Military & Aerospace

Airborne Electronic Warfare: Silent Force Multiplier
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Issue Vol. 31.4 Oct-Dec 2016 | Date : 14 Feb , 2017

Airborne EW Action IAF

The IAF formed its first dedicated EW Squadron equipping No 35 Squadron with Canberras and MiG-21 aircraft with stand-off and escort jammers respectively. Jaguars were the next to get the ‘Dawn’ podded jammer. With the Mirage-2000 came the first dedicated EW suite that included the Thales Serval internal RWR, internal ABD-2000 ASPJ, Remora podded ASPJ, Caiman Escort jammer and the Syrel ELINT pod. SU-30 MKI too has a comprehensive EW suite that includes OLS-30 laser-optical IRST with day-and-night FLIR capability which enables engagement of the target even when partly obscured by clouds or countermeasures; the Tarang RWR developed by DRDO and the Elta EL/M-8222 self-protection jammer developed by Israel Aircraft Industries with an ESM receiver integrated into the pod.

DAS has demonstrated the ability to detect and track ballistic missiles to ranges exceeding 1,300 kilometres…

India’s DRDO labs are working on a host of EW Systems for application on airborne, space-based and surface systems. Most indigenous EW systems developed by DRDO included Dawn, Tempest, Tarang, CMDS, Samyukta, COIN for various fighter aircraft such as MIG 21, MIG 23, MIG 27 Jaguar, Su-30, Sea Harrier and LCA had limited success. Bharat Electricals Limited (BEL) produces most indigenous EW systems. MiG-29 and Su-30 MKI need upgrade of their EW suite. EW suite of Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Light Attack Helicopter (LAH) are still evolving. DRDO’s Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) EW suite completed first flight on Tejas-PV1 LCA early 2015.

The LCA will be fitted with unified radar warning and jamming system. The flight testing will take some time for the system to become operational. India’s Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv is equipped with a Swedish Saab EW suite. The Rafale will bring new EW technologies. It features an integrated system named SPECTRA developed jointly between Thales and MBDA, which protects the aircraft against airborne and ground threats. SPECTRA would allow Rafale to become independent of SEAD platforms. The effective radiated power (ERP) of the EL/M-2080 Green Pine radar, with India, makes it a possible candidate for conversion into a directed-energy weapon, by focusing pulses of radar energy on target missiles.

Indigenous EW Projects

DRDO’s Brazilian Embraer EMB-145 aircraft was chosen as the AEW&C platform and three aircraft purchased for $210 million. The first aircraft arrived on August 16, 2012. The IAF needs 24 such platforms. The aircraft will have Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) primary radar. The system will also have Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Communications Support Measures (CSM) ability. There will be datalinks to network with the fighters, and ground-based control systems. Aircraft’s Self Protection Suite will have a passive Missile Approach Warning System, a Radar Warning Receiver and countermeasures dispensers. The DRDO and the Bengaluru-based Centre for Air Borne Systems (CABS) have also launched a new project to build larger and more capable AWACS. Initially, two AWACS aircraft will be developed, with four more to follow at a later stage. Clearances for the project were received from the government in January 2013.

There is a high probability that terrorist and criminal groups may possess Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs)…

In 2014, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) finally approved `1,100 crore for the IAF’s long awaited nine ‘Special Mission’ aircraft. These multi-mission aircraft with Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), aerial survey, target towing, and Communication Jamming (COMJAM) militarised business jets would replace the retired Canberra and Avro aircraft. This acquisition would meet airborne special-mission requirements currently serviced by a small fleet of Gulfstream III SRA ELINT jets operated by the country’s external intelligence agency, R&AW. Embraer and IAI may be the main contenders. Embraer would pitch for advantage of commonality with DRDO AEW&C and IAI may offer more affordable Gulfstream G200/280 which it manufactures under license in Israel. US Hawker Beechcraft with Raytheon L-3 communications and Lockheed Martin or Boeing systems could also be in the race. The IAF is also looking for systems that merge cyber and EW techniques akin to US next generation jammer. Israeli Elbit Systems EW and SIGINT Company ‘Elisra’which provides comprehensive solutions in the electromagnetic spectrum domain is working closely with BEL and Private sector Samtel Group for aircraft EW systems. All aircraft have to be capable of operating from airfields located up to an altitude of 10,000 ft such as Leh and Thoise.

India’s Indigenous Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) developed by DRDO’s Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is reportedly progressing well and may be flight tested by early 2017 on a modified Dornier Do-228. LRDE’s SAR is planned to be integrated with India’s Rustom-2 which is Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs at later stages. LRDE is also planning to develop a derivate of this radar for operations from manned reconnaissance aircraft including a maritime variant. L&T CASSIDIAN Ltd is working on Tactical Radar for Ground Surveillance (TRGS) system that utilises AESA technology for ground surveillance missions.

Samyukta is an ambitious mobile integrated EW system developed jointly by DRDO, BEL, ECIL and Corps of Signals of the Indian Army that includes ELINT, COMINT and electronic attack. The Indian tri-services Defence Communication Network (DCN) would give ‘jointness’ to connectivity and will be the backbone of the proposed joint commands for cyber warfare, Special Operations and space operations.

China is developing anti-laser defences because protection against them is considered far cheaper than creating competing laser weapons…

EW Against Militants

There is a high probability that terrorist and criminal groups may possess Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs) and other IR/electro-optical systems. The employment of flares and IR jammers may become an operational requirement to counter these threats during peacetime missions even on friendly soil. EM weapons can also be used against militants. Active Denial systems use a millimetre wave source that heats the water in the target’s skin and thus causes incapacitating pain is good for riot-control duty. Though intended to cause severe pain, it leaves no lasting damage. IED and mobile link jammers are already being used extensively. In 2015, Lockheed Martin reported a demonstration of the ATHENA Laser Weapons System that disabled the engine of a truck from a distance of one mile.

World EW Market

The World EW market was valued at $17.72 billion in 2014 and is expected to grow to $24.25 billion by 2020. The emerging nations such as India, Japan, China, Israel and Saudi Arabia among others are expected to have high growth potential in EW. $4.0 billion EW business awaits takers in India. The key market players includes Raytheon (US), Alliant Techsystems Inc. (US), BAE Systems (UK), Rockwell Collins (US), IAI Elta (Israel) and L-3 communications (US), General Dynamics Corporation (US), SAAB (Sweden), Thales (France) and Teledyne Defence Ltd (UK). Increasing use of EW systems in unmanned vehicles, use of EW in commercial aviation are some of the major opportunities accelerating the growth of EW market. China is developing anti-laser defences because protection against them is considered far cheaper than creating competing laser weapons themselves.

The Future

An advanced digital EW architecture for the next-generation support jammer called ICAP-3 is becoming operational in USA. Initially deployed on EA-6B Prowlers it is now transiting to more modern aircraft. The US House of Representatives have established an Electronic Warfare Working Group conceived to assure greater congressional understanding and oversight of electronic-warfare systems and missions. For the US to maintain its military edge, it needs to control the electromagnetic spectrum. Integrating the current forest of antennas onboard a ship into a single shared multi-function, multi-beam aperture array covering a wide range of frequencies is under evolution. Improvement in microprocessors and solid state gallium nitride amplifiers are on the cards. Photonics for very wide bandwidth and high dynamic range are next.

With India already becoming a critical peg in the Asia-Pacific region, access to more technologies would be available…

General Atomics Predator class UAVs may be used for Electronic Attack or Support in the future. The Reaper using the Northrop Grumman’s new Pandora EW system could advance its existing ISR role to a broader spectrum of EW missions. USAF announcement in 2014 a requirement for the Advanced Novel Spectrum Warfare Environment Research (ANSWER) programme to develop advanced computing, signals processing, anti-tamper and software protection technologies, GPS alternatives, visual and laser-based navigation and electro-optics countermeasures. The move to use F-35 as the new EW platform may be difficult to justify as an expense vis-à-vis the Growler. The future will see unmanned systems doing more EW, whether that is a single platform or a flock of UAVs doing jamming.

Modern Directed-Energy Weapons (DEW) systems emit highly focused energy to damage the target. DEW include anti-personnel weapons, attacking missile defence system and disabling lightly armoured vehicles such as cars, drones, watercraft and electronic devices such as mobile phones. Energy used could be EM radiation covering radio frequencies, microwave, lasers or masers. Particle-beam weapons and sonic weapons are also used. Some of these systems offer advantages of pin-point accuracy at the speed of light. They are discreet and can travel very long distances without effect of gravity or atmospherics. Energy can be targeted simultaneously at multiple targets from the same mother source. USA is researching DEW to counter threats posed by missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles. Some these are expected to mature by mid-2020s.

Early August 2016, it was reported that Russian laser weapons have started entering service. The US Navy is already deploying laser weapons aboard ships and combat aircraft will be the next receiving them. Electronic warfare is intimately tied to advances in technology. With the possible drawdown in Afghanistan and the planned Asia-Pacific Pivot, EW will enter the new contested region. USA and allied forces would face near-peer, anti-access or area denial environment and a greater emphasis on the air-sea battle. With India already becoming a critical peg in the Asia-Pacific region, access to more technologies would be available. The EW Domain is all set for greater action.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Anil Chopra

Air Marshal Anil Chopra, commanded a Mirage Squadron, two operational air bases and the IAF’s Flight Test Centre ASTE

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