Throughout the history of electronic warfare, the future has always arrived quickly. The continuous game of cat and mouse between adversaries has meant that any force striving to maintain an edge must always be thinking several moves ahead.

But the pace of technological advance and proliferation is accelerating: computing power and advanced electronics are cheaper; more powerful and easily accessible. It is easier than ever for adversaries to effectively compete in the electromagnetic spectrum and challenge longstanding advantages.

The future is about ensuring spectrum-wide superiority at all times, in all domains. Like today, the capabilities of the future will involve using the spectrum to attack, defend and understand battlefield dynamics. But all this will be done faster, more covertly and more autonomously than today.

Electromagnetic spectrum maneuvers will be more agile, and forces better equipped to pivot in real time to changes on the battlefield, even employing the spectrum to mount new kinds of attacks on hostile infrastructure and networks.

Electronic warfare systems must be capable of deploying overwhelming power with minute precision, of deploying countermeasures to counter never-before-encountered threats, of intelligent spectrum management and sharing with joint and allied forces.

Achieving this will require incremental improvements and ingenious innovations, new ways of addressing old problems and solutions to problems that don’t yet exist. This is where we’re headed:

Key Concepts and Capabilities of Electronic Warfare

  • Smaller and lighter, more power with less energy: It’s clear that small-size, weight and power (SWAP) systems will drive the near-term evolution of EW. Powerful digital capabilities in smaller packages will be critical to extending spectrum superiority to small, unmanned systems and rotary platforms where every ounce counts, as well as to dismounted forces constantly on the move. Small, light and affordable systems will enable a whole range of new solutions that bring once-costly EW capabilities to single-use or expendable platforms like missiles and decoys.
  • Multifunctional and reprogrammable: giving systems the ability to pivot in real time from one function to another is the cornerstone of agile and adaptable EW. Whether through manual on-the-fly reprogramming or intelligent, autonomous reconfiguration, a system’s ability to perform multiple functions like EA, EP and ESM, as needs evolve, is all but expected. Innovations will allow systems to transmit and receive simultaneously without unwanted interference or signal fratricide. Machine learning will usher in a new generation of cognitive EW systems that learn how to categorize and respond to new threats and reduce the burden on the warfighter.
  • Modular, open and scalable: Systems that function independently, or that can be connected together to handle a greater diversity of threats simultaneously, will help enable future forces to control the spectrum. The ability to add new functions to a system or to create a networked “system of systems” will make EW operations more flexible, resilient and easier to maintain. Modular, software-defined and scalable systems will enable powerful capabilities like distributed jamming against multiple threats and facilitate cooperation between manned and unmanned systems in the battlespace.