October 08, 2012
Credit: Credit: U.S. Navy
David Fulghum Washington
America has to reinvent its airborne, warfighting capabilities to close gaps in technology that are already being exploited by the products of peer or near-peer nations, say Pentagon officials.
U.S. air and naval forces, plus those of its closest allies, may soon have to face weapons with advanced cyber-, stealth, electronic and directed-energy applications in a new era of contested aerial operations, say senior U.S. officials. For example, advanced radar is compromising stealth, air defense missiles can reach hundreds of miles to push attackers away from key targets, and information operations can turn precision navigation, logistics or command-and-control into bad and possibly lethal jokes.
The catch is that the technology to counter new threats has to be cheap—to match the U.S. defense budget—and easy to install. It must, in fact, fit on existing aircraft without modification. In the main, that would mean building systems sized for relatively small external pods carried by fighter-size aircraft or remotely piloted vehicles.
The road map is being formulated in a U.S. Air Force study called Effective Warfighting in Contested Environments (Ewice). Its goal is to sift through all the unusual weapons, materials and electronics in development and prototype programs to find and field the most promising concepts as operational tools.
Ewice teams will focus on three areas—materials, tactics and training—to help field new weapons that are effective in contested arenas. They also will try to match new capabilities to known gaps in U.S. tactics and technologies.
Some capabilities to be considered are lasers of 100 kw or perhaps much more, the U.S. Navy's Next Generation Jammer, non-kinetic weapons and devices that can conduct sophisticated electronic warfare in little-used segments of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Other areas of interest include work conducted in the Air Force's “Suter demonstrations”—where integrated air defenses were penetrated with data beams carrying malicious algorithms—and variants of the destructive Stuxnet and Flame reconnaissance cyberviruses that invaded Iran's nuclear and missile programs, says a long-time defense operator and researcher with insight into the program.