Dr Szabo explained.
“We’re aware that the electromagnetic environment is becoming more cluttered, more congested, and complex, so future threat systems will need to adapt to that environment to maintain their capability.”
What this means is that some of the traditional techniques for detecting and then countering threats, such as the reliance on threat libraries, are unlikely to work effectively against an adaptive threat in the future, which may change from day to day. One possible solution to this problem is the employment of automated machine learning, which has also been referred to as ‘Cognitive EW’. What it’s really about is applying automation and machine learning – artificial intelligence ultimately – to EW problems,” Dr Szabo said.
A further and ongoing body of work being undertaken in the EW domain is the move towards common systems or families of systems for the Navy’s Electronic Support and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capability, which will reduce the multiple systems in use on different platforms, each of which have their own logistics footprints – and therefore reduce support requirements – across the fleet.
“Having a common system is good, but I’m keen to take it to the next level and move towards a common open architecture system, which opens up the potential for third party technologies, rather than being tied to the one OEM,” Dr Szabo added. “The US is now moving towards that goal too and if we can agree on these open architectures and get their interfaces worked out, then third parties are able to integrate their components more easily into these systems.”
A further example of potential future co-operation with the US Navy is via a Project Arrangement on Electromagnetic Manoeuvre Warfare Capability Development which is in the process of being negotiated with the Office of Naval Research under the Maritime Research, Development, Test, Evaluation and Prototyping Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and is likely to be a decade-long program of about $200 million value.
“It will cover bilateral activities on a range of technologies that will include persistent off-board technologies such as those we are already working on here at DST and also some work on multi-function apertures,” Dr Szabo explained to ADM.
One of the key elements to the successful conduct of operations in a high threat environment is to first have a detailed understanding of your own platform signature. When a surface combatant is significantly modified, such as the recent Anzac Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) project for example, or when a new platform like the Hobart class DDG enters service, it is important to accurately measure its signature. DST Group has an ongoing program to undertake this work, but traditional methods require dedicated ship time and it is a relatively slow process.
Project JP500 Phase 2A seeks to acquire new signature measurement equipment, which will be capable of being mounted on a helicopter and allow data to be gathered more quickly, more often and under a variety of conditions.
“What JP500 is seeking to do is to replicate the successful airborne countermeasures development and validation programs in the Maritime and Land domains,” Dr Szabo said. “The Maritime Survivability and Tactical Validation Program (MSTVP) and its Land equivalent, the LSTVP, are being established under the project to assess the EW contribution to platform survivability and to validate tactics.”
Growler leads the way
The RAAF’s Boeing EA-18G Growler Electronic Attack Aircraft represents the first stand-off jamming capability the ADF has ever had and it is leading the way to the future, in terms of exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum.
One of the projects DST Group is currently involved in is the development of algorithms which will go into the Growler’s AN/ALQ-227 Communications Countermeasures System. The ALQ-227 is supplied by Raytheon and DST’s enhancements will further improve the system’s geo-location capability.
“That is an example of what we call an applied research and development program, but we are also working on a number of other projects, which typically have a lower Technical Readiness Level (TRL) and which we refer to as enabling research and development programs,” Dr Szabo explained. “We hope to be able to turn those into applied R&D activities in future phases of the Growler co-development program. There are a number of them, such things as Cognitive EW, new Live Virtual and Constructive (LVC) simulation modelling and EW battlefield management approaches.”
Last year the Australian Government also signed up to the co-development of the ALQ-249 Next Generation Mid Band Jammer (NGJ-MB), which will replace the current ALQ-99 pods on US Navy and RAAF Growlers.
“We’re talking to Raytheon and to the US Navy about access to some elements of the technology. I don’t think we’ll be providing hardware into the system, it’s more likely that we’ll have an algorithmic input, similar to what we are doing with the ALQ-227,” Dr Szabo predicted. “Growler is a whole new capability and there’s a lot of work to do in understanding how best to employ it and, in the future, developing technologies that we can integrate to improve the capability.”
Growing the Australian EW Enterprise
DST Group is also working closely with both industry and academia on the EW enterprise in Australia. Even with the level of investment in the electromagnetic domain however, there is a lot of work to be done.
“In terms of rate of investment, the investment in EW is arguably second only to the Future Submarine program. Although there has been some reprioritisation in the two years since the White Paper and Integrated Investment Program it speaks to the commitment of both Government and the Department in the development of EW capabilities,” Dr Szabo concluded.
This article first appeared in the May 2018 edition of ADM.