Thinking Aloud

Cognitive Electronic Warfare Book Cover
Cognitive Electronic Warfare: An Artificial Intelligence Approach will become a seminal text in the growing cognitive EW domain.

A new book gives a much-needed discussion and clarification on the specifics of Cognitive Electronic Warfare.

Lockdown is a time for reading. Once more Armada’s bookshelves have been laden with a new electronic warfare tome. We were delighted to receive a copy of Karen Haigh and Julia Andrusenko’s Cognitive Electronic Warfare: An Artificial Intelligence Approach. Dr. Haigh and Ms. Andrusenko’s work is the right book at the right time. Both are renown experts in cognitive EW. Dr. Haigh is Mercury Systems’ chief fellow technologist for artificial intelligence. Ms. Andrusenko is a chief engineer at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

Cognitive electronic warfare is a phrase traded with abandon in Pentagon pontification and programme Powerpoints. The authors set themselves a vexing task: Define cognitive EW and explain artificial intelligence’s contribution. They succeed with aplomb.

Understandably the book includes significant scientific and engineering discussion. This is not daunting for those of us with a lamentable relationship with maths and science. The text flows enlivened by clear definitions.


Before defining cognitive EW, the authors explain that a cognitive system “perceives the environment, reasons about the situation, and acts to accomplish goals.” Crucially “it learns from the interaction with the environment (providing) situation assessment, decision-making, and learning capabilities.”

The authors argue that the complexity of contemporary EW highlights the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is at the heart of cognitive EW: “The challenges of modern EW are beyond the ability of traditional approaches to solve.” Using AI in EW systems “is the only way to manage the complexity of this problem.”

Central to cognitive EW is Electronic Support (ES). One of the three pillars of EW alongside electronic attack and protection “(t)he first step in every cognitive EW system is electronic support … (ES) determines who is using the spectrum, where and when they are using it, and whether there are patterns that can be exploited.” Cognitive EW can be applied “to observe and understand the plans, activities, and goals of all the participants in the theatre.”

Likewise cognitive electronic warfare is applicable to electronic attack and protection. The speed and complexity of conflict will only increase: “Decision-making time requirements are faster than humans are capable of handling,” say the authors. Complexity translates into more inputs than a human can handle. This results in “too many choices for a human to analyse.”


A truism of electronic warfare, cognitive and conventional, is that a successful task depends on good data. Ms. Andrusenko and Dr. Haigh warn that data quality depends on the right questions: How has the data been gathered? Is the data sufficient? Is it biased? Has it been nefariously manipulated? This is as relevant to EW as it is to all aspects of automation. Yet in this case lives may depend on data integrity.

How to get started?

The book argues there will be no ‘big bang’ moment where cognitive EW is suddenly adopted. It will make its presence felt in a piecemeal fashion. The authors note that cognitive techniques are already used in the US Army’s Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT). Raytheon is supplying this EW battle management and command and control system for the army’s brigade combat teams. Cognitive elements include tools to develop the electromagnetic order of battle and for de-conflicting frequency use.

The authors assure us that building a cognitive EW system “is not the hurdle many believe.” The trick is to start small: “(S)tarting small develops (human) expertise and awareness of which details will affect the final product.”

The defence community has been waiting for someone to define cognitive EW. Thanks to Dr. Haigh and Ms. Andrusenko the wait is over. This robust, thought-provoking book will become a standard text in this fast-emerging field.

You can order a copy of Cognitive Electronic Warfare: An Artificial Intelligence Approach here:

by Dr. Thomas Withington