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EW Gear Gets Smarter, Smaller

Sep. 2, 2012 - 03:23PM   |  
By JOE GOULD   |   Comments
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The U.S. Army will soon be able to jam not only improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but also proximity-fuze mortars, data links for enemy UAVs and sophisticated military communications networks, Army officials said.

A massive expansion is underway, beyond the mainstay of Army electronic warfare (EW), an evolving series of vehicle-mounted, counter-IED systems meant to jam the signals of repurposed commercial technologies used to trigger improvised explosive devices, according to Army officials.

“We experience threats from both the commercial and military side,” said Col. Joe Dupont, the Army’s program manager for electronic warfare. “In a high-intensity conflict, we’re looking at more military technologies, whereas we’ve been facing more unconventional enemies and commercial threats. Today, we understand we have to protect against them all.”

Managing the Spectrum

The Army is already fielding the precursors for its future Integrated Electronic Warfare System. The IEWS is essentially a family of offensive and defensive systems, in the air and on the ground, plus a suite of software for planning and managing EW operations called the EW Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT), which officials said is the closest to being fielded.

In combat, the role of electronic warfare officers is to deny the enemy an advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum — types of radiation emitted from electronic devices, like radios and cellphones — and provide the advantage to commanders.

Electronic warfare officers use charts and spreadsheets to reconcile planned missions. The electromagnetic spectrum is crowded with “blue force” signals and “red force” signals, which can be inadvertently blocked by the Army’s offensive and defensive assets.

The EWPMT would allow commanders to war-game missions in advance, visualizing the spectrum in their battle space, predicting potential interference issues and designing work-arounds for potential conflicts.

“Today, we have a lot of challenges with spectrum interference with our jammers, and we’ve worked down the problem set and made it manageable, but we can do better in the future,” said Mike Ryan, the Army’s deputy program manager for electronic warfare.

Lt. Col. Douglas Burbey, product director of Raven Fire, which overseesdevelopment of the EWPMT, said the idea is to afford commanders an actionable picture of the spectrum.

For example, a unit could detect and display the signal of an enemy spotter radioing coordinates for a mortar attack on its base. With the signal’s location, the commander would have the option to listen in, jam the signal or fire on its coordinates.

“You’re now giving real-time information to a commander in relation to the electromagnetic spectrum,” Burbey said. “He can use it as a tool to defeat the enemy, not just something after-action.”

This year, the Army received funding to conduct studies — called analyses of alternatives — of the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare and EWPMT efforts. The EWPMT study was completed in the spring, and the program office plans to solicit bids and award a contract late next year.

The intent is to test the first iteration of the tool with a brigade of soldiers as part of the second Network Integration Evaluation in 2014.

One set of tools would be issued per battalion and higher headquarters authorized to a 29-Series soldier.

Like much of electronic warfare, the capabilities are evolving. The Army would update it periodically to include new signal sets, Burbey said.

The Next Wave of Gear

As Army electronic warfare acquisitions officials field quick reaction capabilities, one priority is making the gear smaller, lighter and more energy efficient.

“It’s not only ‘can we make it man-packable,’ but ‘how can we fit it on a small UAV?’ That’s what our teams are looking at today,” Ryan said.

• Thor III and iCREW. One system for use by soldiers on foot is the Thor III, a counter-IED jammer for use by a squad of 12. It’s divided into three backpacks that, together, create a bubble of electromagnetic protection over that squad.

To extend that bubble over soldiers at the fringe of the squad, the Army wants to offer an Individual Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare (CREW) device, dubbed iCREW. Still in development, iCREW would be lightweight and wearable, programmed to counter a narrow selection of known threat signals over a smaller range. The Army has just started its source-selection process, and the system is expected to be fielded in spring 2013.

• Wolfhound Handheld Threat Warning System. Another portable technology, the Wolfhound Handheld Threat Warning System, is used to reveal enemy spotter positions and observation posts. Six hundred have already been fielded.

Wolfhound fits on a backpack and can detect and geo-locate enemy communication signals, whose coordinates can be relayed to infantry platoons and bomb disposal teams.

“That helps us in the kinetic piece, where we can send in guys to kick down the door and collect the enemy, so to speak,” Ryan said.

• GATOR. The Ground Auto Targeting Observation/Reactive jammer is a fixed-site technology for a forward operating base, and is meant to surgically identify and target enemy communications. It consists of a shelter, a transceiver and a 107-foot mast antenna.

Last year, the Army fielded three GATOR systems, and the plan is to begin fielding from its requirement of 21 systems.

• CEASAR. The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force has fielded an aerial capability called CEASAR, or Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance and Reconnaissance. Situated on C-12 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, it provides beyond-line-of-sight command, control and communications jamming ability. The Army plans to develop a smaller version for a UAV, Ryan said.

• Duke V2 Electronic Attack. Meanwhile, the Army is continuing to field vehicle-mounted EW systems like the Duke V2 Electronic Attack, a new version of a system soldiers may know primarily as an IED jammer.

The V2 offers an offensive capability, jamming roadside bombs, as well as insurgent command-and-control networks, particularly push-to-talk radios. The V2 is also a sensor, detecting and logging enemy signal sets.

“We have 25,000 sensors on the battlefield, where we can not only protect those vehicles and personnel, but we can collect information,” Ryan said.

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