Army seeks next-gen targeted EW attack technology for drones
A recent Army RFI looks for mature EW technologies to mount on the wing of a Gray Eagle drone.
The Army is looking for a near-term Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) technology able to effectively launch offensive drone EW attacks more precisely than current technology allows.
A recently released Request For Information (RFI) from the Army’s Program Executive Office Intelligence Electronic Warfare & Sensors (PEO IEW&S) asks industry for information about “sufficiently mature” MFEW critical technology elements that “can utilize a modified COTS/GCOTS approach.”
Referring to its Gray Eagle medium altitude drone, the Army is looking to develop an advanced wing-pylon mounted EW weapons system, according to the RFI.
Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the emergence of the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or roadside bomb as a major threat, the Army has fielded a host of technologies to thwart or jam the incoming signal from a Radio-Controlled IED (RCIED) that delay or prevent detonation and potential injury to soldiers.
The majority of existing EW systems used by the Army, such as the vehicle-mounted DUKE v3, soldier portable Thor III and GATOR V2 tower use standard RF jamming techniques; many of these, industry experts explain, are effective in thwarting detonation signals but often emit a larger, more-detectable signal themselves. A key emphasis when it comes to next-gen EW, is more targeted or pinpointed electromagnetic spectrum attacks to better obscure a point of origin from enemy detection.
The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, which works on near-term requirements to fast-track available combat technologies to the theater, has an interim solution and COTS focus. At the same time, REF leaders say, they often find that existing Army development programs have near-term, deployable solutions which can be brought forward.
Overall, particularly in light of Russia’s use of EW in Ukraine and fast-evolving EW technologies around the world, the U.S. Army realizes it needs to think differently about EW to position itself for potential near-peer adversaries.
“As an Army we have fallen behind because of where we have been the last 10 to 15 years. How do we close the gap? We are changing how we look at EW, including doctrine, organization and other things,” REF director Col. John Lanier Ward told Defense Systems.
Ward explained that more EW capability can, in the near term, come to fruition by a simple move to use a stronger, better antenna, improved software or more powerful amplifiers. Additional means of integration or application, also, can expand EW capability. The REF, Ward explained, is now advancing a program called EW TV, electronic warfare for tactical vehicles where cutting-edge functional weapons are placed on military vehicles.
One industry provider is using derivatives of SIGINT technologies to offer a more pinpointed EW attack technology. As is often the case with offensive EW, many details are not available for discussion, but CACI developers did explain that certain new approaches are showing substantial promise.
Jerry Parker, senior vice president at CACI for EW solutions, explained that elements of Foreign Instrumentation Signals Intelligence (FISINT), a subset of SIGINT techniques, allows jamming technologies and EW weapons to conduct attack operations without giving off a large electromagnetic signal. “We take a much more precise way of looking at it,” Parker said.
FISINT techniques hinge upon the fact that foreign entities do not have to adhere to certain common standard communications protocol used by U.S. systems. For example, Parker explained, they do not rely upon or have to use the IEEE 802.11 standard, using channels within the 75 MHz bandwidth in the 5.9 GHz band.
Described as being more precise than traditional RF-powered jamming techniques, FISINT enables the determination of particular characteristics of an enemy signal.
“FISINT detects not only the signal that is present, but all the internal elements of that signal, such as how it is communicating with a detonation device. In some cases, they (potential enemies) use commercial standards. We know how to demodulate and determine the protocol between two systems.”
Parker explained that FISINT techniques -- defined as “intelligence information derived from electromagnetic emissions associated with the testing and operational deployment of foreign aerospace, surface and subsurface systems”– allow users to determine the type of encryption used by a signal and, for instance, whether it is a data signal or voice signal.
“On some modern systems it is whatever the engineer wanted to bake in that day, so being able to understand the modulation and encryption that they use takes a nuanced art,” Parker said.
Parker added that the most significant advantage offered by these emerging techniques is best described in terms of concepts of operations, or CONOPS.
“It does not give away your blue force position. If you are in a battlefield position where you are detecting enemy forces over a bridge, you do not emit a signal like a light bulb or light house. Our new paradigm is more like a laser pointer – that is the biggest transformational change,” said Parker.