EW Operational Support Key to Dominating the EM Environment

17 November 2021

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Modern military systems today often have to operate in a threat environment that has become significantly more complex, congested and contested. Atul Chandra looks at the critical challenge of EW training.

To operate effectively in today’s threat environments, fixed-wing or rotary-wing combat platforms depend on their electronic warfare sensors and effectors to not only analyse, characterise and counter any threats but simultaneously exploit the adversaries’ weaknesses. In an Electronic Warfare (EW) environment that has not stood still, EW Operational Support (EWOS) remains a key mission enabler for aircrews operating in a high-threat environment, and provides them with the updated situational awareness necessary to safely prosecute a mission. Put simply, EWOS is the process of properly training and maintaining a staff of EW experts who can keep the systems updated and mission-ready. EWOS provides not only EW data and information to the EW hardware system but also includes aspects such as information and intelligence, doctrine, training, trials support and analysis.

Managing the Threat

The mission-critical nature of EW is increasingly being recognised by militaries worldwide along with the importance of the “mission data” which underpins the effectiveness of their airborne electronics. For aircrew, their enhanced understanding of the threat environment around them and how it will change is also reliant on the mission data, which put simply, is the look-up library stored in the Signal Processing Unit and is the reference book against which the environment seen by the EW system is compared with. This information can consist of the type of threat being faced – a radar (either fixed or mobile) and whether the threat has the capability to do harm, i.e. launch Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) or bring guns to bear. This information is then used to drive an appropriate response from the EW system, such as deciding on the amount of chaff or flares that need to be dispensed for a particular threat.

EWOS provides situational awareness to the warfighter, and this is done by supporting the EW systems with correct and appropriate data, which has been complemented by training, education and briefing of EW operators and crew. The successful implementation of EWOS results in faster and more accurate identification of targets, thereby aiding in mission success. Accurate and complete mission data will result in the quick and correct identification of the threat within a matter of seconds, following which the information is provided to the aircrew.

The provision of a comprehensive EWOS eco-system is vital to creation of a credible EW capability and does not stop with the acquisition of the EW hardware alone. As an example, a Radar Warning Receiver integrated on an aircraft is useful only when it is loaded with the mission data. Provisioning EW databases and determining the optimum response of the system is a highly specialised endeavour. Delivering effective EWOS capability is a continuous and long-term effort with the end goal of allowing the combat asset to successfully complete its mission.

EWOS allows the operator to programme and support his EW setup and for this to happen, collection of data, information and intelligence to update EW databases along with the necessary education and training of EW specialists across levels must be a continuous process. Determining the optimum responses for the defence systems and updating its databases and training the aircrew are vitally important to credible EWOS capability. These tasks are finally distilled into the aircrew briefings, and programming of effectors and sensors prior to the mission. The short-term work of programming the sensors, countermeasure dispensers, and briefing the aircrew are straightforward and with crews going out and retrieving additional data that goes back into the system.

Training for EWOS

EWOS not only includes the aircrew who are flying missions, but also the ground crew who are involved in the preparation of mission data, post-mission analysis and the maintenance of EW hardware. As a result, it remains imperative that all personnel involved in EW operations are continuously trained to a high standard as the EW battlespace is a dynamic environment requiring constant updation of domain knowledge.

“The use of AR/VR is increasing for EW training as well as for pre- and post-mission activities. Visualisation of the battlespace can replicate the complexity of missions, something that is rarely achievable on open-air ranges. Also, training in an AR/VR environment offers fewer espionage opportunities to hostile actors who may be interested in collect EW emissions from aircraft or observing the tactics and procedures being developed during live training,” Mark Neasham, Head of Capability at Leonardo Electronics UK, told MS&T.

Leonardo delivers EWOS and Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) training to both UK and International customers at two facilities located at Lincoln in the UK – Leonardo Academy and the Leonardo CEMA Academy.

“By combining academic courses and workshops covering Cyber, EW and EWOS with product training, Leonardo customers are able to benefit from training solutions that provide an end-to-end CEMA capability at a national level tailored to any (or all) Leonardo platforms,” said Neasham. “EWOS training is now also benefiting from emerging trends in military training and simulation. The development from pattern recognition to Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities move EWOS into a future of ‘electromagnetic forensics’,” Neasham added.

In future EW systems, all aspects of collected and known data will be fused into an instantaneous view of the current situation, delivering unprecedented situational awareness to aircrew operating in a highly contested environment. However, this will also require specialist staff with a scientific education base (especially mathematics and physics), Neasham noted. “Whilst this capability develops, legacy systems will still need to be supported by trained expert staff, and this challenge is amplified by the need to apply these skills in a military context, experience that is difficult to gain in academia.” This means that the skills required of the personnel charged with the responsibility for providing EW Operational Support are changing.

Another aspect in the EW domain is that while EW scenarios remain highly challenging for aircrew in terms of situational awareness, this has been mitigated to some extent by the increasing automation of airborne EW systems. This has reduced the aircrew workload and allowed for a much quicker speed of response to a dynamic EW environment, with the ability for the on-board systems to coordinate more fully, further facilitating the delivery of more complex ECM sequences. A knock-on effect of this automation, according to Neasham, is that aircrew training requirements are focussed more toward mission effect, rather than concentrating on learning complex manoeuvres and ECM sequences.

For most nations with capable militaries, the need to build and maintain sovereign EW capability, rather than having to rely on external support, remains of paramount importance. Thus, there is a growing requirement for nations to maximise their capability through in-depth local knowledge (both geographic and cultural), whilst ensuring a flexible and dynamic approach to Electromagnetic Environment (EME) changes.

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