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Navies modernize Submarine Electronic Warfare through new technologies for successful missions

Much of our submarine mission time today is devoted to battle space preparation.  The Key attributes of a successful mission are: Acquiring awareness of militarily significant events in the battlespace – status of enemy forces, operations, facilities, weather, terrain, and the electromagnetic spectrum and providing timely information required by the commander to make decisions and employ weapons and other systems precisely, says US Navy. For own-ship safety, surface attack, and early warning, submarines have had periscopes, radars, radio direction-finding loops, and radar-warning receivers for much of their existence.


Electronic warfare (EW) is any action involving the use of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM spectrum) or directed energy to control the spectrum, attack an enemy, or impede enemy assaults. The purpose of electronic warfare is to deny the opponent the advantage of, and ensure friendly unimpeded access to, the EM spectrum. “To control the electromagnetic spectrum, you have to be able to put whatever your device is that controls that spectrum in the place where you need it,” declared Vice Adm. Mike Connor, commander of Atlantic submarine forces, in address to the Naval Submarine League. In the submarine force, he went on, “we have a remarkable ability to take the sensors that we have” — as well as “offensive” systems, he added — “and put them in the place they are most relevant, because we can get closer.”


Submarines because of their stealth and persistence are also more preferred for Signal intelligence missions (SIGINT) missions. As the threat of advanced air and coastal defense networks increases, especially with regards to the rapid spread of long-range and fast-flying surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles, the innate intelligence collecting qualities of submarines are likely to become even more important. With an increasingly important role of submarines in today’s joint warfare, capable onboard Electronic Warfare (EW) sensors and systems that can intercept and process electromagnetic signals are vital.  Further miniaturization has reduced the SWAP of SIGINT [Signals Intelligence] and electronic warfare payloads allowing them to  carry much more effective and sensitive sensors.


The future Submarine Force will soon enjoy a full range of above-water sensor capabilities. Reliable, real-time wireless connectivity between the forward-positioned submarine, the battle group, and off-board sensors will be a necessary enabler to extract the maximum advantage inherent in the submarine platform. Furthermore, the Rapid COTS Insertion approach will be crucial to the fleet for upgrading or reconfiguring its capabilities to provide the interoperability needed for the effective execution of joint missions. write Dr. Frank Chan, Carl Lindstrom, David Swanick, and Dr. Michael Visich.


Submarine EW modernization efforts have begun to improve submarine capabilities significantly and are being coordinated with other communities to maximize their utility through commonality. Advances in commercial electronic technologies have taken submarine EW systems from closed architecture, stove-piped hardware to an integrated, open, and scalable architecture. New antenna and radio-frequency technologies have increased signal intercept capabilities by offering greater coverage of the frequency spectrum at increased standoff ranges, resulting in a greater probability of mission success.


There’s a danger here, Connor acknowledged. Submarines survive by hiding: They emit as little as possible, whether it’s sound waves or electromagnetic ones. They risk revealing their position every time they transmit reports to other units, let alone if they turn on a jammer. Whether that risk is worth it will be a crucial decision for the future submarine commander. But it’s not a binary either/or, on/off. How long you transmit, how strongly, where and when are all variables the commander can adjust to set the balance of gain and risk — part of what the Navy calls Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare. Stealth technologies have also considerably reduced the radar signatures of current submarine masts and sensors, offering a significant reduction in vulnerability while operating at periscope depth.


Submarines to employ Unmanned vehicles for Electronic Warfare

Therefore navies are  developing submarines that can launch unmanned systems. These could be as simple as a communications buoy that rises to the surface, waits a set time, and transmits. They could be expendable drones, launched from a submarine’s missile tubes the same way as a Tomahawk. They could be complex mini-subs in themselves, known as large diameter underwater unmanned vehicles (LDUUVs), that can launch from a manned sub to conduct a long-range mission. They could even be large payload modules that are towed behind a submarine until, at a strategic point, it releases them to settle to the sea floor and await the signal to unleash their payload of UUVs, drones or missiles.

These  robots enhance submarine survivability by keeping the expensive and precious manned submarine at a distance from danger by sending an unmanned surrogate instead. Even a large-diameter UUV or seafloor-lurking pod is a fraction the size of a sub, with no nuclear reactor or human beings onboard, so it’s much harder to find and hit. Even if it is destroyed, its loss is much more acceptable than that of a $2-plus billion sub with 132 souls aboard.


That makes unmanned vehicles the logical choice for electronic warfare. Jamming means transmitting in a way the enemy can pick up, so a jammer by definition reveals its presence (though it may be hard for the enemy to lock onto and shoot). A single jammer can launch multiple EW drones and have them wait a while, fly a ways, or both before they go active and blaze their presence across the enemy’s screens.


The downside to carrying UAVs and UUVs is they displace missiles and torpedoes, and submarines are always tight on space. But Clark and Martinage argue that carrying unmanned systems to spy on, jam, and hack enemy electronics is a better use of a sub’s limited payload than kinetic weapons.


“You’re better off using the submarine to deliver smaller electronic warfare payloads, [because] they’re smaller than the missiles, so you can carry them in larger numbers,” said Clark . That means the sub can keep doing the electronic/cyber warfare mission longer than it can keep up a kinetic bombardment. What’s more, he argued, even a submarine maxed out on missiles may not do much against a sophisticated foe. We can hit targets with Tomahawks at will in Third World countries, “[but] as defenses get better, three or four cruise missiles aren’t going to be enough,” he said, “[and] if I’m launching a dozen cruise missiles, that’s like the whole capacity of a Virginia-class submarine.”

The upgrade known as the Virginia Payload Module will more than triple the number of launch tubes on future Virginias. You could fit even more weapons on a towed payload module, external to the submarine, that could be deposited on the ocean floor and commanded by remote control, Martinage argued. But even with this extra capacity, he agrees that jammers and sensors will often be a better use of payload space than explosive warheads.


Russia’s Borei-Class & Delta IV-Class SSBNs To Deploy Burak-M EW Buoys

The Russian Navy will be protected against adversary antisubmarine aircraft and drones. Burak-M is an electronic warfare device. It is discharged by a submarine to the water surface, activates and operates as a jammer. It jams the communication channels of acoustic buoys — submarine detection stations dropped by adversary airplanes and helicopters.


Burak-M buoys will make a sea area impenetrable. Communications by all channels will be jammed or complicated to the maximum by the new system. It is intended for Borey-class SSBN of project 955 and Dolphin-class of project 667BDRM, as well as diesel-electric submarines, the Izvestia writes.


The fight against such stations is very important for the Russian Navy. NATO countries engage such buoys to search for submarines, expert Igor Kurdin said. “In particular, the United States has recently upgraded Orion antisubmarine aircraft. It is armed with magnetometers, acoustic and other equipment to detect submarines. The aircraft drops buoys in the area of a detected submarine. The equipment lowers hydrophones to a specific depth to determine the exact coordinates of the submarine,” he said. Disrupted communications between the antisubmarine aircraft and the buoys make their use senseless and allows a submarine to escape. The Russian Navy has not had such systems before, the expert said.


The new Russian buoys have to promote covert operations of SSBN of projects 667BDRM and 955 which are the backbone of the naval component of the Russian strategic nuclear forces. Burak-M will be also used by Lada-class diesel-electric submarines of projects 636.3 and 677. The submarines have to destroy warships and U-boats, engage in patrol, reconnaissance, and defend communications in brown waters. They are armed with torpedoes and Kalibr cruise missiles, the Izvestia said.


Submarines increasingly employd for SIGINT Missions

German firm PLATH, which builds radio direction finding gear and communications intelligence (COMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) equipment, has been steadily working to expand its product line to include systems intended for subs. Torsten Düsing, who acts as both the company’s technical marketing manager and business case manager for naval solutions, specifically highlighted the spying potential of underwater vessels.


PLATH’s particular system, which it unveiled in November 2016, “provides tactically relevant information with minimal mast exposure, listening for communications signals from [anti-submarine warfare] aircraft” when the boat is in danger, Düsing explained. “When not under ASW threat, the task involves building operational intelligence and fundamental knowledge by collecting, recording and direction finding signals.” Effectively the equipment performs an important defensive electronic counter-measures function, helping crew hide the submarine from enemy forces, as well as acting as a general intelligence gathering tool.


But submarines do have real limits as electronic eavesdroppers. “The mast doesn’t stick that far out of the water,” Clark said, “[so] your horizon’s pretty close, so you can’t get too far away.” The periscope mast can also only carry a relatively small sensor — although Navy upgrade programs are making the best they can of limited space — which limits range still more. US submariners have been able to work around these problems, Clark said, “[but] against an alerted enemy, getting close enough to really get a good signal is hard.”


The system’s relatively small size – at least according to the German defense contractor – and ability to use existing antennas already on a sub might make up for these limitations. Combining the gear with underwater drones or sub-launched unmanned aerial vehicles, either as antennas, signal relays, or both, could help extend its overall range.


PLATH’s complete system includes software package to analyze the signals the sensors receive. It can use the information to map out “emitters” such as radio transmitters, radars, or other electronic systems to give the sailors a better understanding of their surroundings and potential threats. Garnering this electronic order of battle on the fly could also be valuable for building a broad picture of an enemy coastline in preparation for larger operations or for gathering strategic intelligence, such as flight data telemetry from missile tests.


“The geographic focus is on urbanized littorals in crisis regions, harbors, shipping routes and military test, training and maneuver areas,” Düsing noted. “The need to establish a line of sight to adversary tactical [very high frequency] sources between 30 and 88 MHz and at the lower end of the [ultra high frequency] band means that only submarines can get close enough.”


Lockheed Martin AN/BLQ-10 EW system

In 2019, U.S. Navy officials selected Lockheed Martin for engineering and technical services for the AN/BLQ-10 Electronic Warfare System Technology Insertion (TI)-20, TI-22 and TI-24. The contract is worth approximately $20 million. The contract includes the design, development, testing, integration, technology insertion/refreshment and system support of new-construction and in-service submarines.


The AN/BLQ-10 processes signals from the submarine’s imaging mast or periscope when the boat is at periscope depth. It provides threat warning to avoid counter-detection and collision; determines the number and location of targets for subsequent prosecution; and conducts intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to support the fleet or battle group.


The AN/BLQ-10 is for Virginia-, Los Angeles-, and Seawolf-class fast-attack submarines, Ohio-class conventional guided-missile submarines, and future Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarines. It is not for existing Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines.


The AN/BLQ-10 submarine electronic warfare system processes radar signals through masts and periscopes to detect threats such as counter detection, collision and target locations. The AN/BLQ-10 provides automatic detection, classification, localization, and identification of potentially hostile radar and communications signals at sea. Crews can rapidly analyze and identify critical signals to determine hostile, neutral or friendly situations.


The AN/BLQ-10 system includes commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) and non-developmental item hardware and software that is cost-effective to meet operational requirements and life-cycle costs. The AN/BLQ-10 system is an open architecture platform to accommodate current and future mission needs and technology upgrades. The program is adopting incremental development process that fields hardware and software technology insertions every two years, which are called technology insertions. The AN/BLQ-10 blends modular interoperable systems that adhere to open standards with published interfaces.


The system’s first technology insertion in 2008 added a subsystem to intercept some low-probability-of-intercept radar signals. Fielded upgrades from the 2010 technology insertions updated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processors and displays, and Improved Communications Acquisition and Direction Finding (ICADF) system. TI-12 upgrades have been fielded on advanced-model Los-Angeles-class attack submarines (SSN 688I) to include new and more powerful computer servers; and standardize the system’s cyber security process.


TI-14 upgrades updated COTS processors and displays, and upgraded the system’s Electronic Warfare Server First Generation, which provides its electronic support system operator and platform decision makers with improved tactical situational awareness. TI-20 calls for Lockheed Martin to build an upgraded AN/BLQ-10 for Virginia- and Columbia-class submarine new construction, and in-service Virginia-class modernization. TI-22 work will provide upgraded AN/BLQ-10 systems for in-service Los Angeles- and Seawolf-class attack submarines, as well as for Ohio-class conventional missile submarines. TI-24 work will build an upgraded AN/BLQ-10 for Virginia-class and Columbia-class new construction, as well as for in-service Virginia-class modernization.



Next Generation Electronic Warfare Human Machine Interface (HMI) for Submarines

US Navy had called for development of  intuitive, responsive, and open Human Machine Interface (HMI) system for Submarine Electronic Warfare (EW) AN/BLQ-10B (V) for increased operator efficiency and decision-making for submarine operators.


The purpose of HMIs are to allow the EW operator to intuitively interact with the Radio frequency (RF) environment and reduce the operators’ manual interaction with the system while significantly improving emission classification and correlation (ref 2). While the current submarine operational environment becomes increasingly complex and dense, the AN/BLQ-10 (submarine EW system) operator would be capable of providing accurate and timely information to the control room decision-makers for improved situational awareness.


With the current submarine EW system becoming increasingly complex (coupled with a denser more complex electromagnetic operational environment), operators will need to have faster interaction with the system in ways that are more intuitive, and accurately show the electromagnetic environment allowing quicker data processing for decision-making and increased operator mission performance.


The challenge for the EW operator is to provide the control room decision-makers with timely, relevant, and accurate reports to improve situational awareness. The solution should also focus on improved operational performance, effectiveness and operator workload reduction. These HMI modules must be able to consume and display organic (data collected from on board sensors) and inorganic (data that originates from off board sensors) data sets of varying types. Data sets can range from processed answers (sonar solutions, ESM emitter reports) to raw digital sets (Pulse Descriptor Words (PDW’s), continuous digital intermediate frequency (IF) (CDIF), burst digital IF (BDIF), or In-phase / Quadrature (I/Q) data). These displays can range from processed near real time (NRT) data to real time (RT) data displays.


The Navy seeks an innovative approach to improve machine-to-operator interfaces in both traditional and innovative displays for operator interaction with data and system functions to provide the most comprehensive and intuitive controls and displays for operator use. This system should provide easy integration with new applications and features to increase operator functionality without increasing the operator/system interaction. The system must be modular and easily extensible to allow for future growth as the AN/BLQ-10 adds or improves functionality and data sources.


Digital Early Warning Receiver (EWR) for the Next Generation Submarine Electronic Warfare (EW)

As wideband electronic warfare systems become increasingly prevalent in the modern battlefield, system designers are posed with many challenges with how to achieve higher performance and lower SWaP required by next-generation EW receivers. The EW application is particularly challenging as a receiver with a wide operating band and as much instantaneous bandwidth as possible is desired. These challenges indicate that for single downconversion receiver architectures,


Sonalysts proposes to develop a novel Digital Early Warning Receiver (DEWR) concept that fits within the digital architecture of the Next Generation Architecture (NGA) Submarine Electronic Warfare Suite. The DEWR will employ a modular video detection and digitization layer with narrow acceptance bandwidths across the entire electromagnetic spectrum and high-speed analog-to-digital conversion.


Digital video output is processed to satisfy legacy safety of ship requirements and to feed innovative algorithms for improved pulse characterization, feature extraction, and cueing of the AN/BLQ-10B narrow band receivers. Raw digital data and Pulse Descriptor Words (PDWs) are provided to a high-speed network to support the incorporation of new capabilities via advanced algorithms.


Sonalysts DEWR approach exploits advances in envelope detection technologies to increase sensitivity and dynamic range while retaining the dependability and fleet familiarity required of a safety critical application. A tunable notch filter upstream of the detector is used to mitigate the effects of Continuous Wave (CW) interferers. Additional advantages include: retention of rugged highly reliable analog front end, incremental fielding of digital capability, and supports future NGA system feeding digital data products to and from the DEWR. Sonalysts modular design concept reduces implementation risk for NGA and increases the Navys return on investment.



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