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US Navy’s SEWIP program continuously upgrading its shipboard electronic warfare system to keep pace with threats

Naval Warships now faces wide spectrum of threats from air threats such as hypersonic missiles, ballistic and cruise missiles, rail guns, lasers , UAVs  and underwater threats like cavitating torpedoes.  One of the prime over water threat is from Anti-Ship Missiles type of guided missiles mostly of the sea skimming variety, and many use a combination of inertial guidance and active radar homing. A good number of other anti-ship missiles use infrared homing to follow the heat that is emitted by a ship; it is also possible for anti-ship missiles to be guided by radio command all the way.


The littoral environment,  is also characterized by dense, commercial air traffic and merchant shipping, which present challenges to the combat systems (and their operators) in distinguishing between hostile, neutral, and friendly tracks.


Reduced radar cross sections and lowlhigh-altitude flight profiles will be employed to reduce the available battlespace by limiting the detection range and thus the time to react to and engage the target. The high-speed and high-acceleration (high g) terminal maneuvers can challenge the weapon system performance by stressing the defensive missile’s kinematics and agility. In addition, multimode seekers (combinations of RF active, antiradiation homing, or IR homing), as well as strict emissions control aimed at minimizing detection opportunities and the effectiveness of deceptive electronic countermeasures and decoys, can create further challenges for defensive electronic warfare systems.


A robust, autonomous ship self-defense capability is essential for these ships to be able to sustain operations and accomplish their missions. Improvements in each of the three  major weapon system elements-detect, control, engage-are required to operate effectively in this environment and counter the air threat. Increased target detection ranges, decreased system reaction times, advanced command and control features, and improved hardkill and electronic warfare weapons can be developed, integrated, and coordinated to provide an effective defense.


The near-land, highclutter environment, coupled with sea-skimming missiles, can overburden many of  existing sensors. Radar improvements in effective radiated power, aperture, waveform flexibility, and signal processing are required to achieve adequate detection ranges. Improved integration and the increased automation of sensors, weapons, and fire control systems are essential to shorten reaction time and coordinate weapon response. I


In addition, advanced command and control features are needed to enable command personnel to direct and monitor the overall operation of the combat system in this environment with complex rules of engagement and identification requirements. Finally, advanced defensive missiles with increased kinematics, fast flyout, multimode seekers (e.g., semi-active homing and IR terminal), improved au topilots and agility, and improved low-altitude ordnance fuzing are essential to countering the advanced-cruise missile threat.


To satisfy self-defense requirements, US Navy has embarked on series of upgradation of existing system elements  and initiation of new critical developments under its Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) program. The Navy has kept SEWIP a multi-prime effort, with General Dynamics providing much of Block 1, Lockheed Martin winning SEWIP Block 2, and Northrop Grumman winning the most recent Block 3 prime in February 2015.


The electronic warfare threats the Navy is facing is now employ wider frequency bands, low power signals, frequency diversity, complex emitters, electromagnetic capability/electromagnetic interference, and flight profiles. The Navy wants to harden its aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and warships against an evermore hostile electronic warfare environment. And to do so, the service recently awarded Lockheed Martin an $184 million contract.

U.S. Navy’s Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP)

The U.S. Navy’s Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) is a series of evolutionary development “block” upgrades for Raytheon’s legacy AN/SLQ-32(V) electronic warfare system, designed to provide incremental capability enhancements to enable its ships to continue to outpace threats.


Introduced in the late 1970s, the original AN/SLQ-32 electronic warfare system’s mission was to provide early detection, signal analysis, threat warning, and protection from anti-ship missiles. The integrated shipboard combat system is equipped with a full suite of electronic warfare capabilities that can be managed and controlled manually from a console either semi-manually or automatically by the host combat management system, according to the Navy.


The US Navy (USN) is now exploring options to compete the production of hardware for its next-generation Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3 electronic attack (EA) system. SEWIP Block 3 is designed to provide USN surface ships with expanded EA capabilities based upon the architecture of the AN/SLQ-32(V)6/SEWIP Block 2 system. As well as jamming targeting radars and missile seekers, the Block 3 increment will also introduce a soft kill co-ordination system to provide direction and scheduling for both onboard and offboard ‘soft-kill’ effectors.


Block 4 is a future upgrade that will roll in an electro-optic or infrared approach to the spectrum, because threats are expanding to encompass more of the spectrum. “Blocks 3 and 4 will both build upon Block 2 capabilities to provide more sensor data to that type of interface,” Ottaviano says. “Once these are fully rocked out, they’ll continue to be future-proofed against all of the threats that are emerging now, including the RF and infrared spectrum. This requires a solid understanding of the RF and signal environment and how to work within it better than your adversaries.”

The Navy established SEWIP in 2002. SEWIP supports AN/SLQ-32(V), a shipboard electronic warfare system that delivers electronic support and countermeasure protection for U.S. and international navies. Designed in the 1970s and deployed in the 1980s, AN/SLQ-32 (pronounced “slick”) scans the electronic spectra for signs of incoming missiles. While a Block 1 upgrade fine-tuned some of those capabilities, Block 2 is more of a reboot, giving the system considerably expanded powers. Reaching across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, Block 2 enables AN/SLQ-32 to tune into not just missiles but ships, radio traffic and other key electronic signals.


SEWIP Block 1

Block 1 provided enhanced electronic warfare capabilities to existing and new ship combat systems to improve anti-ship missile defense, counter-targeting, and counter-surveillance capabilities. SEWIP allows sailors to protect the ship from the threats you can see (incoming missiles) to those you can’t (radar jamming). Obsolescence mitigation was addressed for Block 1 by incorporating electronic surveillance enhancements and improved control and display.



SEWIP Block 2

Block 2 upgrades are  designed to provide enhanced electronic support capability by upgrading the electronic support antenna and receiver, as well creating an open combat system interface for the AN/SLQ-32. The Navy awarded Lockheed Martin  a $154 million contract to upgrade the fleet’s electronic warfare defenses against evolving threats.


Under this Block 2 contract, Lockheed Martin is providing additional systems to upgrade the AN/SLQ-32 systems on U.S. aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and other warships with key capabilities to determine whether or not the electronic sensors of potential foes are tracking the ship.


As another part of this deal, Mercury Systems Inc. was awarded a $7.1 million contract by the U.S. Naval Warfare Center’s Crane Division to supply advanced radio frequency tuners, digital receivers, and related equipment to Lockheed Martin to be used as spares during the installation of the AN/SLQ-32(V)6 electronic countermeasures system on U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships. “The Navy’s electronic warfare focus is on electromagnetic dominance,” says Joe Ottaviano, Electronic Warfare program director for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training.


In other words, it’s necessary to be able to detect threats working in signals ranging from low-frequency RF to those within the visible light and infrared parts of the spectrum. “This is a push not only by the Navy but also the entire Department of Defense. Technology is enabling threats to become more complex, so the systems that deal with threats are also increasingly complex,” Ottaviano notes.


With its broad radio-frequency range, Block 2 creates situational awareness across the electromagnetic domain. When that intelligence can be integrated into the combat system, “that’s a very powerful capability, in that it enables the combat system to be looking everywhere all at once,” Ottaviano said.


Responding to threats with a hardware change is no longer considered acceptable, for example. “Threats need to be dealt with through on-the-fly system upgrades rather than waiting for a new hardware piece to become available,” Ottaviano explains. “So we’re seeing a shift toward DC-to-daylight systems to outpace threats.”


Electronic warfare is a much different type of challenge than radar, because while a radar knows when a signal was sent, what sent it, what it looks like, its intent, and roughly when it will return and what it will look like, typical electronic warfare systems – whether RF-based or based on visual electro-optics – can’t determine any of these properties. “But the purpose of electronic warfare is to determine a signal’s intent quickly to assess whether or not it’s a threat to ongoing operations,” points out Ottaviano.


Block 2 brings processing capability improvements

Processing capabilities are improving and enabling operations in real time that weren’t possible three years ago. “Now, we can reprogram the front end of a system in real time, and we’re seeing the ability to inject RF into FPGAs directly,” Ottaviano explains. “This is an exciting capability that opens up all kinds of new options. The amount of processing power we can bring to bear continues to improve, and the tools are finally catching up. As the tools improve, we’re able to better manage its development.” This is a huge step forward, because everyone jumped into open architectures before the tools were really ready.


There’s also “a big effort going into general-purpose (GP) computation on GPUs, which are even more programmable and open in some ways than FPGAs,” he adds. “It now takes mere seconds to upgrade a system, as opposed to 30 seconds.”


Biggest Block 2 challenges

The front-end analog-to-digital conversion market was the biggest challenge, according to Ottaviano. “As threats widened, it became the focal point. We keep moving the ‘choke point’ of the system closer to the front end,” he explains. “Ultimately, the front-end analog-to-digital conversion is the next thing we’re working to conquer.” Why? It’s the “limiting factor to how open the front end can be, how wide the system can be at any one given point in time,” Ottaviano says. “So we’re working toward widening bandwidths, while maintaining the signal quality that everyone needs. Until recently, the challenge was that the commercial market drove the analog-to-digital devices.”


Block 2 creates open, reprogrammable architecture

In terms of Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the Navy’s SEWIP Block 2, the goal is to help keep pace with expanding threats – bandwidths becoming wider – by upgrading the antenna, receiver, and processing systems. This capability began with Block 1. “Block 2 is the first step toward creating an open architecture with a reprogrammable on-the-fly-type electronic warfare system for the Surface Naval platforms,” Ottaviano says. “The blocks of SEWIP all build off each other – each one brings more capability,” he says.


Block 2, in particular, zeroes in on detection. It encompasses an open “agnostic sensor” combat-management system interface, which is the first of its kind to be deployed on Navy ships because it simply publishes data anyone can pick up. This makes it unnecessary to “redo” interfaces, according to Ottaviano.


The main achievement of Block 2 was the creation of an open architecture with open signal processing. “We’ve moved away from custom processing, which was common in many military systems during the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s,” Ottaviano says. “Now, the government and industry are embracing open architectures. The programmability it enables allows us to deal with threats – whether it’s an FPGA or signals intelligence work. So we’re seeing a shift from custom processors to off-the-shelf processors, which gives us the next level of flexibility to literally be able to reprogram on-the-fly in real time during engagement.”


“As threats continue to become more complex, we had to be sure the system was software upgradable, to give the system additional capabilities,” he said. “This is a new tool in the toolbox and everyone is still finding out just how powerful it is. If there is a decision to upgrade systems software, we can do it very quickly and easily.”


Joe Ottaviano, director at Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems  said the open interface is especially significant in an increasingly hostile EW environment, where integration between shipboard systems becomes critical. “You have more flow of information, allowing the combat system to make faster, real-time decisions. It also gives the combat system a better picture of the overall environment that it sits in,” he said.


Overcoming obsolescence concerns with Block 2

As you can imagine, obsolescence of parts and components is a major concern during these types of upgrades. “It’s the beautiful double-edged sword of COTS,” notes Ottaviano. “A typical refresh cycle can be as short as 12 months, so shifting to COTS does present a challenge. While we’ve experienced obsolete parts, we haven’t missed a beat.” Lockheed Martin saw the COTS challenges coming and has worked to manage it because of the savings COTS can bring. “But there’s a lot of downstream work to manage obsolescence, in terms of needing tighter integration with your supply base,” Ottaviano says.


Significantly, Block 2 is the first COTS electronic warfare system to be built. “It was a growing pain when we first started moving electronic warfare into COTS four to five years ago,” he admits. “But it’s a uniquely COTS system with key ingredients to hold it together.”


While COTS components may not exactly be known for being as reliable as custom ones, SEWIP is “performing very well out at sea in a harsh environment, proving that Blocks 1 and 2 can indeed be achieved using COTS components,” Ottaviano points out. One of the key requirements was a “processing board with 25-year reliability to ensure operation within uncooled environments,” he says. “This makes it crucial to work with suppliers who deliver high-reliability parts; you can’t deliver a fragile system.”

Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3

Northrop Grumman was awarded a $267m contract by the US Navy to develop and manufacture the next-generation SEWIP Block 3 system. SEWIP Block 3 will provide Electronic Attack (EA) capability improvements required for the AN/SLQ-32(V) system to keep pace with the threat.


The SEWIP Block 3 solution features active and passive arrays, and electronic warfare and communications functions with continuous 360° coverage. Designed to easily interact with the combat management system, the system’s multi-mission technology provides unprecedented situational awareness to detect, track and engage threats in high-clutter environments.


The addition of the SEWIP Block 3 EA system to the existing SEWIP Block 1B3 (high gain/high sense receiver adjunct) and Block 2 (upgraded electronic support antenna/digital receiver) will create the AN/SLQ-32(V)7 system. The SEWIP Block 3 technical solution adopts an active electronically scanned array based on Gallium Nitride transmit/receive modules, and capitalises on technology previously matured and de-risked under the Office of Naval Research’s Integrated Topside programme.


SEWIP Block 3 is designed to deliver a common EA capability to DDG 51 destroyers, aircraft carriers, and amphibious assault ships fitted with the AN/SLQ-32(V)3 and AN/SLQ-32(V)4 systems, and also selected new-construction platforms. The embodiment will introduce an integrated EA capability encompassing a new transmitter, array, and associated jamming techniques


In contrast to traditional systems designed to operate in a narrow range of frequencies against known threats, “SEWIP Block 3 brings active electronic attack across a wider frequency range…with digital processing that will facilitate new ‘intelligent’ EW processing that will enable the system to react to signals it has never seen before,” said retired Navy commander Bryan Clark, now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “SEWIP Block 3’s AESA array enables it to be a passive sensor, communication array, or a radar,” he added. “It could also confuse or obscure aircraft and ship radars” as part of the Navy’s new “electromagnetic maneuver warfare” concept.


Traditionally, ships try to shoot down incoming missiles with their own interceptor missiles at the longest possible range, Clark says, but long-range interceptors are expensive and bulky, and ships can’t carry enough — nor can the Navy afford enough — to fend off a Chinese or Russian-style mass salvo. That puts a premium on “non-kinetic” systems that can keep shooting as long as they have electrical power, like the Navy’s prototype laser or the SEWIP Block 3 jammer.


The General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems’ AN/SSX-1 is an electronic warfare system that supports a variety of missions including maritime interdiction operations against weapon, chemical and drug smuggling. The AN/SSX-1 collects precision electronic parametric data and correlates it to specific transmissions from ships and aircraft searching for potential matches. It was designed for the US Navy’s Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) which is an upgrade to the AN/SLQ-32 electronic warfare anti-ship missile defense system. The US Navy in collaboration with Northrop Grumman successfully completed the preliminary design review (PDR) for the next-generation AN/SLQ-32 shipboard electronic warfare system.


Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) programme executive officer rear admiral Jon A Hill said: “This ensures that the cutting-edge preliminary design is on track to meet necessary technology improvements to the AN/SLQ-32 family of electronic warfare systems through specific enhancements to threat identification, prioritisation, defensive systems optimal assignment, and active engagement.” The upgraded version of current AN/SLQ-32(V)6 systems will offer enhanced, fully integrated, threat detection and active radar-jamming capability, in addition to critical enhancements in coordinated electronic warfare defence.


The SEWIP Block 3 enhancements for the shipboard AN/SLQ-32 will be provided through a series of upgrades that will involve the addition of new technologies and capabilities for early detection, signal analysis, threat warning and protection from anti-ship missiles. SEWIP Block 4 is a future planned upgrade that will provide advanced electro-optic and infrared capabilities to the AN/SLQ-32(V) system.



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