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.
The contract is for ongoing production of Block 2 systems that are part of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, or SEWIP.
SEWIP supports AN/SLQ-32(V), a shipboard electronic warfare system that delivers electronic support and countermeasure protection for U.S. and international navies.
The Block 2 upgrade “increases the capability of the system significantly,” said Joe Ottaviano, director at Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems. “The number of threats and signals out there is increasing exponentially, and the system has to be able to handle those more complicated threats. It also brings the system into the digital age as the first open-architecture EW system that the Navy had moved on.”
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.
The Navy points to enhanced capabilities via an upgraded electronic support antenna, an electronic support receiver and an open interface with the Navy’s key combat systems. “These upgrades are necessary in order to pace the threat and improve detection and accuracy capabilities of the AN/SLQ-32,” according to Navy documents.
Together, these improvements “take electronic warfare to the 21st Century,” Bryan Fox, engineering agent manager at the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Crane Division, said in a news release. “We are giving the warfighter game-changing technologies so that current and future threats can be combatted.”
Ottaviano 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.
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.
In a multidomain environment, electronic decoys could be critical to units' survivability.
In practical terms, Block 2’s sophisticated signal processing should give commanders the ability to more effectively interpret the EW landscape.
“Most battles take place close to shore, where you get more signal,” Ottaviano said. “This system can take apart that complex, dense environment very quickly and ascertain what is a threat and what is not a threat. In a digital world I can look at an extremely fine level and tear those signals apart so that I can understand exactly what is going on. Being digital gives me the ability to look at the environment with much finer granularity.”
The open-architecture approach also allows Block 2 to seamlessly interface with other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, such as the Advanced Off-Board Electronic Warfare system.
“Together that gives you an increased field of view,” Ottaviano said. “It comes from being digital and it comes from having an open system. A lot of work was done to standardize the interfaces, to really think well into the future.”
Further future-proofing comes via the programmable nature of Block 2, which is largely based on off-the-shelf technology components.
“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.”
Looking ahead, Ottaviano said a planned future Block 3 likely will augment Block 2’s passive scanning with tools used in a active response on the electromagnetic spectrum. In January, the Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to bring a modern electronic warfare attack capability to U.S. surface ships.