Mark Hewer, Leonardo’s v-p for the Integrated Mission Solutions Business Area, believes that the company’s open/reprogrammable electronic warfare (EW) suite for the Typhoon represents what he calls “digital stealth.”
This will confer a high degree of survivability, even in a threat environment whose lethality is growing exponentially, with the emergence of a plethora of high-end, software reprogrammable, multi-spectral threats, including surface-to-air missile systems. These threat systems are being updated more regularly and are frequently networked, allowing them to share intelligence of the air situation.
EW systems are able to evolve to deal with this dynamic and rapidly changing threat, in a way that fifth-generation stealthy aircraft cannot. While stealth aircraft are hard to detect, they are not invisible, and counter-stealth technology is developing rapidly. Moreover, the skin, internal structure, and configuration of an aircraft cannot be easily altered. “You cannot easily modify a stealth platform to counter new high-end threats,” Hewer said.
Typhoon’s EW capabilities are provided by Leonardo's Praetorian Defensive Aids Sub-System (DASS), which incorporates an onboard podded ECM system and off-board ECM, with a towed radar decoy, as well as missile approach, laser, and radar warning systems and a flare and countermeasures dispensing system.
These systems will soon be augmented by the new BriteCloud, an active, highly programmable Digital RF Memory (DRFM) decoy that will allow the Typhoon pilot to better counter the highest-end threats. BriteCloud will give a discriminatory capability that is not on any other platform, providing a world-leading expendable active decoy capability on the Typhoon that none of its rivals will have. The MoD’s Desider magazine has predicted that initial operational capability on Typhoon will be declared in late 2019.
Arguably more important than the performance of the individual hardware elements within Typhoon’s DASS is their ability to be reprogrammed. “What is really important for the high-end customer buying Typhoon is that their EW system is highly programmable,” Hewer said. “There’s no point in directing your ECM if it is going to be ineffective against a threat because you’re not exploiting its vulnerabilities.”
The Typhoon’s EW system is undergoing continuous evolution, with regular upgrades to the hardware and a spiral software development process, but the most important factor is getting the right threat intelligence or “mission data” into the system. This is used to interpret the information that the sensors receive, and drives the behavior of the EW system.
Mission success will often depend on having the most up-to-date data set to ensure relevance to the environment. This makes the rapidity of the upgrade cycle of paramount importance.
Leonardo believes that many customers want a sustainable sovereign mission data capability, and it can offer to provide this as a service or as a fully tailored sovereign solution. The company can help customers to set up a national EW database or an aircraft specific database and has a suite of software tools available to customers.
While F-35 naturally incorporates advanced EW systems, there is still a very heavy reliance on the U.S. for mission support, with a relatively cumbersome mission data cycle. Hewer believes that Typhoon is “many years more mature in its operational use of programming for EW.”
While Leonardo’s emphasis is currently on highlighting its ability to produce robust and agile high-end sovereign mission data generation capabilities for customers, the company is already looking to the future. Greater automation and machine learning promise a solution to the increasing complexity of the threat environment, and the company is also looking at the potential for sharing information across platforms as well as the possibility of reprogramming an EW system in flight.