Visualization tools could be the future of electronic warfare
For that reason, some believe the future of electronic warfare will require the development of visualization tools that conceptualize the non-physical effects in the electromagnetic spectrum.
“We’re seeing and hearing about cases where some folks are turning back and turning away prematurely because they just don’t have confidence in the systems on their jet, for instance,” Travis Slocumb, vice president, electronic warfare systems at Raytheon, told C4ISRNET in an interview. “They don’t understand them adequately and the world of EW is not kinetic. You can’t see what’s happening.”
These complications have led some to pursue depicting the electromagnetic spectrum as a maneuver space akin to the physical domain. However, given the variety of frequencies being used by systems and emitters, the fight to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum and enable operations in the physical world is no longer platform versus platform, solution versus solution, or a situation where a one-size-fits-all tool that can be used.
“There’s no single platform capability that can go create the effect we need and the kind of threat laydown environments that we anticipate seeing,” Slocumb said. “The only way you’re going to be able to get the effects we want is to have some level of collaboration between all the assets in theater, not just a couple of [EA-18G] Growlers.”
For example, the Navy is modernizing its legacy jammer, the ALQ/99, to what is being termed the Next-Gen Jammer (to be mounted on EA-18G Growlers), but the final product will result in not one but three jamming pods covering low, mid and high frequencies.
Rick Diamond, senior manager of electronic warfare business development at Lockheed Martin, told reporters in November that while Growlers could fly with all three pods, typically what will happen is there will be several aircraft flying with different configurations addressing different missions, so as not to load down the aircraft too much.
However, in order to figure out and understand how to execute the maneuver and concepts, command-and-control and real-time decision aides of these different platforms, a visualization tool that can plan and manage will be foundational, Slocumb said.
Raytheon is currently on contract with the Army for a ground-based solution called the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) that provides spectrum management and can even plot courses of action for commanders.
“You have to start with being able to at least set up a plan for the day, you ingest data overnight, you know where the threat assets are, you know the effect you want to make happen, you lay it out, you plan it, then you manage it,” Slocumb said.
“The management part is where it gets interesting … by definition in any operation things are going to change. EW is all about counter-countermeasures and call and response. There are things that are going to happen you didn’t anticipate, how do you manage through that?”
He noted that the real challenge, after the initial planning and resourcing of assets for certain threats, is adapting to an environment that is capable of rapid change minute to minute.
“That’s where the EW community needs to go … everybody I talk to who’s thinking about this problem will tell you the exact same thing,” Slocumb said of a planning and management solution.
Electronic threats from above: “cognitive EW”
Cognitive anti-jamming technology is able to automatically learn and understand the jamming signals, adapting techniques to minimize the jamming effect.
Adversarial capabilities writ large have significantly improved vis-à-vis the United States (hence the necessity of the Defense Department’s so-called third offset strategy). One of these areas causing concern is that of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS).
Operations in EMS have become significantly more complex as adversaries have begun to develop advanced jamming capabilities utilizing software-defined technologies significantly more advanced and reprogrammable than Cold War-era analog systems.
For example, both China and Iran have touted electronic warfare payloads that can create headaches for opposing ground forces below. The Chinese Xianglong Soar Dragon UAS includes large payloads enabling it to conduct electronic warfare (EW) missions. The long endurance of the system, and most large UAS platforms, make them ideal to jam radar below.
“In wartime, the Xianglong’s high altitude jammers would seek to disrupt not only the radars of enemy fighters and missiles, but also jam and spoof communications between enemy bombers, airborne early warning and control aircraft, drones and even datalinks between satellites, ships, land based missile launchers and missiles,” Jeffery Lin and P.W. Singer wrote in Popular Science. “In such [a] role, the EW Xianglong would operate alongside a host of other Chinese EW aircraft, including Y-9 heavy transport jammers, J-16 and JH-7 strike aircraft, in both offensive and defensive operations.”
A September blog post for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, indicates that Iran might have “augmented its UAV fleet with drones capable of jamming enemy communications and disrupting communications between an adversary’s drones and its controllers,” though the article expressed skepticism over the claim’s accuracy — be it realized or aspirational — given that “the Iranian press often exaggerates.”
Several U.S. military officials from various service branches as well as the Pentagon have conceded that electronic warfare has been a neglected capability in the last 15 years given the intense focus on technologically inferior non-state actors in the Middle East and South Asia. This has led to an atrophy in capabilities on which the Pentagon wants to improve.
“The pace of change worldwide suggests that the U.S. needs agile, adaptive, and integrated EW capabilities,” a DoD spokesman told C4ISRNET in an email. “We develop capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) to counter an adversary’s use of electronic attack (EA) with the electronic protection (EP) of U.S. systems and, when necessary, to degrade, neutralize, or destroy enemy combat capability.”
The way in which these capabilities have advanced overtime is the advancement of software capabilities enabling rapid reprogramming of signals. One of the defensive measures derived to counter these advancements is commonly termed “cognitive EW”. While coined as such, it’s essentially applying machine learning to make systems smarter, according to Josh Niedzwiecki, director of sensor processing and exploitation at BAE Systems.
Niedzwiecki told C4ISRNET that when an adversary is trying to jam friendly forces, cognitive anti-jamming technology is able to automatically learn and understand the jamming signals, adapting techniques to minimize the jamming effect.
Describing how complex this environment has become, he said in decades past when forces would deploy to a theater and observe a type of jamming signal, frequency, wavelength or bandwidth, troops would collect evidence and take it to a laboratory for analysis and countermeasure development. Months later, a countermeasure or antidote would be programmed in the system and used in theater. The advances in software and reprogrammable radios make this previous paradigm infeasible, he said, leading to a new shift in leveraging machine learning.
“Adversary radars are rapidly evolving from fixed analog systems to programmable digital variants with agile waveforms and unknown behaviors,” the DoD spokesperson said. “Current airborne electronic warfare (aerial EW) systems must first identify the threat radar to determine the appropriate preprogrammed electronic countermeasure (ECM) technique. This approach loses effectiveness as radars evolve from fixed analog systems to programmable digital variants with agile waveforms and unknown behaviors.”
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Arati Prabhakar, provided a useful vignette for why this technology is important to employ for friendly forces. Aircraft, upon deploying for a particular mission, have a library of profiles to counter an adversary’s attempt to jam its radar. “We need a way today to deal with the changes that are happening on the ground,” she said at the Atlantic Council in May regarding a growing sense of inadequacy versus advanced threats and adversaries.
Aircraft are “getting pinged by radar signals that we’ve never encountered before and it’s just one reflection of how rapidly technology is changing in the world,” she said. “When that happens today, it can be weeks to months to literally years before they’re able to get the kind of protection they need against that new radio signal.”
Prabhakar explained that machine learning and cognitive EW can “scan the radio spectrum in real time to determine what the adversary’s radar is doing, and then right there on the spot create a jamming profile that will protect those aircraft in real time in the battle space even when the world around them is changing.”
In terms of research and development projects, the DoD spokesman identified DARPA’s Adaptive Radar Countermeasures (ARC) program, which aims to enable airborne EW systems to automatically generate effective countermeasures against new, unknown and adaptive radars in real time in the field.
“ARC technology is being designed to isolate unknown radar signals in the presence of other hostile, friendly and neutral signals,” he said. “It then determines the threat posed by that radar, synthesize and transmit countermeasure signals to achieve a desired effect on the threat radar, and assess the effectiveness of countermeasures based on over-the-air observable threat behaviors.”
These technologies will be developed using an open architecture to allow for insertion, modification and removal of software modules with minimal effect on other elements of the system, the spokesman said, noting that algorithms and signal processing software will be suitable both for new EW systems as well as retrofitting existing EW systems.
The spokesman added that “potential adversaries attempt to use EA as an asymmetric counter to our precision guided munitions (PGM). The department applies EP measures to restore PGM effectiveness.”
While Niedzwiecki was hesitant to say that newer, more advanced software-based jamming tools are dual use — in that the tools used to jam can also leverage the same technology to defend against jamming — he said the underlying algorithms are the same.
On the offensive side, the name of the game is stealth. Today’s warfare complex is distinctly different than in previous generations. Deputy Secretary Work described at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in October that the “old adage was … if you can be seen you can be hit, and if you can be hit, you can be killed. The new adage is if you emit, you die.”
Niedzweicki described how a brute-force jamming method — in which an incoming aircraft will jam enemy radar by radiating noise in the environment so the radar does not pick up the aircraft’s signature — is not completely effective because it is loud in that while the radar can’t pick up the aircraft signature, an adversary still knows something is out there.
A quieter approach is better, tailoring a signal the radar is emitting so as to jam the enemy with as little energy as possible and not alert the enemy to your presence.
Items such as jamming pods, including the next-generation jammer that will be outfitted on the EA-18G Growler, described as the most advanced airborne electronic attack platform, serve as loud jamming platforms and serve in environments for which it is safer to operate and thus emit, Niedzweicki said.
The F-35, for its part, also boasts advanced electronic warfare capabilities.
“Our efforts will ‘extend the attack surface’ through the employment of networked unmanned vehicles. Spatial separation of forces complicates an adversary’s defenses while increasing our own reach for coordinated kinetic or non-kinetic (EW or cyber) attack,” the DoD spokesman said.
While the threats of certain platforms such as Chinese and Iranian drones flying high above jamming signals might be far-fetched or difficult to verify, the threat posed by these technologies is real. It is real given the growth in the cognitive EW space, Niedzwiecki said, adding that technology is being pushed in commercial industry for commercial application of machine learning, meaning everyone has access to these technologies — a concern that exists for all domains and technologies expressed by top defense officials.
For the U.S. it is about operationalizing these commercial technologies in a way faster and more efficient than adversaries that is at the core of the third offset strategy.
What is ISR in non-physical domains?
Ask commanders what they want more of, and one of the top responses is more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. ISR has become a critical asset in planning operations and understanding trends within a commander’s battlespace. Non-physical domains and maneuver spaces are becoming more prominent in emerging and future conflicts. But how will commanders be able to “see” in cyberspace or the electromagnetic spectrum?
“I truly believe that our commanders at each echelon need to have the capability to visualize this [cyber] battle space, this domain,” Brig. Gen. Patricia Frost, who leads the Pentagon’s new cyber directorate, said in November at the annual CyberCon conference hosted by C4ISRNET and Federal Times. “We give tremendous intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to commanders at every echelon. They physically can see aspects of their battlespace. This is a battlespace, a domain they need to be able to visualize as well.”
Part of this involves greater insight and electromagnetic battle management, or EMBM.
The Army is developing tools to help commanders gain a greater understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electronic warfare planning and management tool (EWPMT) will provide an initial integrated electronic warfare system (IEWS) capability by coordinating and synchronizing operations across the the command post, from the joint task force level down to the battalion.
The first of four EWPMT capability drops was fielded to Fort Bliss in September. It is “loaded with formulas so [a commander] can say, ‘If I had an adversary system on this hilltop, what would the effective range be based on what we know about the adversary system?’ So he can plot things like that,” Col. Jeffery Church, chief of strategy and policy at the Army’s new cyber directorate, told reporters at the Association of Old Crows annual symposium in Washington on Nov. 29. “Or he can do routes. So if you’re going to go from A to B along that route, he can go in and say, ‘OK, I’ve got this kind of radio, I know this is the elevation and terrain I’m at, will I have comms back with my headquarters?’”
In an exclusive briefing from Raytheon, the industry partner for EWPMT, C4ISRNET was afforded a rare opportunity to see what is possible with current capabilities as well as what is to come with further capability drops.
As part of the demo, C4ISRNET was shown the web browser graphical user interface, or GUI, that electronic warfare officers (EWO) and commanders can visualize the battlespace. This picture — in capability drop 1, which Church told reporters was “a very basic tool, it is not the end-state that capability drop four will bring,” — depicts a variety of items including airborne assets, what they’re jamming (depicted by lines to particular targets or areas on the ground) or areas that might be affected or not from a potential jamming operation. All this is overlaid on real 3-D mapping data of the operating area.
EWPMT allows for frequency deconfliction to avoid instances in Afghanistan where jammers were used to interfere with improvised explosive devices, but prevented friendly forces from communicating with each other.
Capability drop 1, which allows for a shared vision from battalion to division, is where the all the tools are delivered — for jamming, what is being jammed, what is emitting, what the enemy emitter looks like, what it might look like to plan around the enemy’s emitting, and to plan jamming the enemy to allow for physical maneuver in the terrain, said Niraj Srivastava, senior manager for Raytheon’s airborne information operations electronic warfare systems.
Screen shot of the EWPMT graphical user interface depicts assets in the field
and effects of jamming capabilities in a particular area.
Photo Credit: Raytheon
Capability drop 2 is more spectrum management — not just terrain maneuver, but maneuver through the spectrum space. Capability drops 3 and 4 will begin to look at some of the cyber situational awareness capabilities. This will involve a follow-on to EWPMT Raytheon is working on called Cyber and Electromagnetic Battle Management, or CEMBM. If there is a sensor in the field, not just emitters but digital footprints, these later capability drops will bring them in and enable commanders to display its capability and how to exploit it. A situation could arise in which it might be necessary to take a cyber technique against a cyberthreat — not just jamming — and Raytheon is currently working this for the future.
An additional capability in capability drop 3 will be the ability to remotely turn on and manage jammers or electronic assets downrange.
Regarding current capabilities, EWPMT provides insight for commanders planning to move their physical force or a convoy through a particular area. If a commander wants to move through a particular path, the tool enables them to see if they are affecting or jamming the bad guys. A green heat map overlaid on the GUI will signify that friendly forces are jamming that particular threat, while a dotted red line means forces are degrading the adversary’s capability, not totally jamming.
This is all based on knowledge of emitters that exist in the field that come from intelligence and data that is loaded into the system. If a commander is not confident in the known or unknown emitters that exist on a planned path, the tool allows for mapping of blanket jamming to see the effective range friendly jammers have along said path.
From a planning perspective, as EWOs might be setting this up for the commander, they can plan how to move the force based on where they might expect to be jammed. Additionally, when doing the modeling and simulation for a potential operation, the EWPMT interface takes physics into account to calculate the lines of jamming, such as the electromagnetic propagation.
EWPMT also provides the commander with a list of options: If they want to jam against a particular threat, it will give them options to protect against the threat. The commander can be given a number of courses of action with options, which tells them what assets are available to for a given action and provides a score of time to mission, the effectiveness of the asset, if there are any conflicts, fratricide — and each individual score item can be ranked depending on the importance level of a given commander.
“What we don’t have today that I feel we need to grow in capability, which we’re working on with our electronic warfare planning management tool, is how do you just visualize that for a commander,” Frost told a small group of reporters at the AOC symposium. “Because it’s not something that’s tangible. So you want that visualization tool to be in the ops center that says this is a type of energy you’re projecting out — how the enemy would view you — and this is maybe how you can see the energy that’s within that battle space.”
The Defense Advanced Projects Agency is also working a similar endeavor. The RadioMap project seeks to provide real-time awareness of spectrum use across frequencies, with a goal of mapping an accurate picture of spectrum use in complex environments. Similar to EWPMT, this information can be used to help commanders plan and understand this complex space.
This program will ultimately be transitioned to the Marine Corps, with the option period taking place in May, said Mark Tracy, senior program manager at Lockheed Martin.
RadioMap uses Raptor-X, which is a software-based geographic information system framework allowing for customizable plugins. While RadioMap used heat maps of the radio frequency (RF) picture and regions where devices might be emitting, similar to EWMPT, Tracy said the feedback from Marines that tested it said it would be more useful to have a waterfall, which was then placed into the system.
The waterfall is a box at the bottom of the GUI that provides in a bar graph form the various frequencies that are broadcasting in the spectrum in a given surveyed environment. Used as a planning tool, a commander could see where there is limited spectrum and available spectrum to place resources. They could also track friendly forces or say they don’t know what or where a particular signal is coming from — it could be adversarial. The waterfall demonstrates to commanders the actual maneuver space in spectrum. By clicking on a particular signal on the waterfall, one can dig deeper into what that signal might be.
Jason Schuette, DARPA program technical assistant, said the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, wanted to have an RF footprint of the Marines to see how much they emit in battle. RadioMap can help manage that, or allow commanders to be able to tell if a unit is not transmitting.
Electronic warfare: emerging on the battlefield
Deputy Secretary Work described at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in October that the “old adage was … if you can be seen you can be hit, and if you can be hit, you can be killed. The new adage is if you emit, you die.”
“We can get all camouflaged up, we can hide in holes, we can put camouflage nets on, wear ghillie suits, camo up our faces, color our teeth green and you can’t see us at all until I push the button on my radio to talk, to tell my boss, ‘Hey I’m here,’” Church said. “Bam. All that physical camouflage from the eyeball just went away because now you’re broadcasting in the spectrum. So we can show that to commanders and they can start getting an appreciation of how the spectrum is a capability for them and a vulnerability.”
Commonality between the services has been a big focus recently. According to Brig. Gen. Edward Sauley, deputy director of operations for joint electromagnetic spectrum operations and the mobilization assistant to the director of operations for U.S. Strategic Command, one of three critical gaps within electromagnetic spectrum operations is the need for greater collaboration within EMBM.
“The gap, as identified by this joint war fighter, is these programs don’t talk to one another. The services do not go to war — we fight as a joint force under a single command,” Sauley saidat AOC, listing the various EMS planning tools the individual services have. The joint force must have EMBM capability at the operational level able to pass real-time, joint-restrictive frequency lists, he said, adding that it’s essential for command and control across the service lines.
Pietryka, of Raytheon, said the ultimate goal for EWPMT is to be service-agnostic. Raytheon recently announced the successful testing and interoperability of EWPMT with Raptor-X. This now means that the Army can work with or have visibility on Marine Corps jammers given the capability of operating respective management tools on the same baseline.
From a cyber perspective, visualizing planning and understanding the cyber terrain, much like the electromagnetic spectrum, comes down to authorities and echelon, Frost said.
“When you say ‘cyber,’ we say surveillance and reconnaissance,” she said. “So to me — it depends on what echelon you talk about. So if you talk at the tactical edge, you could talk about having a capability that regardless of what type of vehicle or air platform you’re in — how do you map the environment? What types of zeros and ones? What does that environment look like from an IP/RF-based [platform] — who’s operating in that environment?”
Frost added that when she first entered the Army there was a library of signals that were used to identify a certain target, but the environment was significantly less complex and crowded.
“Today, if you look in a battlespace there’s civilian communications because we’re all using this electromagnetic spectrum and everything. Whether it’s a frequency base or an IP base, what is within that environment that a commander needs to be concerned with,” she said. “And that’s where I get in these authorities discussions and I say I would never want to deny a commander the ability to truly see their environment — especially now that we declared it the ‘cyber domain.’ I think they should have some type of capability to see their environment.”
“Cyber intelligence is not cybersecurity, but cyber intelligence analysts must understand offensive and defensive cyber operations to be a successful cyber intelligence analyst,” Air National Guard Col. Arthur Wunder of the 102nd Intelligence Wing Office of Transformation, wrote in February. “Every action in cyberspace has a human behind it, whether it’s driving a specific switch action or initiating an automated denial of service attack; someone, somewhere is initiating and directing that action. Cyber intelligence involves trying to connect the dots and identify all the different touch points between the various layers in cyberspace. Determining the connections and connection points lets the analyst draw a multidimensional picture of where potential cyber vulnerabilities may exist, or identify the actors behind an action.”
There will continue to be discussions surrounding authorities in cyber and cyber intelligence, as what traditionally existed in the shadows of intelligence agencies is now becoming a war fighting discipline.
“In terms of ISR, we continue to have Title 10 and Title 50 conflicts; is this capability electronic warfare or is it [signals intelligence] under Title 50?” Col. Jeff Aldridge, director of the Joint Electronic Warfare Center at STRATCOM, said at the AOC symposium. “We had similar issues with advanced electronic attack and cyber attack. The key difference is cyber has a persistent effect on software, hardware, etc., while electronic warfare does not have a persistent effect – the effect is done once jamming is terminated.”
“If we say it’s a ‘cyber’ capability, depending, it has to go [the Defense Secretary] or higher,” Frost said. “When we go to the National Training Center, we bring congressional members out, we bring folks from [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and we say, ‘let’s have this discussion’ … We’re not saying that we’re going to do something that will cause World War III. We’re saying we want to give capabilities that I truly believe a commander needs to have to see their environment.”
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