Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Electronic warfare just got a lot more interesting . . .

Electronic warfare was once something very important to me - as in, first, it was my job, and second, if I did my job well, I could prevent roaming MiGs from getting a fix on where I was and lobbing a few Soviet-made high-explosive calling-cards in my general direction. For some reason, this seemed like a high-value objective to me at the time . . . (Yes, I know, when one's young, one doesn't necessarily think strategically!)

Anyhoo, I've kept up with the field as an interested observer since then; so an announcement from Raytheon the other day caught my attention, and my imagination. Ares reports:

Raytheon ... is taking a close look at the development of a warhead that would fit into their existing lineup of missiles that ranges from the miniature air-launched decoy (the MALD-V with its generic 51 lb. payload) to the ship-based Standard missile series. The project will be announced June 21 at the Paris Air Show.

The effort is tied to the company’s purchase of Ktech, a company with specialties in airborne electronic warfare, directed energy and pulsed power, says Mike Booen, Raytheon’s vice president for advanced security and directed energy systems. Booen’s organization has already developed and demonstrated a high power microwave (HPM) system that can protect airports and the airliners using them from man-portable air defense (Manpad) missiles.

Operationally, these directed energy systems are planned to solve three problems facing the U.S. military:

  • how to avoid inflicting needless casualties
  • how to judge the effects of weapons that do not produce explosive or impact damage, and
  • how to overcome anti-access and denied airspace defenses that are already being fielded around the world.

Applications include medium-range ballistic missiles targeted against ships, anti-satellite weapons, cyberattack and information attack.

. . .

Raytheon officials will not discuss details of Ktech’s expertise, but it is known to include vulnerability assessment of enemy electronic systems, high power applications, advanced signals generation, antennas, antenna control, frequency management and deployed telemetry.

These capabilities are all needed for the development of airborne weapon systems that can analyze targets and then tailor a beam of radio frequency or high power microwaves to upset or even electronically destroy systems dependent on electronics. The beam of directed energy can be varied in width, energy output, modulation and frequency to create precise effects. Such systems also will have feedback monitoring to analyse the impact of these unseen, non-kinetic weapon.

Airframes initially expected to carry Raytheon’s new non-kinetic warheads (which inflict neither impact or explosive damage) are the Tomahawk cruise missile, a weapon that is the size and shape of a HARM high-speed, anti-radiation missile and MALD-V. The last is newly redesigned for a non-specific 51-lb.warhead and sized for carriage even by light aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.

All these air-to-ground missile would be designed for use against electronic and “no-collateral damage” targets such as sophisticated command and control, communications, weapons storage and intelligence-gathering facilities that may be located in heavily populated areas. They also would be a key element in defeating anti-access and denial of entry capabilities – all based on electronic defenses – being developed by many nations including China.

Other missions for non-kinetic warhead, air-to-air missiles could be the destruction of sensors and communications on enemy combat, surveillance and intelligence gathering aircraft.

There's more at the link.

This is intriguing. Imagine just a few of the possibilities such weapons could open up to attackers:

  • A strike against a naval target could send in a couple of directed-energy weapons to disable the target's defenses (radar, missile launchers - in fact, all electronics on board the target vessel), followed by missiles with high-explosive warheads to sink it (if desired - it might be sufficient to disable it, so that it can't interfere with whatever you plan to do next).
  • One could disable enemy fighter aircraft by targeting them with missiles containing such directed-energy warheads, to disable their onboard radars and missiles. More such weapons could target airborne warning and control aircraft, denying the enemy radar coverage of the battle area. That would make their aircraft sitting ducks for your own, or - if you don't have any dedicated air superiority fighters available - your strike aircraft could bomb their targets, getting in and out while enemy fighters are still trying to figure out what went wrong with their systems.
  • If an enemy puts high-value targets like ground-to-air missile systems into residential areas, so that you can't target them without risking unacceptably high civilian casualties (as Saddam Hussein did in Iraq in the First and Second Gulf Wars), a directed-energy weapon like this would disable their radars, and the electronics of their missiles, whilst minimizing physical damage (the missile carrying the energy warhead could be directed to crash in an open area, or away from targets you don't want to hit).
  • If an enemy possesses advanced radar systems (which we'll examine in a forthcoming Weekend Wings article) that might detect even stealthy aircraft like the US F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II, a shower of directed-energy weapons might degrade those radar systems sufficiently to allow the aircraft to penetrate the area they defend.

This will bear watching - not least because if the USA is working on such weapons, you can bet your boots that other nations (coughChinacough) are doing the same . . .



Crucis said...

Hmmm, I wonder if the "directed energy" is some form of MASER? That would be interesting.

Dave H said...

Those would make sweet decoys too. Punch a dozen holes in somebody's early warning line, but only use half of them to invade.