• Credit: Nova Systems
    Credit: Nova Systems

Unseen. Unheard. Undetected. Fighting in the “grey zone”.

Nova Systems is revolutionising the field of Electromagnetic Warfare (EW) in Australia by bringing together the best of Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) Engineering, modern Test and Evaluation methods, Digital Mission Engineering and Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) to enable a complete approach to the capability.

We spoke with Dr Kasun Thotahewa, Nova Systems Principal EMS Engineer, and internationally renowned cognitive EW specialist, Dr Karen Haigh, about how a combination of next generation technologies is required to prepare the ADF to fight in the highly congested and contested electromagnetic battlefield.

Electromagnetic Warfare (EW) has a sense of secrecy to it – beyond the ‘standard’ forms of kinetic weapons. Can you explain why that is?

KASUN: EW has an aura of secrecy due to its reliance on invisible electromagnetic waves and a perpetual battle of countermeasures and counter-countermeasures, leading to a cat-and-mouse game where details on techniques and technologies are closely guarded to maintain an advantage. It's often referred to as a "dark art," but at its core, it's grounded in the physics, mathematics, and engineering that govern electromagnetic waves and radio frequency systems.

KAREN: Humans understand things they can see and touch, namely bullets and airplanes, rather than things they can't such as the electromagnetic spectrum. The technology is very new compared to traditional kinetic systems and is changing extremely rapidly especially now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming part of the solution. AI allows EW systems to respond more quickly and for more complex situations than humans are capable of handling, contributing to the perception that EW is indistinguishable from magic.

What role do you see EW playing in modern warfare and, in particular, the ‘Information Warfare’ Theatre?

KASUN: In modern conflicts within the information warfare theatre, EW serves as a critical component for creating battlefield effects, as well as understanding the electromagnetic battlespace. The latter offers valuable insights into the dynamics of the battlefield, including cyber activities and enhances situational awareness. EW has evolved beyond platform self-protection to become a potent multi-domain capability for disrupting or manipulating adversary systems and achieving significant strategic impact.

KAREN: EW is pivotal in modern conflicts due to the heavy reliance on the electromagnetic spectrum for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), C2 (Command and Control), cyber operations, and weapon systems. EW can deny, degrade, and disrupt these systems, creating force multiplier effects by impeding an adversary's ability to communicate, gather intelligence, coordinate operations, and employ precision-guided weapons. It enables militaries to gain a significant tactical advantage by effectively controlling and manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum, which is essential for success in contemporary warfare.

What is Nova doing to revolutionise EW?

KASUN: In response to modern threats, including networked ISR capabilities and advanced multi-sensor weapons, coupled with the increasing importance of the EMS in modern military operations, there is a pressing need for a holistic approach to EW that extends beyond traditional platform self-defence strategies. Nova Systems, leveraging its expertise in EW systems engineering and Electromagnetic Spectrum Engineering, is pioneering the adoption of modern engineering methodologies, including Digital Mission Engineering, and Model-Based Test and Evaluation, to empower the realisation of system-of-systems level EW capabilities, effectively countering today's complex threats.

Your book Cognitive Electronic Warfare: An Artificial Intelligence Approach delves into multiple use cases of Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) in various aspects of EW. What role do you see modern technology prospects taking for EW?

KAREN: Cognitive EW is one of the critical advances that will determine the outcomes of future conflicts in today's interconnected world that is characterised by the Internet of Things, both civilian and military. AI-powered EW systems can swiftly adapt based on real-time data, outpace human decision-making and enhance mission success and survival for both civilians and warfighters. In addition, Cognitive EW, driven by AI, is crucial for enabling adaptive and learning capabilities within EW systems during engagements.

Nova Systems is running a two-day course titled Fighting in the grey zone – the Electromagnetic Warfare Revolution with Dr Haigh and Dr Thotahewa in Canberra from October 31.

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