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The lightning rod for rapid fielding of directed energy weapons and advanced sensors will be the military’s next generation jammer programs that exploit technologies such as active electronically scanned arrays (AESAs) antennas and high power microwave (HPM) capabilities, say senior U.S. government and industry officials at the 13th Directed Energy Conference.Radars on the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler already have the potential to fire focused beams of energy as soon as the necessary advanced algorithms are funded. The U.S. Navy’s Next Generation Jammer program is expected to move AESA from radar applications into the world of electronic attack (EA). In that arena, jamming and directed energy will begin to overlap with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.HPM is now being referred to in Pentagon discussions as anti-electronics weaponry. A large pulse can open an ingress route for strike aircraft through sophisticated air defenses. Power surges created by pulses of HPM and other types of EA can damage or destroy electronic components and addle or erase computer memories. How HPM, high power lasers and jammers might be integrated is still a work in progress.An associated phenomenon that the U.S. sees as an offensive boon and a defensive nightmare is the ever-decreasing amounts of electricity that it takes to power advanced electronics. Low-power systems are more vulnerable to DE attacks.“It takes much less energy to destroy [electronic] devices now” because they operate “closer to the edge of upset,” says Alan Kehs, former chief of the Army Research Laboratory’s directed energy branch. “As you move down to the sub-volt [environment], it is easier and easier to upset [a device].”Upsetting a device is the preferred approach because it requires time consuming rebooting of the system – which provides a window for attack – while burnout or destruction requires 2-3 orders of magnitude more power. Moreover, high-power attacks require an understanding of how it affects associated system in order to get approval for their launch.That DE and its associated technologies (such as intelligence gathering, surveillance, cyberattack and electronic warfare) may be focused and accelerated by some of the new electronic attack programs was suggested by David Honey, research office director for the Pentagon’s Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDRE), an agency that is growing rapidly under the Obama Administration.“HPM is under-appreciated and an area of great interest that requires robust investment,” Honey says. These non-kinetic weapons are needed to function as alternatives and adjuncts to explosive devices; however, he cautioned that development of small, energetic, power sources and unique waveforms generation will require a “lot of work” in areas such as compact pulse power, solid-state power sources and advanced antenna design. But once the technology is operational, it will fit into “a number of key operational areas,” Honey says.The HPM “e-bomb” will be fielded “later this decade,” as researchers learn to control the effects with directionality of the energy beam through antenna design. Honey predicts that the mobile, high energy laser (HEL) will be operational “in the short future.”In the “novel uses and insights” portion of high energy laser discussions, interest was focused on “the different effects [produced by lasers using] pulse format and continuous wave,” says Mark Neice, director of the High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office. “Can we get the right [amount of unwanted electrical] coupling into advanced seekers to generate the desired [disruptive] effect” in an enemy system?The Air Force in particular is worried about countering the capabilities of advanced anti-aircraft missiles against transport aircraft.“Since infrared countermeasures [IRCM] are already integrated into many large airlifters, increasing the power of the laser source – which buys you longer range – should be relative simple,” Neice says.If there is no protective IR system to build on, “You [may] have a radar capability on those [vulnerable] platforms, [so,] how can we channel that,” he says. “ If you can figure out a way to gain the same capability – from broad-spectrum tracking to a precision engagement [capability] – without adding the complexity of a hand-over to an alternate optical system, you gain tremendous benefit” in speed and precision for combating enemy anti-aircraft systems.
ar99, HPM, HEL, directed-energy
Copyright © 2013, Aviation Week, a division of McGraw Hill Financial.