CORVUS: Multirole Electronic Warfare for Superior Mission Agility

ICN 3 (L3Harris)
Dismounted troops can use L3Harris’ Individual CORVUS Node, better known as ICN. Covering a waveband of 20MHz up to six gigahertz, ICN weighs under two kilograms and can be used for electronic surveillance or cyberattack.

L3Harris Technologies’ CORVUS scalable electronic warfare architecture promises to reduce the physical burden of electronic warfare systems while increasing their capabilities in an affordable and efficient way.

Spare a thought for the dismounted Electronic Warfare (EW) soldier. Deploying on foot, they lug umpteen backpacks, boxes and antennas. Rough ground must be covered, extreme temperatures must be endured. The work is long, arduous and physically demanding. Each box contains a system. One box is listening for hostile radio transmissions across a 20 megahertz/MHz to two gigahertz waveband. Another box is performing the same mission for signals on wavebands of two gigahertz to six gigahertz. Each must be programmed and monitored as they scan the spectrum for signals of interest. Carrying these boxes causes sore muscles and aching joints. Monitoring each system contributes to fatigue.

Comrades in a foot patrol collecting reconnaissance several kilometres away are in the same boat, their mission taking place in bandit country. Radio frequency-activated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS) are a daily menace. One member of the foot patrol carries a Counter-IED device in their rucksack and is further weighed down with ammo and supplies. Commanders are interested in the insurgents’ local mobile phone traffic. Another member of the patrol carries an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catcher. This collects details of cellphones operating in their area. Cellphone intelligence will later be correlated with known insurgent cellphone IMSI numbers by intelligence operatives after the mission. The foot patrol reaches its objective in their Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). Over the years, this IFV has received an ever-growing number of ‘black boxes’ to protect against IED threats. Like the foot patrol, the vehicle has IED and Counter Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (CUAV) jammers, and is ready to provide fire support should the foot patrol need it.

Our hypothetical scenario above has three different missions: Communications Intelligence (COMINT) collection, general reconnaissance and force protection. Six systems are needed to support these missions: two COMINT electronic support measures, an IMSI catcher, a dismounted CIED system plus vehicle-mounted CIED and CUAV jammers. Six boxes for three missions creates weight for the troops carrying them and absorbs precious space and weight on the vehicle.

Drone Guardian (L3Harris)
L3Harris’ non-kinetic CORVUS EW countermeasures can be integrated with the L3Harris Drone Guardian Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft System solution to offer both comms denial and counter-drone, providing defeat capability as needed.

These six boxes translate into six different procurement programmes in turn translating into six different budget lines. In the past, buying a box-per-mission got the job done and helped save lives, but warfare, and procurement are changing. It is no longer feasible to buy a new ‘black box’ each time a new threat appears. EW systems must be scalable to a wide array of threats and outfit the entire force from individual soldiers, to vehicles and fixed bases. Moreover, this must be done at a price which does not break the bank.

“There is currently some disparity between the requirements of different armed forces’ delivery and procurement teams for multirole EW capability,” says Product Manager for L3Harris’ Intelligence and Cyber International (ICI) – EMEA business, Rob Hall. “While it is true that conversations about the benefits of multirole are taking place at a high level, this isn’t necessarily being reflected in the EW purchases we’re seeing on a regular basis.” He adds that “at present, many delivery and procurement teams are actively seeking single role equipment to satisfy individual objectives. Embracing a multirole approach to electronic warfare has the potential to unlock further gains in efficiency, cost, agility and longevity. Recent years have seen a growth in operational expenditure models that work to relieve the strain of capital expenditure budgets by introducing software-defined technology. Software applications are simply swapped out or introduced as needed.” L3Harris has “adopted this approach within our own EW product portfolio, enabling our customers to benefit from significant through-life savings, tactical and strategic interoperability, and no vendor lock-in.”

“Full EW system hardware refreshes, while sporadic, are a significant undertaking and can be extremely costly and time-consuming,” explains Director of Programmes and Services, Jackie Sands. “This might mean that the required capability is successfully delivered across a healthy five-to-ten-year lifecycle, but what about the ten years after that? The difficulty military procurement teams are faced with is that next-generation EW capability moves very quickly. There is simply no room for rigidity when trying to keep pace with the evolving modern battlespace. A flexible solution that prioritises the replacement of software rather than hardware will pay dividends in ensuring teams can remain agile well into the future. Our EW capabilities make this possible.”

L3Harris is a known market leader in the EW domain: “We put our customers’ mission effectiveness at the heart of everything we do,” says Head of Sales and Business Development for Defence, Tim Elliott. “Their unique requirements and our deep technical understanding of the current battlespace drives the development of our growing portfolio of next-generation electronic warfare capabilities. As a forces-friendly employer many of our people are coming from military backgrounds or are still serving. This knowledge enhances the work that we do and helps us build solutions that really make a difference.”

The company’s CIED jammers and CUAS systems are trusted by armed forces around the world and have saved countless lives. L3Harris has answered the mission and procurement challenges discussed above with CORVUS, its next-generation EW system architecture. CORVUS combines a diverse mission set in one package that can be carried by a soldier, mounted in a vehicle or both. Gone are the days of buying one system for one mission, CORVUS is one system for all missions. “In such a fast-paced environment where staying ahead of the adversary, building EW into the Common Operating Picture and shortening the decision chain is paramount, it is no longer an option to rely on inflexible, bulky and stove-piped hardware,” Tim Elliott added. “Software-defined, modular, multirole and multidomain approaches need to be fully embraced to ensure mission agility is maximised.”

Scalable and Open

Developed as a scalable, open, next-generation electronic warfare architecture, CORVUS can be used at every level of conflict from tactical, through to operational and strategic. Its open architecture ensures CORVUS is easily upgradable throughout the product’s life, and it can equip an array of platforms. This open approach also allows CORVUS to easily accommodate third-party applications and hardware. From procurement and life cycle perspectives, this avoids the customer being locked into a single vendor.

L3Harris developed CORVUS in three configurations; the Individual CORVUS Node (ICN), Portable CORVUS Node (PCN) and Configurable CORVUS System (CCS). These cover wavebands of 20MHz to six gigahertz. ICN equips individual soldiers and platforms weighing under two kilograms (four pounds/lbs). It can switch between roles, such as electronic surveillance or cyber-attack, in seconds. ICN provides the individual soldier with increased mission agility and freedom of action. ICN can also be used for vehicle protection by plugging it into the vehicle’s computer backplane. Cognisant of gender role implications associated with the term ‘manpack’, PCN was named ‘portable’ to promote gender inclusivity. A lightweight wearable system, PCN is designed to be carried, transported on a vehicle or dismounted. CCS is a multirole, multiplatform capability that can be employed in a fixed, vehicle-mounted or semi-mounted configuration. It generates up to 350 watts of output power in a package weighing 40 kilograms (80lbs).

ICN 5 (L3Harris)
The versatility of the ICN system is that, as well as being used by dismounted troops, it can be employed for vehicle protection plugging into a computer backplane, effectively providing the user with two systems in one.

The CORVUS configurations support electronic surveillance, situational awareness and the direction-finding of threats. Force protection, notably for troops and platforms and against UAVs is also supported. When threats are identified, CORVUS engages them with electronic and cyber effects. The CORVUS systems are supported by the CORVUS Mission Support tools. These tools continually generate and analyse mission data. This helps mission preparation, planning and orchestration. The latter ensures commanders continually anticipate likely outcomes for effects and evaluate their success.

Ease of use has been built into the CORVUS design from the outset. Troops can easily configure CORVUS equipment to perform force protection missions at the touch of a button. Likewise, the equipment can be easily rerolled to collect signals intelligence. Mission enablement is at the heart of the CORVUS philosophy. While EW has been viewed as a ‘bolt on’ mission in the past, performed as and when needed, this is no longer the case. An IED threat may prevent a mission being performed if the team lacks CIED jammers. Hostile UAVs may threaten a patrol while it goes about its work. CORVUS takes care of such threats while supporting overall EW mission requirements.

L3Harris is able to provide a host of software applications for customers. Alternatively, users may have their own ‘apps’ they wish to install into their CORVUS systems. CORVUS’ open architecture makes this an easy process. The company can also develop specific apps in conjunction with the customer based on their requirements. The system uses OpenVPX plug-in cards that facilitate easy upgrades to keep pace with emerging threats.

Evolutionary Approach

L3Harris prides itself on continually evolving its products: “We are committed to investing eight percent of our revenues in pivotal research and development year-on-year and work hard to shape cutting-edge, next-generation solutions that meet the needs of both today and the future for our customers,” says managing director, Pete Hoddinott. “Through the use of open standards-based architectures, we encourage collaboration with customers and partners to develop mission-critical, multirole capabilities that adapt at the speed of relevance and address the demands of the ever-evolving battlespace.”

CORVUS lightens the burden both from a physical and a procurement perspective while improving mission effectiveness. This is not theoretical. CORVUS is available now and has already won the trust of several customers. The long-desired dream of one affordable system for several EW missions is a reality.