Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 30 July 2013. Satellite communications (SATCOM) is a crucial link in the ability of the U.S. military and its allies to move important voice, text, imagery, video, and other important data over long distances. In fact, the broad adoption of SATCOM over the past few decades has forced other modes of long-haul communications into the back seat.

Still, the relatively high and recurring costs of SATCOM, as well as its potential vulnerability to jamming and hacking may be encouraging military planners to take a second look at long-haul communications alternatives to SATCOM, such as high-frequency (HF) radio and tropospheric scatter (troposcatter) communications.

The costs of SATCOM are well known. It's expensive to design and launch satellites, as well as to maintain them in orbit. The military also can lease bandwidth on commercial satellites, but this approach involves recurring costs. In this era of sequestration and tight budgets, Pentagon officials are looking to cut costs wherever they can without compromising national security.

The vulnerabilities of SATCOM also represent a growing concern, as they relate to the new military discipline of spectrum warfare -- an umbrella term that describes the convergence of electronic warfare (EW) and cyber warfare.

The vulnerabilities of SATCOM to electronic jamming is starting to be understood. It's difficult, in that SATCOM signals tend to be directional, but still is possible. The vulnerabilities of SATCOM to cyber warfare attacks is just starting to be considered.

Incidents have been reported of international hackers taking control of satellites by hacking into IP-based ground stations. Military communications satellites with dedicated networking would not be quite as vulnerable to cyber attack as commercial satellites are, but the world's hackers are working through this problem.

Then there's the obvious vulnerability of all orbiting satellites to the threat of nuclear explosion in space. The resulting electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) from an atomic blast in space has the potential to destroy or disrupt all but the most hardened military satellites.

So, what to do?

There are indications that military leaders are giving troposcatter communications, HF radio, and other terrestrial forms of long-haul communications another look. Communications experts point out that HF radio has been making remarkable advances over the last decade or so.

This technology now has the ability to send and receive data at 9,600 bits per second reliably. Earlier this year an experiment transmitted streaming color video. Ground wave HF, moreover, is being used for differential GPS positioning systems on offshore oil drilling rigs and survey vessels.

U.S. Army researchers also are considering troposcatter communications for fixed-site and on-the-move long-range military communications as an alternative to SATCOM. Troposcatter transmits and receives microwave signals at beyond-line-of-sight distances as far as 200 miles by bouncing radio signals off layers of the Earth's atmosphere.

As more attention and research goes into communications technologies like HF and troposcatter, a growing number of alternatives to SATCOM likely will emerge to get the message through economically and reliably.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 23 July 2013. Imagine a big unmanned submarine designed to operate covertly for long periods, lurking silently off an enemy's shore. At a command from military leaders, this submersible mothership ejects pods that float to the surface and launch surveillance unmanned aircraft in all directions. At the same time, small unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) deploy from docks hidden in the big submarine's belly on secret reconnaissance missions of the enemy's submarine forces, shipping activity, and overall maritime readiness.

This is the vision of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its upcoming Hydra program to design an unmanned submarine mothership able to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), UUVs, and perhaps even unmanned surface vessels (USVs) for secret intelligence missions off sensitive coasts.

The unmanned aircraft might be relatively small and inexpensive models designed for one-way missions, as the submarine mothership might not be able to recover them. Not so, however, with the vessel's flotilla of UUVs.

The DARPA Hydra vehicle will have docking facilities to recover its UUVs and recharge them for their next missions. These small UUVs will glide out from the mothership's docking stations to take high-resolution images and video of an enemy's port facilities. Once finished, these UUVs will return to the mothership where they will dock, recharge their batteries, and download their intelligence information for the mothership for transmitting covertly back to U.S. and allied command authorities.

It's not clear yet exactly what the DARPA Hydra vehicle would look like, or how its unmanned vehicle payloads would appear. Devising a design for the mothership and its unmanned vehicles is part of the initial phases of the Hydra program, which is likely to get underway next month.

The program will begin defining the roles of the Hydra mothership, define key enabling technologies, and finally demonstrate a prototype. The program's contractors will concentrate on technical areas like a ballast system, propulsion for extended undersea operations, covert communications for instructions and data, command and control for remote and autonomous operation, and unmanned vehicle payloads.

DARPA will brief industry on the program on 5 Aug. in Laurel, Md. Most briefings will be open, but special presentations classified secret will be available for qualified attendees with the proper security clearances.

Looks like an unmanned aircraft carrier that travels under the water may be in the U.S. Navy's future.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 16 July 2013. I can't remember another time when electronic warfare (EW) technology was as prominent in the headlines as it has been for the last month or so.

In fact, the entire notion of EW seems to be evolving to include not only traditional forms of EW such as RF communications and radar jamming, but also the relatively new discipline of cyber warfare to protect U.S. and allied computers and attack and disable enemy computers and data networks.

As we see a procession of EW projects emerge, a new term is cropping up -- spectrum warfare -- which includes traditional EW, but adds optical warfare, navigation warfare, and cyber warfare.

Some future systems, for example, not only will be able to use RF transmitters to jam enemy radar and communications, but also to insert viruses and other destructive computer code into enemy systems to spoof or disable them.

The current flood of U.S. military EW and spectrum warfare activity started heating up at the end of May and the beginning of June with a couple of U.S. Navy contracts to Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics for a shipboard EW project called the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).

Although not a new program, the contracts to Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics for the SEWIP Block 1 and Block 2 segments of the project were worth more than $60 million. SEWIP is in place to upgrade surface warship EW defenses against cruise missiles and other radar threats.

On 23 June the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced industry briefings on upcoming contracting opportunities in communications, electronic warfare, surveillance, navigation, and battle management.

On the first day of this month the EW activity started to accelerate with announcements of nine contracts from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory for the Advanced Components for Electronic Warfare (ACE) Phase 0 program to develop some of the world's most advanced and capable electronic and photonic components for tomorrow's EW systems.

Two days later came an award from the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., to Sotera Defense Solutions Inc. in Herndon, Va., to develop planning software to enable warfighters to jam enemy communications, remotely controlled explosives, radar systems, and other RF assets while safeguarding U.S. and allied RF systems.

On 8 July came the big one: a quarter-billion-dollar contract to the Raytheon Co. Space and Airborne Systems segment in McKinney, Texas, to build the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) to enable the EA-18G Growler carrier-based jet to jam enemy radar, communications, and other RF systems.

The next day came a contract from the Naval Research Lab in Washington to ITT Exelis Electronic Systems division in Van Nuys, Calif., to develop an add-on advanced EW system to protect surface warships from a newly discovered, yet undisclosed, immediate threat to Navy fleet operations.

Two days later, on 11 July, came the announcement of contracts to six companies for the DARPA collectively worth nearly $74 million for the Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X) project to conduct research into the nature of cyber warfare, and to develop strategies to seize and maintain U.S. cyber security and cyber attack dominance.

Finally came the announcement of an Air Force research project to be launched next month called the Advanced Novel Spectrum Warfare Environment Research (ANSWER) program to develop adaptive spectrum warfare technologies to enable warfighting in contested and denied areas.

We've been hearing that electronic warfare is among the most promising U.S. military technologies in an era of shrinking budgets. Over the past several weeks, however, we're finding out just how important it is.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 9 July 2013. There's an imminent threat to U.S. Navy surface warships, which evidently has Navy leaders worried.

Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington are working fast to develop a new kind of electronic warfare (EW) module that can be fitted quickly onto ships to meet these threats. They are working with EW experts at the ITT Exelis Electronic Systems division in Van Nuys, Calif., who will help manufacture and install the new EW system.

Although Navy officials are not spelling out what this newly discovered threat to shipping is, we can assume it has something to do with advanced radar-guided anti-ship cruise missiles, or something similar.

The Navy's current Raytheon AN/SLQ-32 shipboard EW system was conceived in the early 1970s in part from lessons learned from an incident during the Six-Day War in 1967 when Egypt sank the Israeli destroyer Elath using a Soviet SS-N-2 STYX anti-ship missile. Upgrades are being made to the SLQ-32 system under the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).

Other lessons came at different times, such as 1982 during the Falklands War when Argentina sank the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Sheffield with a French-made Exocet missile -- an anti-ship missile common to militaries around the world.

The Exocet struck again in 1987, this time crippling and nearly sinking the U.S. Navy frigate USS Stark, after an Iraqi warplane launched the missile at the warship; the sea-skimming missile was undetected by weapon systems aboard the Stark. By the time lookouts saw the missile headed for the ship it was too late for the Stark's defenses to be effective.

So we have two allied warships sunk or crippled during the 1980s by the Exocet -- a subsonic anti-ship missile with a 360-pound warhead. What happens when allied navies go up against much more formidable anti-ship missile threats?

I think this is what Navy leaders have in mind with this new project to develop an embarkable EW system that can be quickly installed and removed from Navy ships so a relative handful of systems can be deployed on ships going into harm's way.

Navy leaders are known to be concerned with advanced radar-guided anti-ship missiles such as the Russian-made SS-N-22 Sunburn and SS-NX-26 Oniks, which may be operational with military forces in Iran, Syria, and other countries in the Middle East for use against U.S. and allied naval forces in and around the Eastern Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and other vital waterways.

The Sunburn anti-ship missile can fly at three times the speed of sound, giving targeted vessels little time to react. It carries a 705-pound explosive warhead -- twice the destructive payload of the Exocet and three times as fast.

The Oniks missile, more advanced than the Sunburn, can fly as fast as Mach 2.5, and carries a 661-pound warhead. Not only is this missile far faster and more powerful than the Exocet, but it may have the capability to maneuver on its terminal flight to its target, which could make defeating it difficult, if not impossible.

The Sunburn and Oniks missiles have sufficient destructive payloads to pose serious threats to large U.S. warships like aircraft carriers, which are at the heart of U.S. power-projection strategies around the world.

Now think about U.S. Navy ships operating in the tight confines of the Persian Gulf, where maneuver can be limited. Iran, which has these advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, could launch them from rugged terrain near Gulf waters, giving U.S. warships only seconds to react.

If they were not to have reliable ways to defeat these advanced cruise missiles, the Gulf could become a nightmare killing field for front-line U.S. and allied warships.

This must be keeping more than one Navy admiral up at night.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

Posted by John Keller

THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 2 July 2013. The U.S. Department of Defense has sponsored several major research programs over the past few decades to push revolutionary advancements in sophisticated electronic components. First was the Very-High-Speed Integrated Circuits (VHSIC) program in 1980. Eight years later came the Microwave/Millimeter-Wave Monolithic Integrated Circuit (MIMIC) program.

Today, however, we may be on the verge of a third program that ultimately may be just as important and just as influential in pushing the state of the art in electronics as VHSIC and MIMIC. The newest program is called ACE, which is short for Advanced Components for Electronic Warfare.

The VHSIC program three decades ago was a multi-year, multi-phase initiative to push advances in integrated circuit materials, lithography, packaging, testing, and algorithms. It also created computer-aided design tools, most notably the VHDL hardware description language. VHDL itself is short for VHSIC Hardware Description Language.

In 1988 came the MIMIC program, which focused on gallium arsenide (GaAs) integrated circuit design and manufacturing of devices that operate at microwave frequencies that perform functions such as microwave mixing, power amplification, low-noise amplification, and high frequency switching.

The VHSIC program, in other words, sought to push digital technology for high-speed processors. MIMIC, on the other hand, concentrated on RF electronics for advanced applications in radar, signals intelligence, electronic warfare (EW), and similar uses.

Now comes ACE, which seeks to develop some of the world's most advanced and capable electronic and photonic components for tomorrow's EW systems. The initial stage of the ACE program, called Phase Zero, kicked off just last Friday with nine contract awards to some of the U.S. defense industry's most notable technology companies.

We're not talking about big money yet -- Phase-Zero contracts are worth only a collective $3 million -- but the program has the potential to expand over several years and perhaps hundreds of millions of research dollars.

ACE, like the MIMIC program before it, seeks to establish capabilities, infrastructure, and knowledge necessary to design and produce advanced electronic and photonic components for advanced EW applications at low costs and high yields.

Companies involved in the ACE Phase Zero program are Raytheon, BAE Systems, HRL Laboratories, Rockwell Collins, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aurrion, and LGS Innovations.

With companies like these involved, and with the backing of the U.S. Department of Defense, it's likely we'll see some major breakthroughs in electronic and photonic integrated circuit technology over the next several years.