Soldiers field test EW rugged prototypes

The Army’s new prototype turns dismounted soldiers into electronic warriors, with just a pack and rugged tablet.

Armed with a rugged tablet and a pack housing the electronic warfare (EW) system, soldiers may soon be able to detect and classify any signal they encounter while in the field.

The name of the prototype system has not yet been released by the Army Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), however, it was tested by the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division as part of the Army’s annual Network Integration Evaluation, which took place last month.

“The way it’s going to work is we are going to go out and search for signals in the area, any radio frequency we can find,” explained a member of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division in charge of demonstrating the new EW prototype.

The tablet and EW pack are specifically designed for the dismounted soldier. One variation of the system weighs about 27.4 pounds, reported members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, and detects signals in the area as the soldier moves.

The dismounted EW system is likely made up of frequency receivers and installed with software that identifies and classifies the different types of signals received. According to the members of the unit, the tablet displays a list of all the frequencies detected by the EW system.

The soldier is then able to use the tablet to determine where the frequencies are being emitted from, roughly where they are transmitting to, and whether they are signals from friends, foes, or civilian populations, according to the Army press release.

The device registers transmissions from any device from cell phones to radio stations to drones, explained the demonstrator. According to Sgt. Justin Hatch, an EW operator with the 1st Squadron, the dismounted soldier can use information on his or her tablet to determine whether a signal belongs to a potential adversary and then relay that information to a vehicle-mounted system overseen by the soldier’s company. At the company level, the decision can be made to send the information further up the command chain in order to receive instructions on whether to simply jam the signal or to use it to pinpoint the adversary’s location for targeting purposes.

 Since the new dismounted EW system is still in the prototype stage, the test operators did identify several areas for improvement. One was power usage. The system needed three adaptors worth of power just to run for three hours, said one member of the testing unit.

“When you talk about going out and doing a 12-hour mission where you want to keep enemy comms jammed, that is a lot of batteries and nowhere to put them,” said the soldier.

In addition, the ruggedized tablet needs to be even more rugged, said another unit member. One of the tablets the unit was operating cracked during the tests, he reported.

These shortcomings will be addressed in the next few months in preparation for Phase I of the official prototyping effort. The prototyping will be conducted early next year in Europe, according to the RCO.