Defence Lead Systems Engineer, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence
25 Oct 2022
Chris McDonald explores the integration challenge for Cyber and Electro Magnetic Activities in the military
12 August 1940. Hundreds of German aircraft take off from their bases in northern France. Their targets? RAF Fighter Command’s forward airfields and radar stations. A new phase in the Battle of Britain had begun.
The Luftwaffe’s attack, however, was only partially successful. During the course of this and subsequent attacks, only one radar station – Ventnor on the Isle of White – was rendered out of action for any significant period of time, and this left the vast majority of Britain’s radar stations intact and able to detect and locate incoming enemy aircraft. It proved to be a crucial miscalculation by German forces.
Radar formed a crucial part of the Dowding System, the world's first wide-area ground-controlled interception network. It enabled RAF operators to estimate the distance, direction, strength and height of approaching raids, allowing Fighter Command to deploy its precious resources of pilots and aircraft by giving them vital time to prepare for and intercept the attacks.
This use of radar is an early example of electronic warfare, one of many such incidences which adorn the pages of military history. Fast forward to today, and as the war in Ukraine attests, such occurrences have become deeply intertwined with operations in and through cyberspace. They now form the widely used term Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) – which enables full exploitation of the wireless spectrum to support better decision making and operational flexibility across multi-domain operations.
As electronic warfare has accelerated, there is a growing need for more and more functions on a wider platform base. But this has become unsustainable on platforms and soldiers that are already overburdened. Purchasing these capabilities as separate stove-piped procurements is no longer feasible as they cannot physically fit.
Then there are the sheer costs involved. Untangling a multitude of disparate systems, let alone bringing them all together, does not come cheap – and when it does occur the cost often comes to a disproportionate amount of the budget, a fact not unnoticed by those responsible for doing more with less.
The trouble is, though, as a result of this (understandable) reluctance to invest, all too often even more funds are spent in order to nurture and keep such legacy technologies on life support. Yet it is often easier to purchase ‘another green box’ and separate procurement to buy the exact capability required and then attempt post-purchase integration. The integration is often very limited, with undesirable consequences. This is because tightly coupled electro-magnetic functions are often delivered in isolation in a series of loosely-aligned projects that have little consideration for the bigger picture.
But it’s not all bad news – far from it.
When it comes to CEMA on military platforms, programmable hardware platforms can be tailored for their function based on software. In other words, the role and capabilities of a platform can be rapidly changed with the result being a software defined mission. Essentially this reduces hardware from being able to restrict future capabilities.
When it comes to such software defined missions, though, there are some key factors to bear in mind. Software can define the current capabilities and allow rapid re-configuration to achieve mission supremacy. However, every electromagnetic hardware component on a platform should be viewed and configurable as a multi-purpose resource. This means they must also be designed for interoperability and interconnectivity, as well as able to support the sharing of symbiotic information.
But like with any new initiative in the military – or wider public sector for that matter – it is no longer feasible to have ‘bigger and bigger’ programmes that aspire for everything and instead turn into the latest procurement disaster. To avoid such a scenario, we need to ensure every component is specified for its integrated future capability, rather than yesterday’s shortcomings.
To do so, providing commercial reassurance to support investment is crucial. But how do you buy verify components for functions that are not yet understood?
For starters, user and system requirements need to be modular based and focused on perceived future functional needs and capabilities. A system integrator needs to specify, design and control the open electromagnetic system and support integration of each software defined function. All components also need to enable exploitation and exploit other systems, while at the same time a mindset shift is required – procurement professionals will need to accept that a component will cost more as an investment for future capability.
I don’t want this to sound like a wish list, not rooted in reality. On the contrary, it’s all very much achievable and I would argue absolutely crucial. Just as radar proved critical in the Battle of Britain, gaining CEMA superiority will ensure information advantage in current and future conflicts – there’s no time to waste.
Complimentary Insight: The Logical Evolution of RF Integration in the Battlespace
There has always been concern over the coexistence of ECM and communications at a tactical level but today, the CEMA landscape continues to evolve and become much more advanced and complex.
Find out why we believe that convergence cannot be achieved without a long term plan or road map that considers a series of stepping stones towards fuller compliance, taking into account a multi-domain approach.
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