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China and Russia are hard at work to develop ever more capable radar systems, but the Pentagon has a plan to counter them with artificial intelligence (AI). The Defence Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on a new generation of electronic warfare systems for just this purpose.
“One of our programs at DARPA is taking a whole new approach to this problem, this is an effort we refer to as cognitive electronic warfare,” said DARPA director, Dr Arati Prabhakar. “We’re using artificial intelligence to learn in real-time what the adversaries’ radar is doing and then on-the-fly create a new jamming profile. That whole process of sensing, learning and adapting is going on continually.”
The current stock of operational aircraft come with a pre-programmed bank of known enemy radar signals. New and unknown signals are registered, but until they are analysed and fed into the threat library, the plane has no defences against them, no way to jam the radar signal.
“Today, when our aircrafts go out on their missions, they’re loaded up with a set of jamming profiles—these are specific frequencies and waveforms that they can transmit in order to jam and disrupt an adversary’s radar to protect themselves,” Prabhakar said. “Sometimes when they go out today, they encounter a new kind of frequency or different waveform—one that they’re not programmed for, that’s not in their library, and in a time of conflict, that would leave them exposed.”
And creating the needed signature takes time. Before the digital revolution this process could take months. This is now a thing of the past.
“It’s not that hard to modify a radar system today. If you think about, the same technologies that have brought communications and the Internet to billions of people around the world, those are the same technologies that people are now using to modify radars,” said Prabhakar.
At this stage, only the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler and the Navy’s Boeing EA-18G Growler have the capability to create these signatures in real time using onboard electronic warfare officers (EWO), but DARPA is working on an AI-based system that could automate this process.
“So what all of that means is that our aircraft in the future won’t have to wait weeks, months to years, but in real time, in the battlespace, they’ll be able to adapt and jam this new radar threat that they get.”