“We know what the contested environment looks like, and the training officers are looking for the tactics panel to identify the gaps and the tactics that can create the gaps,” says Randy Walden, director for the Air Force's information dominance programs.
Just as important as keeping costs down is a short technology gestation cycle.
“The search is for weapons that are effective in contested airspace [and] that can be in operation in less than five years,” the researcher says. Those judging which programs to fund “will look at what can go into a pod to update today's aircraft inventory without having to cut holes in them, he says.
There may be pending technology improvements that could push laser power up into the 400-700-kw range, but so far there has been no breakthrough that would produce airborne solid-state lasers that could burn through metal, says another longtime aerospace official and former fighter pilot.
“The ranges are increasing at which electronics, optics, sensors and electronic arrays can be affected by something that can be put into a pod,” the researcher says. “But if [the target is] not electronics or optics or arrays, you still need a lot of power on the target to have any effect.” That capability will not yet fit into a pod that a fighter can carry.
Ewice will be tied to the Air Force and Navy's AirSea Battle concept for which the services are working together to develop joint tactics, points out Air Force Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bob Elder, a professor of engineering at George Washington University. A major thrust of the Ewice study will look at the electromagnetic spectrum and information threat, he says. Its results will be folded into AirSea Battle and its associated focus on overcoming Anti-Access and Area Denial capabilities that are now for sale on the world market.
Because Ewice is looking at adjunct capabilities that could be incorporated into existing aircraft rapidly, it is considered complementary to the AirSea Battle investments, Walden says.
Another related element is the nascent Joint Aerial Layer Network that the services would like to have in place to improve network-centric warfare.
“We don't have anything that fits into a robust networking capability from the air, although there are lots of concepts, including using Global Hawk [unmanned aircraft] or even medium-altitude concepts to provide that gateway,” Walden says.
“Where Ewice will focus is on data links between fighters, early warning to fighters, fighters to missiles and a satcom ability to move data and communicate,” he notes. “Its goal is to identify what we can buy back in a short amount of time. Ideas include linking F-22s and F-15s and maybe a Link 16 contact. The are lots of areas that have been identified as potential gaps. So Ewice will complement whatever becomes the Joint Aerial Layer Network.”