Talk Shop

David Stupples (right), professor of electronic and radio engineering at London’s City University, gives a presentation at this year’s AOC EW seminar held during the DSEI exhibition.

The eagerly-awaited Association of Old Crows’ Electronic Warfare (EW) seminar held during this year’s Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London did not disappoint.

A quiver of presentations stimulated robust and informed discussion on the challenges facing US and allied nations as they seek to exploit the electromagnetic spectrum. The common theme was the necessity of staying abreast of potential adversaries as the spectrum becomes increasingly contested and congested.

A particular emphasis was placed on the need to improve the way that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) shares its Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) within its membership. It was argued that the alliance had been particularly ‘stove-piped’ in recent years vis-à-vis its distribution of SIGINT. That said initiatives such as alliance’s forthcoming NEDB-NG (NATO Electronic Warfare Database-Next Generation) which is due to reach its initial operational capability in 2020 should transform not only how NATO processes SIGINT, but how it shares this intelligence. This is highly relevant given that the sheer quantity of SIGINT to be collected and processes will increase exponentially.

The seminar heard how the number of RF (Radio Frequency) emitters, both civilian and military, will mushroom in the coming decade. This will create headaches for SIGINT practitioners in two ways: Firstly the numerical increase in emitters, notably driven by the civilian world’s increasing embrace of wireless technology like tablets and smartphones and increased procurement of military RF emitters such as tactical radios and radars. These will generate yet more electromagnetic noise which must be examined to find the signal of interest. Secondly, both civilian and military RF emitters will continue to make increasing use of frequency hopping technology. This means that a single radar could generate hundreds, if not thousands, of individual records as its transmissions move in a pseudo-random sequence within a particular waveband. Thus SIGINT systems will not only need to be detect this multitude of seemingly disparate transmissions, but also correctly associate them with a specific emitter. As one speaker noted this is where machine learning and artificial intelligence may have something to offer.

The EW world’s challenges show no signs of diminishing. Fortunately, forums such as the AOC’s seminar at DSEI provide an ideal environment in which potential solutions can be explored.

by Dr. Thomas Withington