SEMA can operate independently anywhere in the world. Monitoring air defenses and military command and control communications in the Middle East is a far less demanding mission. The SEMA offers advantages that the Boeing 707 family was never able to provide to intelligence operations—speed, altitude (for a better electronic horizon), unrefueled range and long-range, hard-to-intercept communications. The aircraft's operational altitude is about 50,000 ft. and the radar and sigint horizon is about 250 nm. However, that range is conservative and probably limited only by the curvature of the Earth.
“If you are monitoring a target from 200 nm away, you don't have to use self-protection,” Landa says. “If you want more detail from [directly over] the battlefield, you can also use unmanned aircraft carrying surveillance payloads.”
Because of the advanced sensors and the expanded data-processing power on board, much of the detailed information is quickly available to SEMA aircrews. In addition, more than one SEMA can operate in a networked and synchronized formation to develop electronic orders of battle at much higher speed than single platforms. That capability has been tested during IAF training exercises in Greece and Italy.
“Even on a small platform you can do processing and use low-probability-of-intercept communications for a quiet, mobile network,” says Gad Cohen, IAI's vice president for aviation and aerospace.
In addition, using “the advanced communications on board, we can operate most of the systems from the ground,” Landa says. “So, we can carry more equipment and 10-12 signals intelligence and command-and-control guys. At the same time, it can be used by up to 30 operators on the ground.”
Carrying fewer crewmen and more fuel translates to more time on station—up to 10 hr. unrefueled. SEMA is not designed for electronic attack, nor does it yet carry an electronic warfare suite, despite the fact that Elta has an impressive portfolio of electronic warfare systems.
“Our systems are decision-support —gathering information, creating theater awareness and providing tools to commanders,” says Baruch Reshef, deputy director of group marketing for Elta. “We're in the area of fire control and not weapons. HPM [high-powered micowave weapons] is not our niche.”
The next aircraft in the family is the conformal airborne early warning (CAEW) platform. Two are operational with the IAF.
“There was a huge hesitation in the military,” Landa says. “They questioned how we could put a 20-ft. antenna on something as small as the G550, supply the power and cooling and still have it [cruise operationally] at 41,000 ft. But we did it.”
“This variant is more like the Joint Stars,” Landa says. “We have several solutions on different platforms that are not yet fully operational. Some are in full-scale development and production, others are in initial development.”