Electronic warfare challenges in a multi-domain battle
The diversity of signals within the electromagnetic spectrum, the re-allocation of signals, and sharing between the commercial and military world has presented a myriad of technological hurdles for engineers to overcome. Anthony Nigara, Director of the Electronic Warfare Mission Solutions sector at Harris Corp. discusses these challenges as well as potential solutions to give warfighters a strategic edge in a multi-domain battle.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Please provide a brief description of your responsibilities at Harris and your group’s role within the company?
NIGARA: My primary responsibilities as the Business Area Director are day-to-day execution of the programs within the business and my portfolio, as well as the company’s long-term strategic plan for the electronic warfare (EW) market. I also manage technology investment planning as well as development of new pursuits and capabilities that Harris can bring to the warfighter.
MIL-EMBEDDED: What factors drive signal-processing requirements in military electronic warfare applications?
NIGARA: There are a multiple factors. The first is just the absolute rate at which the density in signals in the environment is increasing. More and more every day there are new signals – whether commercial or military – that are clogging up the spectrum that we have to operate within. It’s getting increasingly more difficult to find even pockets of the spectrum that used to be dedicated for military-use only, but now are being either re-allocated or in some cases actually sold off to commercial applications, so there is no empty space within the spectrum. That’s one of the challenges that we face as an industry.
Another factor is just the rate at which technology is advancing. Many of these capabilities, that were limited in their applicability to only military-type applications, are becoming more and more commercially available. Another challenge – that has always been the case for EW and goes along with the electromagnetic spectrum density problems – is that for EW the timeliness of our operations within the spectrum is absolutely critical. One of the things that drive signal processing to be on the bleeding edge is the fact that nearly all our systems have to operate in real time. They have to make decisions autonomously with very little to no delay. These reduced latency demands force system designs to embrace state of the art signal processing to rapidly analyze the environment and decide what to do.
MIL-EMBEDDED: What types of requirements are driving military electronic warfare signal processing applications?
NIGARA: The requirements regarding the signals and signal-types that we have to handle continuously evolve and we never see anything removed from this list. It’s always growing. You always have to handle all of the legacy, plus any new technology, which tends to put stress on system designs because you have to be constantly backwards compatible with every possible type of signal. As the spectrum broadens, the points at where it starts, where it ends, and which area we need to operate in are constantly being challenged.
As the electromagnetic spectrum becomes more and more densely populated with signals, this tends to stress not only the signal processing, but also data management. In other words, what do you do with all that information? There are storage limitations as well, so where do you keep this information? Do you keep it onboard the platform or within the system, or do you ship it somewhere else via communication links? It’s stressing many pieces not just the EW systems.
MIL-EMBEDDED: Electronic warfare and unmanned systems are playing a role in a multi-domain platform, how is Harris’ technology addressing the challenges of size, weight, and power (SWaP) in this arena?
NIGARA: It’s really a paradigm shift for us and for the industry because we were able to take more of our traditionally sized products and really shrink them down into a full system that fits in the palm of your hand. For unmanned aerial systems (UASs), Harris offers its Disrupter SRX product line, which is a small form factor EW solution.
MIL-EMBEDDED: How has software-defined technology solving the current challenges?
NIGARA: Software-defined enables us to close the gap between changes in what the adversary is doing within the spectrum and our reaction to those changes. That’s where software-defined signal processing, software-defined electronic warfare systems come into play because we can do upgrades in near real-time. This enables us to re-deploy capabilities to existing hardware that’s already out in the fleet and in operational use rapidly and efficiently.
At Harris we tend to structure our EW systems in a modular way so that from hardware, software, and a system perspective we can compartmentalize various functions. For example, we can upgrade one algorithm without affecting the rest of the system. This approach enables us to rapidly deploy that change to the field..
MIL-EMBEDDED: Are there any challenges remaining when using software-defined technology?
NIGARA: It’s a constantly evolving field with challenges still emerging within the electromagnetic spectrum. At some point no matter how forward-looking you try to be at some point you’re going to hit the limits of the physical hardware – whether it’s the processing or the memory or something in a deployed system. By continuing to upgrade and make every possible enhancement to a given system, we extend that lifetime as long as absolutely possible. That said, but will still come a time when you have to swap out a processor or other component.
The key to that staying modular and we bring that through all of our product lines such as the Disruptor, which has a design that separates out the RF sensor processing from the digital sub-system enabling users to upgrade the digital portion without replacing the entire system. Even from a hardware perspective it’s modular in design. The end goal is to be able to easily upgrade the hardware without replacing the entire system.