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What are the Future RF Technology Trends for Electronic Warfare Systems?

by Asif Anwar | Feb 19, 2014

I was scheduled to be in India this week to speak on “Future RF Technology Trends for Electronic Warfare Systems” at the Third International Conference on Electronic Warfare (Bangalore, India - 17 - 20th February 2014). Unfortunately, the trip had to be cancelled at the last minute so thought it would be useful to outline some of the trends we see for Electronic Warfare (EW) systems in this blog.

There are some common themes that span across EW, radar and communications that are going to underpin future system design. These include the ability to operate across wider bandwidths and at higher frequencies while generating suitable output power in the transmit chain or offering sufficient low noise capabilities in the receiver. Practical requirements related to portability, flexibility and modularity also dictate design and other considerations include cost and reliability. This can all be arguably categorized under the SWaP-CR (Size, Weight and Power – Cost, Reliability) moniker and can be applied across EW, radar and communications system design.

From a component perspective, the choice between using solid state semiconductors and tube-based solutions has also traditionally been dictated by system design requirements.

Solid-state technologies have typically been divided between solutions that are able to operate across a broad range of frequencies and those able to provide high output powers. This has traditionally resulted in solid-state solutions being restricted to specific end applications with technologies chosen based on best fit solutions related to frequency and power output requirements.

TWT-based solutions on the other hand have been able to provide the widest range of capabilities with broadband performance coupled with high output powers, and are generally able to offer higher overall system efficiencies. However these technologies typically require specialized production expertise, while operation requires very high voltage supplies and practical utilization has traditionally been restricted in terms of supporting systems requiring small form factors.

Global spending on EW is forecast to grow to over $9.3 billion through 2022. With troop withdrawals in Iraq (complete) and Afghanistan ongoing, spending on land/ground-based EW platforms and systems will see a sharp decline with the total number of land-based EW (EA) equipment (e.g. jammers) shipments dropping by 46%.

However, the withdrawal from these theatres will not change the general trends towards asymmetric warfare and the use of IEDs will continue to proliferate as they become a common weapon of choice for criminal gangs to insurgencies to terrorists with global reach, leading to market demand recovery for land-based EW systems. Nations will look to leverage the experience gained from Iraq and Afghanistan to allow troops to operate in similar situations moving forwards to counteract the threats of IEDs and RCIEDs. The evolution of platforms will move beyond jammers that simply barrage the environment with signals, but also block friendly communications, to selective and reactive jamming capabilities.

There will also be a move towards dismounted and portable jammers that will allow the development of smaller lightweight personal protection devices. Vehicle mounted and man-portable units will continue to account for close to 100% of this demand. Land-based EW (EA) equipment used for jamming are typically focused on communications frequencies and this is reflected in the segmentation with the emphasis increasingly on providing capabilities that can cover as much of the spectrum as possible. Finally there will be development of multi-mode equipment that merge C-IED and communications jamming.

The move towards wideband capabilities coupled with portability requirements have driven a move towards solid-state solutions with gallium nitride (GaN) technology firmly entrenched as an enabling technology for land-based EW systems; the overall resultant market for semiconductor components will grow at a CAGR of 6.4 percent through 2022. Clients of the ADS service can access the full forecast which details global defense expenditure trends segmented on a regional basis before breaking out the expected spend on electronic warfare incorporating systems, hardware, support and related services with a focus on the land domain.

Electronic warfare systems for naval and airborne platforms are also developing new capabilities based on emerging technologies. The typical emphasis for these systems is on jamming and/or identifying radar and other electronic signals to enable operations in conventional theatres Some examples include the US SEWIP program which is designed to upgrade the AN/SLQ-32 EW system for EW defense against cruise missiles and other radar threats. For airborne platforms, the Next Generation Jammer is intended to underpin an open architecture, software driven approach to EW/EA systems that could be employed across a range of platforms including next generation stealth fighters as well as bombers and other special mission aircraft.

Other component level research includes ongoing efforts to develop mixed signal digital receivers that will enable ultra-fast tuning, high dynamic range and data processing capabilities for both EW systems. For RF-based EW systems, the trends point towards what may be described as a “no channel” concept in which the systems are tasked with looking at the complete frequency range. The potential for phased arrays (already used extensively for radar systems; don’t miss the Market Outlook for Military Radar webinar) to be used in EW applications is also emerging rapidly, driven by a need to operate across wider bandwidths and higher frequencies while adapting to a signal environment continuing to become more complex and congested.

Hopefully, we can reach a future EWCI conference and will be attending the Electronic Warfare Europe 2014 later in May. In the meantime, we’ve posted a complementary webinar replay that looks at the future outlook for land-based electronic warfare systems, in terms of market outlook and technology trends, http://sa-link.cc/ADS140214B.

Clients of the ADS service can access the full forecast;

Land-based EW (EA) and Components Forecast 2012-2022, http://sa-link.cc/xe

Also, don’t miss our regular column in Microwave Journal’s Military Microwaves

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