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Harnessing rapidly scaling computing power for advanced EW and navigation technologies

6 min read

Electronic warfare of today has grown leaps and bounds from its days of simple radio communication jamming. Today, it is also about sensing and seeing first, deceiving and even controlling the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Gripen EW

The future of warfare, aerial or otherwise, is hinged on two big pillars of electronic warfare – one, how higher computing power of faster processors are integrated into system and, second, how the systems talk to each other with information they have captured in a battlefield – in other words, network centric warfare (NCW).

Electronic Warfare also has to continually upgrade in order to meet new threats. As Aerospace & Defence points out, “Key elements of EW systems are now often combined within a single component, such as the RF System-on-Chip (RFSoC), including signal acquisition, processing, and generation. Hardware, firmware, and software have become more complex, increasing risk and expense, and thereby increasing the need for effective, high-level development tools.”

Why Gripen E stands out as an aircraft that is almost a warfighting supercomputer is because its prowess in EW takes it above other fighters at a time when the defence domain is dominated by EW, overshadowing traditional weapons and systems.

“The highly contested battlespace of today necessitates a superior electronic warfare capability. The Indian Air Force as well can benefit from a new generation EW solution that gives the pilots an armour of information advantage. Knowing first is crucial in order to be able to successfully counter the threats of today and tomorrow,” says Kent-Åke Molin, Sales and Marketing Director at Saab.

When Saab set out to create the smartest electronic warfare solutions for modern air forces, it aimed for something that was a complete package. The result was Arexis, an EW suite that offers unrivalled survivability, superior situational awareness, freedom to act, and a safe return home. The EW suite is fully integrated on all Gripen aircraft, giving the pilots a self-reliant ability to operate without the need of escort of a specialized EW aircraft. It can also be installed in any other aircraft type, in a missionized pod or even used with an unmanned vehicle.

Arexis offers both defensive and offensive capabilities including neutralisation of the Anti- Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) bubble. Powered by Gallium Nitride (GaN) Active Electronically Scanned Arrays (AESAs) and fully digitized receivers, Arexis provides superior situational awareness in every scenario. Saab has also offered India GaN AESA radar technology. "If India requires, Saab is willing to share its know-how of the GaN technology not just for the Gripen programme, but also for ongoing and future indigenous programmes such as the LCA and AMCA ," Kent-Åke adds.

One of the most important reasons behind Arexis’ reliability is its unique ability to manage and digitize a wide range and high number of signals and sensor data with extreme rapidity and accuracy. The digitization is very important because of the sheer number of signals that are to be managed by today’s systems.

“A non-negotiable for an effective EW system is its ability to understand radio frequency emitter signals, no matter how many they are, and draw quick conclusions. Arexis provides the pilot a complete threat picture across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The result is superior situational awareness that helps the pilot to see first and act first. Modern air forces like the IAF need this game-changing capability to ensure mission success,” Kent-Åke says.

In addition, a passive infrared search and track (IRST) sensor, a tailored datalink and an enhanced EW system package rides on Gripen E.
The IRST is an electro-optical system mounted in the nose of Gripen E, and is capable of silently detecting, tracking and identifying all types of targets, without emitting a signal and revealing the aircraft’s own position. Also called Skyward G, the sensor is particularly useful against aerial targets with low radar cross section, such as stealth aircraft. It can also register heat emissions from other aircraft, such as helicopters, and from other objects on the ground and sea surface.

The utilisation of networked sensors, both on board and from other platforms, is also one of the most essential aspects of the Gripen's EW system. The pilot will be able to silently geo-locate threats and be the first to react as a result of this. The Gripen pilot can better deal with sophisticated threats like the Su-57 and S-400. Overall, the Gripen's EW suite can operate in the most hazardous settings while maintaining great survivability.

Network-centric warfare today has evolved rapidly to become network technology that at very high speeds integrates technology from different sources into a mesh of information links among all warfighting systems. In effect, signals acquired from radars, communication and sensors are integrated into a singular representation of the battlefield using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. This gives the commander a very high level of situational awareness, enabling them to issue commands that help each equipment and soldier to act in a precise and effective manner.

Apart from superior EW capabilities, the power of faster computing has resulted in development of systems that can help Gripen E navigate in GPS-blind areas. Considering India’s difficult Himalayan borders that span across neighbouring countries, hindrances in terms of weather, geographical landscape or a sudden blackout can render the GPS system ineffective. Currently, non-GPS navigation is a manual process requiring a lot of the pilot’s attention, which means less focus on tactical awareness about the hostile surrounding.

New patterns of algorithms have been tested successfully with Gripen E, providing real time and highly accurate positioning based on 3D mapping. In association with Maxar, data from on-board electro-optical sensors and geo-registration algorithms is compared with a 3D surface model database in the aircraft. The sensors have a feature of observing landscapes ahead of the line of sight while the aircraft is moving. This information, along with algorithms, generate a more accurate velocity vector and assist the inertial navigation system.

Such terrain based technology i.e. TERNAV has previously yielded good results and SAAB intends to pool inputs from this existing technology. The immersive 3D data from Maxar, created using automated technology and precision, has been able to provide resolution of 50 cm or better and 3 m accuracy in all dimensions.

The navigation system will give Gripen pilot a disruptive and unique capability to operate in GNSS-/GPS-denied conditions while maintaining highly accurate positioning by merging these three technologies (3D-mapping, odometry, and terrain navigation).The combination of technologies creates a solution that is impervious to GPS signal interference such as jamming and spoofing attempts, while also reducing the pilot's workload during flying. Because of its precise location, Gripen allows its pilots to counter the opponent's anti-access/area denial techniques, thereby putting him ahead in terms of threat assessment.

Apart from navigation, this technology may also be used to construct and execute targeting functions, and to assist aircraft landings in difficult environmental situations where regular landing aids are hampered.
“Now we're ready to put this technology to work for our customers. With the IAF's challenging mountainous and high-threat operational environment, this would be a great addition to our already existing offer for India.” says Tobias Jansson, Product Manager, Gripen.