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Air Force EW - where have all the programs gone?

It's very easy in these days of austere defense budgets to look backward rather than forward, to look at what was rather than what is or what could be. For the Air Force, it seems to the veteran Crow that the glory days of EW are behind it. The EF-111As and F-4Gs that served so admirably in Desert Storm have been retired. Some feel that their replacements mark a step backward in capability. Others question of whether the Air Force has stuck its head in the sand, joining any joint EW program so long as it does not have to manage it - that is, if it had the organizational readiness to take on such a program.

Program cuts and cancellations such as the F-15 Precision Direction Finder and EF-111A System Improvement Program (and the EF-111A itself) have been well covered in the pages of JED over the past few years. They are no longer news and bemoaning their loss is not going to bring them back. Yet they represent the backward step that the Air Force's EW capability has taken during the '90s.

Once the undisputed leader in its self-protection and support EW programs, the budget cuts of the 90's have left the Air Force to piggyback other services' programs rather than develop its own systems. From its decision to use the Navy's EA-6Bs to the AAR-57 Common Missile Warning and the Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures programs, the Air Force has turned away from managing today's major EW programs. Some may say the Air Force is merely answering the call of jointness, but is it hiding beneath this moniker to shy away from EW research and development?

In fairness to the Air Force leadership, said one industry source, there are few EW programs (including those under development today) that have met their original cost, schedule and performance objectives. And, to be sure, there are a number of smaller efforts still under way such as the DARPA-managed Miniature Air Launched Decoy and the Advanced Strategic Tactical Expendables program. But the Air Force's decision to cut its EW development down to a trickle over the past few years has left its leadership scrambling to find out how far it has slipped.


Stemming from the Air Force's confusion over Iraqi threat upgrades last year, as well as its pared down inventory of EW support assets, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Michael Ryan commissioned an EW Operational Shortfalls Study (EWOSS) to get a handle on the status of Air Force EW capabilities and readiness (see "USAF to Identify EW Shortfalls," JED, May 1998, p. 28). Conducted by Col Charles Allan, commander, 68th Electronic Combat Group, 57th Wing (Eglin AFB, FL), the study tackled self-protection issues as well as support EW deficiencies. Colonel Allan said the study has been completed and its findings briefed to senior staff at the Air Combat Command (ACC) and the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations. They will also be presented this month in a Secret/US-Only session at the AOC Kittyhawk Week at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH.

Although details of the EWOSS findings are classified, Colonel Allan did discuss some of the broader issues covered in the study. "The major thing that came out of the EWOSS," he said, "is that there were lots of issues dealing with the process that have changed since we used to have very centralized electronic warfare organizations." For example, last year's U-2 operations over Iraq highlighted the need for better coordination of threat updates to EW systems. Allan said such problems arise because EW deficiencies frequently get lost in the noise of more basic problems facing commanders, such as engine availability and spare parts for training. As a result, screening for EW deficiencies usually doesn't occur until there is a crisis, as in last year's saber rattling over chemical-weapons inspections in Iraq.

One of the recommendations of the study calls for the Air Force to institute a system of distributed databases from various intelligence agencies to provide threat laydowns. The data will be combined with the status of various EW systems in the inventory, explained Colonel Allan, so that anyone from the ACC commander to an expeditionary wing commander can, on a daily basis, query what the threats are in a particular theater, how they interact with particular defensive suites and what deficiencies exist - all this, several months before the wing deploys. Equally important, the database will also designate what office is responsible for maintaining and updating the EW system's threat library. "Because without that type of accountability," Colonel Allan explained, "those types of problems can get put on the shelf or they can be forgotten or they don't pop up until there's a crisis and somebody asks, 'what does our capability look like?' And by that time it's too late, because if there's a materiel solution that you have to go through, even if it's just software, even if it's just figuring out a jamming technique, it may take 2-3 months to fix that problem."

The Air Force's deputy for Information Warfare, Director of Intelligence, Surveillance and reconnaissance, is heading a new EW Integrated Product Team (IPT), in part to implement the recommendations of the EWOSS. According to Colonel Allan, the IPT has held its first few meetings and has begun to realize some of the study's recommendations.


Last year, the Air Force completed its reorganization of its various laboratories such as Wright Lab, Rome Lab and Phillips Lab into a single entity - the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Under the new scheme, most of the responsibilities have not changed. The Sensors Directorate (Wright-Patterson AFB, OH) is responsible for developing the sensors and countermeasures systems used in EW and signals intelligence (SIGINT) systems. The Information Directorate (Rome, NY) carries out the command, control, communications and intelligence ([C.sup.3]I)-related programs that were the focus of Rome Lab. And the Directed Energy Directorate (Kirtland AFB, NM) continues its work on advanced laser and microwave weapons.


Over the past few years, the Sensors Directorate has reorganized from systems-oriented divisions, such as radar and EW, into technology branches specializing in areas such as RF and electro-optics.

Many of the EW programs underway at the directorate have been well covered in the pages of JED over the past few years. Among these is NextGen, a Litton Amecom effort to design and build a new broadband digital receiver (see "Development to Begin on New AF Digital Receiver," JED, October 1997, p. 31). The new receiver design uses faster analog-to-digital converters located close to the unit's front end and will be used for electronic support measures, electronic intelligence (ELINT) and emitter targeting applications. Although initial installations are slated for wide-body aircraft, the ultimate goal of the three-year program is to produce a system that is 50-70% smaller than existing receivers for tactical aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

Georgia Tech Research Institute and Litton ATD have been developing the Precision Location and Identification (PLAID) system for the directorate. While not a receiver, the PLAID system will be integrated with an aircraft's radar warning receiver - any type of radar warning receiver - and provide accurate threat identification, location and ranging information. The first platforms to receive PLAID will be Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard F-16s fitted with Litton ATD ALR-69s. Next year, the Air Force is planning to integrate PLAID with ALR-69s installed on Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) C-130's to improve their situational awareness for detection avoidance.

PLAID is not the only situation awareness enhancement underway in the Air Force. Under its Expanded Situation Awareness Insertion (ESAI) program, tactical aircraft will be able to correlate and fuse various sensor inputs to determine the optimal EW response against a threat in a given scenario. In FY01, the Air Force will transition the ESAI program from a purely defensive role into an offensive one. For this role, the directorate is planning to develop an integrated airborne supercomputing architecture that will combine the defensive capability with real-time imagery and targeting.

With ESAI meeting the needs of tactical aircraft in AFSOC and ACC, the directorate has initiated a situation awareness program tailored to meet the specific needs of the Air Force intelligence community. For this effort, dubbed Situation Awareness from Enhanced Threat Information (SAFETI), the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB plans to leverage the respective talents of its E-8 Joint Surface Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) and RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft. The goal of SAFETI is to demonstrate real-time fusion of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and SIGINT data in FY00. This combined SAR/SIGINT picture will provide a number of enhanced intelligence products for precision targeting and target identification. For commanders, this means obtaining a better picture of the air battle. For pilots, the information will go into pre-mission planning and en-route replanning to depict the safest ingress route to a target or real-time retargeting for lethal SEAD missions.

On the support EW side, the Air Force has taken a step forward in the lethal SEAD mission area with its Advanced Tactical Targeting Technology (A[T.sup.3]) program. Funded at a modest (compared with previous lethal SEAD programs) $22.7 million through FY02, A[T.sup.3] seeks to make use of multiship emitter targeting rather than the traditional single-aircraft approach of the F-4G. The goal of this program is straightforward yet ambitious. By FY02, the Air Force wants a system capable of targeting threat radars at stand-off ranges of 50 nmi or greater, accurate to 50 m (good enough to employ GPS-guided munitions) and capable of providing a targeting solution in 10 sec. for reactive SEAD missions (see "The A to Z of Lethal SEAD," JED, July 1998, p. 35, for more).


In the RF countermeasures arena, the Air Force has focused much of its attention around towed repeater decoys such as Raytheon's ALE-50 and fiber-optic towed decoys such as the ALE-55, under development by Sanders for the IDECM program. With the advent of man-in-the-loop command-guided missiles and home-on-jam seeker modes, development of on-board RF jammers continues, but it has taken a back seat to decoys for the time being. However, the Air Force is about to initiate a new program to protect its large aircraft - C-130s, B-52s, C-17s and C-5s - from IR-guided missiles. Appropriately, this effort is named the Large-Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) program, and it will supply the Air Mobility Command (AMC), ACC and AFSOC with an integrated missile warning and DIRCM system capable of meeting the unique requirements of large aircraft.

During the Vietnam War, C-130 air crews defeated IR-guided threats using a man-in-the-loop IR countermeasures technique - literally. This method called for the air crew to open the ramp door of the C-130, where a crew member armed with a flare pistol scanned the ground behind the aircraft for SAMs. Today, IR threats are more sophisticated. Yet even during the early stages of the Bosnian conflict, C-130s still used crew members as missile warning sensors - even going so far as to cut special windows in the fuselage for them to scan for SAM launches. based on the Bosnian experience and the debut of first-generation DIRCM systems, large aircraft are moving into the modern era.

According to requirements officials at AMC Headquarters (Scott AFB, IL), AFSOC, ACC and AMC have taken the first step in the LAIRCM program by signing an operational requirements document (ORD), which was validated last month. Although specific systems have not been selected yet, the program will capitalize on technologies from the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures and Directional Infrared Countermeasures programs.

The ORD that LAIRCM must meet calls for more than a simple integration of existing warning and countermeasures systems. Because current-generation IR threats use very narrow fields of view, the performance of missile warning and the placement of expendable dispensers and jammers can be a challenge, explained AMC requirements officials. For a small fighter or attack helicopter, the performance of a missile warner and a countermeasures system is relatively simple, because the seeker can fit the entire aircraft within its field of view. The missile warner's declaration time (the time spent tracking the missile) is based solely on the countermeasure's ability to lure the threat from the target aircraft. With its small heat source contained entirely within the seeker's field of view, that time is relatively short. For large, multi-engine aircraft, this is not so. The primary heat signature of large aircraft spreads across 4-8 engines that are separated by 60-100 feet - well outside an IR seeker's field of view. Thus the missile warner must track a threat that can home on multiple engines and monitor each engagement for a longer period to ensure full jamming effectiveness - i.e., make sure the threat does not home on one engine, get jammed for a short period and then acquire another engine.

Another issue program officials must tackle is the greater IR signature of large aircraft. Because of this, IR-guided SAMs can detect and engage large aircraft at much longer distances than smaller aircraft. The solution, according to the AMC officials, calls for more sensitive missile warning systems. On the countermeasures side, the large IR signature means that a laser (rather than a lamp) is needed to provide an adequate jamming-to-signal ratio or, preferably, to physically damage the seeker.

While a request for proposals is forthcoming, Northrop Grumman and Sanders are expected to face off against each other for rights to develop the next-generation missile warning/DIRCM system. Program officials at Wright-Patterson are expected to generate an Analysis Of Alternatives document to determine the performance and cost trade-offs of various approaches. AMC officials said that an ultraviolet warner such as the Northrop Grumman AAR-54 or Sanders AAR-57 may provide a lower cost alternative, but a multi-spectral IR warner may be needed to meet large-aircraft requirements. Although a specific program schedule will not be developed until specific LAIRCM solutions are identified, program officials are planning live-fire tests for FY99 with flight tests following in FY00-01.


Although the Sensors Directorate is well known for its role in developing SIGINT platforms such as the RC-135 Rivet Joint and the Joint SIGINT Avionics Family, equally important work is being done at the AFRL's Information Directorate to make use of the intelligence product. The directorate conducts research and development for [C.sup.3]I platforms as the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and E-3 AWACS, transitioning many of its programs to the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, MA.

The Information Directorate also collaborates with other agencies, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) when the work applies to Air Force [C.sup.3]I platforms. One effort, known as the Dynamic Database (DDB) program, is under way, with the directorate's Information and Intelligence Exploitation Division (IIED) serving as the technical agent to DARPA. The IIED's ELINT Development Facility has already performed some work in the area of dynamic databases for SIGINT applications, making it a likely agent for the DDB program.

Managed under eight associated contracts, the DDB program is developing a database that will continuously produce an accurate estimate of the battlefield situation by tracking significant changes such as SAM movement or detecting wartime emitter modes from threats. For SEAD applications, this will be a major advantage in tracking mobile SAMs at all times, even when they are not emitting.

As part of this effort, the IIED recently awarded an 18-month $2.6 million contract to Raytheon Systems Co., E-Systems Div., (Greenville, Tx) to develop the DDB - SIGINT. Program officials said that what makes this effort different from other SIGINT database programs is its focus on fusion and change detection. Its goal is not only to fuse communications intelligence (COMINT) and ELINT data, but to coordinate SIGINT hits with moving target indicator (MTI) tracks for better threat identification and tracking. This information can then be combined with electro-optic, IR and SAR for viewing by a battlefield commander via a Dynamic Situation Modeler. But changes do not always manifest themselves in equipment movement. The DDB-SIGINT will also automatically indicate new or wartime emitter modes, something that may be difficult to identify quickly in a dense signal environment.

Another feature of the DDB-SIGINT, explained program officials, is its ability to establish "normalcy." The concept of normalcy means that the database will establish an adversary's baseline pattern of behavior based on COMINT and ELINT collection over a period of time. The database can then automatically alert a commander to changes in terms of movement, radar and communications activity or modes of operation. This can signify the beginning of an attack and provide the commander time to concentrate intelligence resources on areas that show the greatest activity or change from "normal" operations.


While the Sensors and Information Directorates are taking a new approach to classic EW and SIGINT challenges, the Directed Energy Directorate is tapping new technology to take EW out of the jamming business and into the physical destruction business. Focusing on two areas - high-power microwaves (HPMs) and high-energy lasers (HELs) - the directed energy folks are developing hardware that provides a hard-kill solution. Programs such as HPM for SEAD and the HEL-powered Airborne Laser (ABL) show great promise for damaging, rather than jamming, vulnerable receivers and sensors used to cue threat systems and guide their missiles.

As promising as they may be, these programs are relatively new and have yet to show themselves on the battlefield. This, coupled with the scarce research and development dollars in Air Force procurement has led the AFRL to produce a directed energy study headed by retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Ronald Fogelman.

Kicked off earlier this summer, the study is titled Directed Energy Applications for Tactical Airborne Combat, or DE ATAC. The study has two primary objectives. The first is to identify promising applications for directed energy weapons (DEWs) that can be used in tactical roles. In addition to the HPM SEAD Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration, the Air Force may also leverage theater missile defense (TMD) platforms such as the ABL for lethal SEAD applications.

A second objective is to identify what technology areas the Air Force must invest in to realize these weapons under the constraints of the Air Force budget.

Study Leader Bill Thompson of the Directed Energy Directorate said in a release that the study will be looking at a range of power levels for DEWs, giving commanders the option of jamming or destruction. The study will also consider a range of platforms from the ABL's Boeing 747 airframe to unmanned aerial vehicles.

The study will be conducted in two phases. The first is a concept definition phase, under which a range of potential applications (SEAD, TMD, etc.), requirements and constraints (atmospheric effects on lasers, HPM fratricide, etc.) will be considered. Technical feasibility, suitable applications, platform impact, mission priority and cost effectiveness issues will be considered. The second phase will define technology concepts to meet the requirements and constraints of each application. The first phase is expected to conclude this month, and the final report due in February 1999.


The jury is still out as to whether the Air Force leadership has the priorities or the budget to rebuild the EW capability it had during Desert Storm. Without a doubt, the face of EW is changing across the Department of Defense. The questions Crows must ask is whether the Air Force is going to be a participant or an observer.
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Title Annotation:electronic warfare; Air Force Profile
Author:Knowles, John
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 1998
Previous Article:European EW: showing the march of AN/dominance.
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