Strong Defense Depends On a Technological Edge

Sergeant First Class Brian Horn, information assurance supervisor for the 369thth The Signal Battalion (SB), which developed the portable antenna, explained that “it can be set up and operated by a crew of three almost anywhere.” But the antenna doesn’t sacrifice performance for portability. It provides more bandwidth capacity than the legacy antenna system it replaces, allowing operators to send more data.

Sargent Moises Orta, 369th SB multi-channel transmission systems operator/maintainer, agreed with this assessment: “The GATR Ball is able to transfer more data in a smaller package than traditional satellite systems.”

Air nodes are of increasing importance to military communications networks, and the technology for such communications has been under development for several years. Boeing and the US Air Force recently demonstrated networking between multiple ground stations and several aircraft using Boeing’s Talon HATE airborne networking system. Flight tests were conducted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada with two Talon HATE pods on two F-15C aircraft.

Communications were carried out using military Link 16 waveform, Common Data Link (CDL) protocol and Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) satellites. Additional flight tests also confirmed in-flight communications between the F-22s. Such an unprecedented in-flight network would provide fighter pilots with invaluable additional data, including intelligence gathered by pilots in other aircraft.

Of course, communications is only one technology area within defense electronics, with innovation and development occurring in many other key areas, including EW and radar systems. EW systems follow a technology path that parallels that of tactical radios, relying on embedded system computers to analyze and make decisions regarding acquired signal information when responding to various threats.

Known as cognitive EW, the technology has been in development for several years, motivated by DARPA’s Adaptive Radar Countermeasures (ARC) program and fears that traditional EW systems would not be flexible enough to respond to the rapidly changing waveforms generated by enemy adaptive radar systems. Major contractors involved in the development of cognitive EW systems include BAE Systemsboeing, Lockheed Martinand Raytheon Co.

DARPA is pursuing an open architecture approach with the ARC program to allow US airborne EW systems to automatically generate electronic countermeasures (ECM) responses against new, unknown and adaptive radars in real time. Having an open architecture will allow the development of EW systems in a modular hardware and software configuration, so updating the system by changing modules will have minimal impact on other elements of the EW system. The modules developed for the ARC program will be suitable for new systems and for retrofitting existing EW systems.

ARC modules must be able to isolate unknown radar signals in the presence of other signals, both friendly and hostile, and perform signal analysis to determine the nature of the potential threat. An ARC solution must be able to synthesize and transmit ECM signals to the threat radar for a desired response and evaluate the effectiveness of countermeasures based on the airborne behavior of the threat transmitter.

About three years ago, the U.S. Navy identified a need for what is described as electromagnetic maneuver warfare (EMW) to measure environmental variables at multiple altitudes from a fixed location, such as the deck or mast of a ship. The data would be part of forecasting EM and electro-optical (EO) propagation from surface ships to support data from and operation of radar, EW, laser and communications systems.

The EMW effort was initiated due to dissatisfaction with existing field sensors, which were considered expensive and unreliable, and the drive was to replace such sensors with a more accurate and practical solution. Any system solution must also be maintainable in a naval environment. Technologies under consideration include acoustic probes, Doppler LIDAR and LIDAR spectroscopy, and passive radiometry.

This is a brief overview of the latest trends in defense electronics, with similar aspirations for technological improvements in all areas. While some of these programs are aimed at combating the growing use of enemy UAVs to perform surveillance and carry weapons, contractors such as Raytheon are also working with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM on integration of high power electromagnetic (HPEM) weapons into aircraft weapons arrays. Such weapons are designed to disable enemy electronic systems without harming soldiers.

Continued efforts to improve technology, such as the practice of “constant surveillance” — the use of software-defined sensors to gather intelligence even as environmental conditions change — help maintain a tactical advantage for U.S. troops and their allies. Strong funding from the current administration should help continue this trend of technological advancements and improvements.

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