What is electronic warfare?
You may have heard that electronic warfare becoming increasingly important. Applications and products are constantly developing. But what does electronic warfare mean? We take a look at the basics.
“In short, it is about detecting or disturbing electromagnetic emissions, typically a radar emission or a communication signal. For example, it can be used to protect an aircraft, helicopter, or ship from radar- or infrared-guided missiles”, says Hampus Delin, head of strategy and portfolio within Saab’s business unit Electronic Warfare Systems. “It can be used for protection when you go into harm’s way, or to take offensive measures during a military or grey zone conflict, or to get situational awareness in peacetime.”
Saab offers electronic warfare solutions not only for aircraft but also for ships and land-based systems such as ground based air defence (GBAD) solutions. This article explores the background to Saab’s and Sweden’s achievements within this field.
Electronic warfare has evolved significantly over the years, and large investments have been made in technology. Saab’s experience within electronic warfare goes back more than 50 years. The need to protect military aircraft from air-to-air missiles or ground based air defence was the main driver. Early installations include the system on the attack and reconnaissance aircraft Saab 32 Lansen, which was equipped with chaff dispensers used against the opponents’ radar. The Saab 37 Viggen could be equipped with an electronic warfare system and flare dispensers to protect it from missiles with infrared seekers. Chaffs and flares confuse the attackers’ systems, working as decoys to divert the attacking missiles from the aircraft.
1. Sweden and the Cold War
Saab has a strong position as a supplier of electronic warfare products, for a variety of uses and to a wide range of nations. Hampus Delin identifies four main reasons for this. The first is historical and goes back to the Cold War. Sweden was a non-allied nation and geographically situated between the two military blocs Nato and the Warzaw pact.
“Sweden created its own solutions as we could not rely on technology from the other nations. The Swedish defence industry was forced to build up own capabilities to develop these products”, Delin says.
2. Beating the opponent’s radar
A second reason for Saab’s expertise within electronic warfare is that radar and radar guided weapons have always been a main threat for aircraft, and as an aircraft manufacturer, electronic warfare is a key technology. Aircraft move fast and to detect them, you often need a radar. This also means you want to protect your aircraft from the opponents’ radar. Here, electronic warfare really comes into play and can be used to avoid being detected as well as to protect the aircraft in the event of an attack.
3. Strong technical expertise
The third explanation behind Saab’s success within electronic warfare can be found in Sweden’s long-standing expertise within cutting-edge technology. Hampus Delin explains that Sweden’s progress within microwave technology has had particular impact on electronic warfare development. In the last few years this has accelerated, with a rapid digitalisation and solid-state technology becoming the norm. One of the latest steps here is to build components based on gallium nitride.
Gallium nitride is a semi-conductive material that withstands higher temperatures, provides better bandwidth and offers higher output power than previously available materials. This means that wattage goes up and component sizes go down, which means the for example that the jamming range can be extended.
“One key new introduction is our gallium nitride technology for our active electronically scanned array (AESA) antennas. This is the culmination of a long-term research project that Saab has carried out together with the Swedish Chalmers university of technology and the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration”, Delin says.
AESA antennas differ from traditional antennas because the direction in which they “look” or transmit is steered electronically. This means that the antenna can be steered electronically to point in different directions, without the need to actually move the antenna.
4. Cutting-edge protection for Gripen
The fourth and final reason is the development effort leading related to Saab’s advanced multi-role fighter Gripen, and especially its latest version, the Gripen E. It is equipped with a modern, advanced electronic warfare system adapted for the most complicated threat environments.
“Gripen E avoids detection through electronic warfare; with a combination of passive sensors as well as active jamming. This means the pilot can see without being seen”, Hampus Delin says.
Electronic warfare for all domains
Over 50 years of electronic warfare innovation mean that Saab now provides electronic warfare solutions that can be used on a variety of platforms in the air, land and sea domains.
“Electronic warfare is increasingly important. We see this in all domains”, Hampus Delin concludes. “We have taken knowledge and technology initially developed for aircraft and can now apply it to ships or land-based systems. It’s all about protecting operators and assets while still having the best possible operational capabilities”.