Also known as Autonomous EW or Learning-enabled EW, autonomy-enabled capabilities are desired in all future EW systems. These technologies perform threat detection, threat suppression, and threat neutralization tasks using the full electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) augmented by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to proactively improve situational awareness for military personnel, and they can detect and defend against both electronic and kinetic attacks. They also enhance and contribute to the capabilities of any platform using them, having proven effective across all domains – air, ground, maritime, space, cyber, and human – where the military operates.

These advanced EW technologies are also used by Command and Control (C2) personnel to track and coordinate the assets of friendly forces. By programming autonomy-enabled EW technologies to detect, track, and report on U.S. and allied troops and equipment constantly and reliably, C2 staff can make sure that all integrated “friendly” parties are clear about mission objectives and that their real world tactical implementation is coordinated effectively. They can also proactively protect friendly forces from otherwise “unseen” attackers more effectively before, during, and after missions. This helps maximize operational effectiveness in the field while also reducing friendly-fire incidents and other accidents.

Examples of Autonomous EW Systems

Vital in constantly advancing U.S. and allied defense and protection capabilities worldwide, autonomy-enabled EW devices and systems have been implemented in a variety of air, ground, maritime, and cyber platforms, and their use to detect, identify, protect, and defend against threats continues to expand rapidly. Key examples of those uses include:

  • Electronic Countermeasures / Self-Protection Systems. One of the most ubiquitous uses of autonomous EW technologies is in countermeasures systems that, once activated, scan constantly for possible threats, detect and track incoming attacks, provide warning alerts, and respond to attacks as needed significantly faster, more dependably, and more accurately than any human could. That response can include signal blocking or redirection, evasive maneuvers, and both electronic and kinetic counterattacks. The latest autonomy-enabled EW self-protection systems also have the benefit of being physically smaller and lighter than ever before, yet more powerful, which is an asset for any aircraft or other military vehicle, but is especially helpful for today’s most advanced fighter jets, naval vessels, and ground assault vehicles.
  • Guidance and Control Systems. In defense devices from missiles, rockets, and satellites to jets, ships, and unmanned aerial, underwater, and ground vehicles (UAVs / UUVs / UGVs), guidance systems can use autonomy-enabled EW technology to collect data, adapt to changing parameters, and perform tasks without the need for direct, hands-on human involvement. For that reason, autonomy-enabled guidance systems are often used when devices and vehicles must carry out missions in environments that are hazardous or inhospitable to humans, like in space, deep water, or on the battlefield. They are also proving to be helpful in circumventing signal jamming in contentious environments where being able to function without external guidance is required.
  • Signal Jamming Devices and Systems. Jamming adversary’s bandwidths in hostile environments can prevent enemies from communicating and coordinating their attacks, disrupt their weapons systems, mislead them about operational movements and timing, and inhibit their own jamming capacity. Autonomy-enabled EW systems can automate the detection, collection, and tracking of adversary data, feed it to appropriate commanders, then initiate actions based on that data as quickly, consistently, and powerfully as it has been programmed to act. These systems are being built into advanced jet aircraft, navy ships, satellite systems, land-based mobile units, and more.
  • Cyber-Resilience Systems. Developed to address the use of cyber attacks to destabilize companies, industries, governments, and defense agencies, today’s cutting edge cyber resilience systems use autonomy-enabled EW technologies to constantly adapt to changing attack patterns, detect and track both active incursions and stealth programs, and institute response protocols where and when possible without depending on direct human input.

Are these Autonomous Weapons Systems?

No. Autonomy-enabled EW technologies are not “full autonomy” systems that function with no human input at all, but instead are in what the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) calls the “human on the loop” category of autonomy, carrying out a multitude of commands specified under human supervision, but capable of doing so more quickly and tirelessly than humans. Also, the word “Electronic” in Autonomy-enabled Electronic Warfare (EW) is key, because these tools focus on using electronic signals of all kinds – the full electromagnetic spectrum – to detect and disrupt enemy communications, block or redirect enemy guidance systems, track and confuse enemy vehicles and troop movements, prevent enemy interference in the missions of U.S. and allied forces, and more. They can be connected to kinetic devices, especially for defensive actions, but are all based in exploiting electromagnetic waves.

Upgradable by Design

All new communications, navigation, targeting, and weapons systems adopted for use by DoD departments and agencies today are also required to follow a modular, open architecture that can be modified and/or upgraded rapidly and affordably. Since their introduction, most EW systems have fulfilled that goal to some extent, mostly through upgradable programming or technical adaptation. Today’s autonomy-enabled systems, however, are specifically designed for regular upgrades, both to keep them ahead of evolving threats and to allow the addition of new defensive and offensive capabilities as they develop. This built-in upgradability is primarily based in software, but new systems also anticipate hardware upgrades where possible by using a modular component design wherever it is practical.

Autonomous EW technologies are constantly evolving, designed and engineered by multi-disciplinary teams in collaboration with defense agencies and commercial industry partners. As with most technologies, choosing partners who can provide a mix of in-depth category experience, an innovation-driven culture, and worldwide resources has proven advantageous to new, rapid development.


This information page is provided as a service to our readers by BAE Systems, Inc., a U.S.-based world leader in aerospace, defense, power, and intelligence solutions. Learn more about us here.

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