Electric Warfare: Converge Or Die!

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Technological development of radars and communication systems will cause hard times for Electric Warfare systems, as library-based electronic support is too slow and current intelligent jammers not intelligent enough for the dynamic battle space of the future.

M.Sc., Lic.Tech, Dr.Tech h.c., GSO, Colonel Jyri Kosola, R&T Director, Finnish Defence Forces

Electromagnetic waves have been exploited in warfare since Russian scientist Aleksandr Popov and Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated their suitability to long-range communications between battleships and fleet headquarters in the late 1890s.

Moreover, as a natural consequence to the exploitation of radio waves in commanding and controlling military forces, a new form of warfare exploiting the exploitation of electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), was born. It was called Electronic Warfare (EW), as it targeted enemy electronic systems. 

Electronic Warfare has been a true force multiplier, a decisive factor in numerous battles, even helping to win a war. Detecting enemy radio emissions, locating troops, headquarters, ships and aircraft using  transmitters, identification of the users and deciphering the communications has helped the Japanese to destroy Russian Pacific and Baltic fleets, the British to find and sink the German battleship Bismarck and to win the U-boat war in the Atlantic, and the Americans to turn the tide of war at Midway.

On ground Germans were able to read Russian operational plans and to attack different Russian armies separately thus generating local numerical superiority needed to defeat the invading enemy. In the air, the British spoofed German precision bombing systems causing the Luftwaffe to bomb seawater and blinded German radars with jamming. After the world wars, the use of electromagnetic spectrum has become more widespread, opening new possibilities for EW to exploit and control the use of EMS by passive monitoring, direction finding, eavesdropping, jamming and spoofing. 

A stand-off jammer needs 10.000 times more power than close support jammer, requiring big platforms and offering easy targets to the enemy. (Image: Ewation GmbH/MRCM)

Digital revolution

Transfer from analogue command and control systems to digital has already made eavesdropping challenging, and real-time deciphering impossible. It is still possible to exploit technical signal features to detect, locate, track, classify, identify, disrupt and deceive the enemy. A common method is to record enemy transmissions, process them into signal libraries, and then compare detected signals with those stored in the libraries in order to classify and identify possible threats. For every signal in the library, there will be paired a tailored jamming signal. 

Digitalization of the target systems, like surveillance, tracking and fire control radars, seeker heads, weapon guidance systems, datalinks and other communication systems, allowed them to utilize countermeasures to the EW countermeasures. These anti-jamming techniques were called Electronic Counter-Counter-Measures (ECCM). Although digital processors allow variation of signal parameters, like pseudo-random spread spectrum spreading code, frequency-hopping algorithm and pulse modulation, it is still possible to receive, store, process these signals, and compose deceiving, but genuine-looking jamming or spoofing signal and to send that to the targeted hostile system. 

When target systems will be truly software-based, they will be cognitive and adapt to the changing electromagnetic environment. As the signals are made by software algorithms, every pulse can be different. This will render current library-based solutions more or less obsolete, leaving two options.  One option is to develop artificial intelligence based EW assets that can learn and adapt dynamically to changes in the EMS. As this is quite complex and takes time, also the other option must be recognized. It is the use of brute force. Forget spoofing and intelligent jamming. Use noise jamming to overpower enemy signals. However, because noise jamming is very ineffective, either a high-power jammer is required, or the jammer needs to be at close proximity to its target. Due to the high signal attenuation especially in land environment, it is easier to base the concept on short distances instead of remote high-power jammers.

Escort jamming will be replaced by close-in jamming from drones. (Image: Seppo Heiskanen)
Extremely expensive ESM sensor systems will be augmented – and to some extent replaced – by converged sensing by different RF apertures in the battlespace. (Image: Ewation GmbH/MRCM)

Technological development of radars and communication systems will cause hard times for EW systems, as library-based electronic support is too slow and current intelligent jammers not intelligent enough for the dynamic battle space of the future. Convergence (see my previous article in NDR) might offer the solution. If most electronic systems can perform electronic support and electronic attack tasks in addition to their primary functions, some of them will be closer to their targets than the “ordinary” EW assets. Closing the distance ten-fold increases jamming effectiveness 10.000 times. The same applies to detecting weak enemy transmissions.

It is hard to predict the future, but it seems that in the long run Electronic Warfare systems and community has either to accept defeat, or to dissolve into functionalities in every system capable of receiving and transmitting radio frequency signals.

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