RF & Microwave

Electronic Attack: An Overview of Electronic Warfare Part 4

Who remembers that scene in the movie Spaceballs where Lone Starr jams the enemy radar using raspberry jam, causing it to lose the “bleeps, the sweeps, and the creeps”? While Mel Brooks does show what electronic warfare can do, the details aren’t exactly accurate. In this post, we will clear up some of these details in our discussion on electronic attack.

M. B. (Director). (1987). Spaceballs. United States: MGM.

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Key Takeaways from the 55th Annual AOC Symposium and Conference

Sometimes it’s hard to believe how quickly technology progresses. It’s only been about a decade since Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone. And today, between checking email, navigating to a new restaurant, sharing photos with family and turning the lights on or off in my kid’s room, it’s hard to image life without a smart phone.

Let’s go back in time to the year 1992—about 15 years before the iPhone and the beginning of the Joint Strike Fighter program. While the earliest prototypes flew in late 2000, it wasn’t until 2006 that the F-35 had its first test flight. Then, in 2011, almost two decades after the program began, the first production aircraft rolled off the assembly line. While this was a very long development time when compared to smart phones, no one would trust a smart phone with their life. That said, the digital revolution of the last decade is finding its way to the electronic warfare (EW) industry, and it’s forcing us to change how we deploy EW systems.

This new and continually changing reality was on everyone’s mind at the recent AOC Symposium and Conference held in Washington, DC. The symposium theme, “Winning the Electromagnetic Spectrum Domain: A Culture and Mind Shift”, captured the sentiment clearly.

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RF & Microwave

Electronic Support: An Overview of Electronic Warfare Part 3

“They have a missile-lock on us!” is a phrase we’ve heard countless times in movies and is usually a sign that a radar-guided missile is incoming. Ever wonder how the aircraft’s systems detect this type of threat? In this post, we’ll discuss how a radar warning receiver provides information on an adversary’s radar, as well as some general information on electronic support. Before we get into the details, I recommend reviewing the two previous posts for a brief background of the history of electronic warfare and an overview of radar.

What is Electronic Support?

Electronic support (ES) is the set of technologies and methods designed to receive and analyze an adversary’s transmissions of electromagnetic signals. This includes locating the sources of radar signals as well as identifying the adversary’s communication signals.

There is crossover between ES and signal intelligence (SIGINT), but the key difference is that ES is more tactical while SIGINT is more strategic. For example, while an ES system might identify an adversary’s communication signal so it can be jammed, a SIGINT system will intercept the transmission for longer-term strategic planning. Additionally, electronic support is less concerned with the content of the signal and instead is focused on the technical details of the transmission itself.

While both ES and SIGINT are critical, this article focuses on electronic support and its objective of improving situational awareness.

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RF & Microwave

Radar Basics: An Overview of Electronic Warfare Part 2

In the first post of this series, we discussed the history of electronic warfare with an emphasis on the back-and-forth competition to develop systems that grant the owner control over the electromagnetic spectrum. When one country develops a new radar system, its adversary starts working on a jammer. In order to mitigate the effects of the jammer, the radar developer then must design a system that protects the radar from those effects.

This invisible battle over control of the electromagnetic spectrum is critical to success on the battlefield and is the topic of the subsequent posts. However, understanding the technology to jam and deceive radar requires an understanding of the radar systems.

We’re all familiar with the applications of radar—that yellow warning light on your mirror telling you someone is in your blind spot, police radar monitoring your speed, images on the news showing the path of a storm. However, for the purpose of understanding electronic warfare, we’ll look at the types of radar in three main groups.

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Think Global, Act Local

According to the web site Simplicable.com,

“’Think global, act local’, is a common principle that is applied to organizations, business, education and governance. It asks that employees, students and citizens consider the global impact of their actions.”

As a group, virtually all who are reading this blog (thank you) are all of the above – employees, students and citizens. It’s logical to assume the words global and local are relative terms – especially within an engineering context.

A friend of mine holds a PhD in Astrophysics from Caltech. Like a lot of super smart guys, he now excels in an area that couldn’t be farther afield from his education – although, Astrophysics speaks to a very large “field”. As the CTO of his current company, he has architected a very nice, one-touch disaster recovery system for data you just don’t want to lose. Marc likes to refer to the hardware behind the magic as, “the necessary evil”… In effect, he’s echoing the sentiments of Harvard Economist, Theodore Levitt, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”.

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RF & Microwave

The History of Electronic Warfare: An Overview of Electronic Warfare Part 1

It was May 24, 1844 when Samuel Morse transmitted his famous telegraph message “What hath God wrought” from Washington to Baltimore. Twenty years later, the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps had trained 1,200 operators and strung 4,000 miles of telegraph wire, which increased to over 15,000 miles by the end of the Civil War. While long-distance communication proved a significant advantage for the Union armies, it also opened the door for wiretapping. It was these early experiences that demonstrated the impact of surveillance and set the foundations of electronic warfare (EW).

Over the last century, electronic warfare has had an increasing role in shaping the outcomes of conflicts across the globe; however, few people appreciate its significance and fewer still understand the technology. In this first post of our electronic warfare blog series, we present a brief history of the technology behind electronic warfare. Just as older cars are more intuitive to repair, the early EW systems are easier to understand.

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OpenVpx Switch backplane

Supported Switched/Mesh Fabrics by Mercury Systems – Part 1

The SMP Engineering group at Mercury Systems has worked tirelessly on development and innovation to offer our customers multiple choices for their present and future needs. Since authoring the OpenVPX™ (VITA 65) standard, it has opened the door to customers seeking answers and/or solutions to many of the issues they encounter when designing their systems. First, let’s take a look at what OpenVPX offers us. Read More

Hey, is our missile coming back at us?

Free trade has resulted in a global economy that has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few decades. As a result, many countries have seen certain industries grow – and certain industries move to other countries that can produce those products at a lower cost. While this has been great for consumers – who see lower prices – it is concerning for critical areas like defense. This graphic highlights some of the key concerns.

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Deploying commercial technologies quickly to keep up with the speed of threats

At the end of last year, I had the privilege of attending the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, CA. One of the topics that caught my attention was around the DoD’s new modernization strategy and how it would build off the upcoming National Defense Strategy to align DoD labs and innovation centers. According to Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), the goal is, in this time of constrained budgets, “…to have a very tight strategy that makes choices and makes sure we are taking all of our resources, all of our funding and aligning those.”

Basically, the end game is about deploying innovation more quickly to keep up with the speed at which threats are evolving. How do we take the rapidly advancing commercial technologies and transform them into much-needed capabilities for our warfighters? The cycle time – how long it takes from identification to fielding a solution for a need – takes way too long. To address this, Mercury has pioneered a next-generation business model for defense electronics. We leverage and build upon other high-technology firms substantial R&D investments. Mercury alone invests 13% of its revenue annually on internally funded innovation. We typically operate under firm fixed-price contracts with a major focus on efficiency and best value. Also, given the needs of the defense industry we emphasize ruggedization, security, trusted manufacturing and longevity of supply.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, take a read of our latest whitepaper, “A Next Generation Business Model: Bridging The Gap In Support Of The Defense Industry.

 

Mark Aslett, President & CEO

Lessons in RF Manufacturing from a Chicago Sausage Factory

People often say RF is black magic and it sometimes feels that way. I remember one evening I was called down to the production floor to help troubleshoot a technical problem found during swing shift. There was a product going through final test and it would only pass if held at a certain angle. At first I was doubtful that this was the case, but I held it in my hands, watched the performance on the network analyzer, rotated the unit, and saw the performance degrade. First we suspected the VNA cables, but a golden unit was solid regardless of its orientation. Then we performed the standard “shake while listening for something rattling test” but couldn’t hear anything—plus the repeatability seemed to suggest it wasn’t due to FOD. X-ray imaging didn’t yield any clues. Eventually, we had to send it off to de-lid, found nothing wrong, and after real-seal the performance was stable. The best theory we had was that the problem was due to flux improperly cleaned from a feedthrough.

It was this type of problem that drew me to RF engineering in college. Circuits that only worked when you placed a finger in a certain spot. The gain reduced by the microscope light. While it felt like black magic we all knew that in reality it was physics too complicated to be fully modeled. To this day, I still find these problems fun until all of a sudden a revenue commitment is missed.

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