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Militaries fielding portable Manpack electronic warfare systems to gather intelligence and as offensive electronic attack system

Electronic warfare (EW) is any action involving the use of the electromagnetic spectrum or directed energy to control the spectrum, attack of an enemy, or impede enemy assaults via the spectrum. The purpose of electronic warfare is to deny the opponent the advantage of, and ensure friendly unimpeded access to, the EM spectrum. EW can be applied from air, sea, land, and space by manned and unmanned systems, and can target humans, communications, radar, or other assets.


Modern Soldiers have to fight battles both conventional force-on-force type as well as counter-insurgency campaigns in a difficult terrain.  Electronic warfare operations in today’s battlespace require intuitive, lightweight and rapidly deployable manpack systems to monitor the diverse and constantly changing tactical environment. Man-packable, full suite Electronic Warfare (EW) systems must be designed to be carried by three people to be used on-the march, in a static environment, or mounted on platforms of opportunity.


The US Army has fielded Versatile Radio Observation and Direction, or VROD, Modular Adaptive Transmission system, known as VMAX, have already been fielded to meet mission requirements. “VMAX is a lightweight man-portable electronics support and offensive electronic attack system. It is used to find, monitor, locate, and jam RF emitters in real time during tactical operations,” said Ken Gilliard, team lead of the Rapid System Applications Team, which falls under the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Center, or C5ISR.

Manpack electronic warfare systems requirements

To maximise flexibility and functionality for troops in the field, the key requirements for such systems are:  Scalability for operations on-the-march, static operations or mounting on platforms of opportunity; Modularity to provide electronic surveillance and electronic attack enabling the user to balance communications exploitation and denial in the electronic battlespace; Network-enabled to pass target data seamlessly between nodes for geolocation; Interoperability with other ISTAR systems to support the entire intelligence cycle, but at the same time the ability to perform as a standalone, highly useful tool for land and littoral EW operations; Adaptability, using software that allows for the redefinition of applications in order to capture any new target types and battle requirements in the future and Ability to perform in extreme, hostile environments, write y Chris Tarran and Gavin O’Connell


For dismounted troops, two main concerns when developing a manpack system to support a mission effectively are weight and volume. This highlights trade-offs such as the ‘ruggedised’ requirement (to protect equipment in the theatre of operation) sometimes outweighing the ‘portability’ element for those troops on-the-march. Electro-magnetic compatibility (EMC) capabilities of a product are also vital to ensure that there is no interference with other mission-critical systems.


As manpack systems provide a portable solution for dismounted troops, the ability to power a system effectively while out on operation is another key consideration. However, as technology advances, so there is an increased requirement for more capability and processing speed from systems. All of these of course represent an increased draw on power.


Unfortunately it seems that battery technology is not keeping pace with the development of other manpack technologies such as sensors and computers, which are lightweight and can now be folded and easily collapsed for stowage. Very advanced systems are therefore often powered by old-style rechargeable batteries or primary cells. This adds weight and creates portability issues for dismounted troops, which could result in a significant trade-off between performance and power.


It is therefore vital to focus research and development (R&D) on successfully developing a system that minimises weight, but which integrates the advanced battery and power management technologies that allow it to be powered for several days, without the need for resupply whilst out on a mission.


Future development of the manpack system will aim to significantly reduce present trade-offs required now and increase functionality even further. One such function will be the ability for the manpack nodes to network directly with other ISTAR assets and seamlessly cue them into action along the Sensor to Decider to Response Asset Link. This will allow more focused cueing, indentifying the enemy’s location more precisely and reducing the requirement for high-demand, low-density assets to support missions.


US Army’s Modular Adaptive Transmission system, or VMAX

VMAX is a self-contained, battery-powered device, which weighs approximately 25-30 pounds, Gilliard said. Soldiers can tether VMAX to a vehicle, a building, or some air platforms. The device can be remotely operated and configured with a wide range of antennas to fulfill mission requirements.


“Its purpose is to create that advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum to provide Soldiers a window to maneuver on the battlefield,” he added. When VMAX is operating in a support capability, operators can monitor the electromagnetic environment and determine what frequencies an adversary is operating on. Further, Soldiers can use multiple VMAX systems to geo-locate a signal, he said. Similarly, if VMAX is supporting offensive EW capabilities, it can be used to jam or interfere with the signal within specific frequencies.


The Army currently owns more than 200 VMAX nodes and 100 VROD nodes, he added. Majority of these devices are already deployed around the globe, many of them supporting operations in Europe and the Middle East.


Indra develops portable manpack electronic defence systems

Indra has finished developing an innovative, lightweight and portable electronic defense system (manpack), which equips soldiers with the most advanced radar-band analysis capacities to determine the position of enemy air defense systems, aircraft, vessels or vehicles.


Until now, because of its size and complexity, electronic warfare equipment had to be installed in fixed locations, vehicles and other platforms. Indra has reduced its size and weight to incorporate it into a backpack that is easy to carry by one individual.


As such, this equipment harnesses the soldier’s ability to infiltrate a hostile zone and approach the target area to gather intelligence without being detected. It also harnesses their ability to move across mountainous and steep areas that are often inaccessible to vehicles.


The system scans any radar signal and analyzes its characteristics to find out how the enemy uses its surveillance systems and how they can be neutralized. The system’s robust and reliable algorithms incorporate the most advanced artificial intelligence techniques to learn how to characterize radar pulses with increasing precision, how to operate in dense electromagnetic environments and how to identify the most effective countermeasures.


The information gathered by soldiers will play a key role in hindering the efforts of enemy radars to surprise and attack our forces. It will also facilitate the work of countermeasure teams and help them blind or deceive enemy systems by disrupting their signal.


This manpack equipment is able to exchange information in real time with other units and, as such, help create an electronic defense network. The data are then sent to the command center for planning and oversight. The result is a major tactical advantage over the enemy, which is a decisive factor in the operation’s success.


Algorithms of the defence system incorporate advanced artificial intelligence techniques to learn the ways to characterise radar pulses with enhanced accuracy. This enables operation in dense electromagnetic environments and identifying the most effective countermeasures.





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