WASHINGTON — An aerial electronic jammer the U.S. Army slated for use aboard a reconnaissance and attack drone successfully underwent testing using a turboprop aircraft, an outcome officials said demonstrates the payload’s future battlefield flexibility.
The Multi-Function Electronic Warfare-Air Large, or MFEW-AL, is part of the Army’s focus on sophisticated electronic warfare technologies after years of divestment. Lockheed Martin is handling development of the self-contained pod, which was initially meant to be slung beneath an MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone, made by General Atomics.
This summer, the MFEW-AL was put through its paces on an MC-12W Liberty, a plane typically used to conduct medium- to low-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Air Force previously expressed interest in integrating the EW pod onto an A-10 attack plane.
“MFEW-AL is an innovative converged technology that addresses our customer’s vision for combined cyber and electronic warfare capability and dominance,” Deon Viergutz, vice president of spectrum convergence at Lockheed, said in a statement to C4ISRNET. “In collaboration with the U.S. Army, this demonstration expanded upon all testing of the MFEW-AL system to date, bringing to bear a more complete hardware and software configuration that gets us closer to delivering this technology to our EW soldiers.”
Electronic warfare is a high-stakes game of cat and mouse tied to the electromagnetic spectrum. Militaries rely on the spectrum — and its manipulation — for connectivity, navigation and weapons guidance. The MFEW-AL is designed to detect, locate, disrupt and degrade adversary communications and radars.
Key to MFEW-AL’s flexibility is a Lego-like, plug-and-play approach known as the C5ISR Electronic Warfare Modular Open Suite of Standards. The CMOSS backbone embeds critical capabilities — like communication, timing and mission planning — into cards that are then inserted into a standardized, ruggedized chassis. The interchangeable setup is expected to reduce development cycles, shrink equipment downtimes and improve the Army’s elasticity.
Brig. Gen. Ed Barker, the program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, in August told C4ISRNET developmental testing of MFEW-AL took place at the China Lake weapons range in California. He noted the service is getting the tech into the hands of troops.
“We’ve had soldiers both at China Lake and then up at 10th Mountain Division,” Barker said in an interview on the sidelines of the AFCEA TechNet Augusta conference in Georgia. “The software and hardware is stable. I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Additional flight tests are expected in the coming months, on top of the 200-plus hours MFEW-AL has already logged. Lockheed said it will use the feedback to further refine its technology. Airworthiness certification is anticipated for fiscal 2024.
Lockheed is also involved with two additional Army electronic warfare and signals intelligence systems: the Terrestrial Layer System-Brigade Combat Team and the heftier Terrestrial Layer System-Echelons Above Brigade. The service tapped the company in April to fit Terrestrial Layer System technology onto Stryker combat vehicles, made by General Dynamics, and to begin planning for the same aboard BAE Systems’ Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle. The arrangement was worth nearly $73 million.
Months later, Lockheed was selected to continue development of TLS-EAB in a deal worth nearly $37 million.
The Maryland-based company reaped $63 billion in defense-related revenue in 2022, earning it the No. 1 spot on Defense News’ Top 100 list, which ranks companies worldwide by defense revenue. It secured $64 billion the year prior.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.