Radar/electronic warfare funding up, but AI takes first dibs

Department of Defense (DoD) funding is crucial to continue advancements in radar and electronic warfare (EW) systems.

“DoD budgets are always difficult to characterize directly,” says Chris Rappa, product line director for Radio Frequency, Electronic Warfare and Advanced Electronics within BAE Systems FAST Labs [Arlington, Virginia], “there are few line items that directly point to EW and radar, but the industry analysts will generally say that the radar and EW markets are increasing.”

In addition, “while there are some commercial synergies, there is no comparable market expansion for EW capabilities,” Rappa adds. “EW remains a defense focused activity and usually trends along with new platform development or mid-life upgrades. With new DoD EW leadership, we see an increase in the advocacy for EW and expect market demand to increase.”

The commercial market is definitely having an effect in DoD programs by enabling radar technologies widely used and needed in the military. “The commercial demand for small form factor radar capabilities has resulted in sizable radar market expansion, pushed forward by the demand for autonomous vehicles” Rappa says.

The radar and EW market needs to expand to meet DoD warfare readiness standards. Unfortunately, “The DoD has underinvested in EW for many years and is now playing catch-up. We’re seeing new funding and upward trending for many DoD programs,” says Peter Thompson, vice president, Product Management, at Abaco Systems [Huntsville, Alabama].

This catch up game means increased efforts in open standards, research and development (R&D), and funding programs to meet emerging threats. Therefore, “increased R&D spending is allocated for OTH (over-the-horizon) radars, cogniive radars, and new anti-jamming technologies,” says Rodger Hosking, vice president and cofounder at Pentek [Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.]

Funding is driven by outside factors. In particular, “Funding for both radar and EW is up over the previous 2018 FY DoD budget, driven partly by the threat of new hypersonic missiles that mandate faster tracking and identification systems to disable them and to detect launch points,” Hosking continues.

Specifically, for radar manufacturers, “funding is stable with slight upward trends for continued support to current systems and new funding for programs such as coastal defense radar and ground-based deterrence,” Thompson says.

Open standards efforts are ramping up to ensure that less cost is associated with developing systems and standards also enables the DoD to scale technology at a quicker pace to meet oncoming threats. “I have noticed increased efforts in common designs and standards such as SOSA [Sensor Open Systems Architecture], FACE [Future Airborne Capability Environment], and the Air Force’s next-gen radar,” says Tammy Carter, senior product manager for OpenHPEC products for Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions [Ashburn, Virginia].

Industry collaboration is a necessity to keep funding and technological advancements going. The Open Group has been working with the government and industry to continue the development of SOSA, which is enabling the industry to collaborate to develop modular open systems architecture specifications that enables the reuse of sensor components. The FACE Standard is “the open avionics standard for making military computing operations more robust, interoperable, portable and secure. The standard enables developers to create and deploy a wide catalog of applications for use across the entire spectrum of military aviation systems through a common operating environment,” according to documents from the Open Group.

There is confidence in the budget for some. “Funding will go up for radar/EW systems,” says Roy Keeler, senior product and business development manager, Aerospace and Defense, at ADLINK Technology [Washington, D.C.], especially as artificial intelligence (AI) takes a stronger hold in military systems. “DoD officials launched the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) in 2018. Now 2019 will be the first full year for implementation in which officials are planning on spending about $1.6 billion in JAIC over the next three years,” Keeler says. “The government is pouring a tremendous amount of money into artificial intelligence for DoD applications. Some of the first things they're going after are preventive maintenance. That's big on their list. They want to use AI for preventive maintenance. The next thing is EW and radar. There is a good, strong funding line for EW and radar future applications.”

In addition, “DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative has multiple new programs that are bringing forward capabilities to bring more data into the processing chain,” Rappa adds.