The Association of Old Crows (AOC) is an international professional organization specializing in electronic warfare, tactical information operations, and associated disciplines. This year, the organization celebrated the 50th year of its International Symposium and Convention with a well-attended event at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC from October 27th to the 30th. This event, which focuses on Electronic Warfare (EW), Information Operations (IO) and Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO), brings together technology and military professionals from around the world. It was especially well attended by top local military brass who had been AWOL from many other events this year due to sequestration-related cut-backs in defence department travel budgets.
The theme for this year's event was "Proud Legacy, Strong Future." In addition to the Symposium, the event also included an exhibition of nearly 100 individual exhibitors including RF/microwave component vendors, research labs and prime defence contractors such as BAE, Boeing, Cassidian, Cobham, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, Thales and more. While the event is small compared to other industry-related shows, most exhibitors were pleased with the overall attendance and the quality (job functions) of the delegates.
On Sunday night, the AOC honoured Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, with its highest award – The AOC Gold Medal. This award is presented to a senior U.S. or International Government, Military, or Industry Official in recognition of outstanding and dedicated service to promote and advance the discipline of Electronic Warfare. It reflects the highest standards of commitment to the welfare of Electronic Warfare. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach was recognized for his outstanding service in the RAF. Peach commanded the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington from 2000 to 2003, was Director General Intelligence Collection in the Ministry of Defence 2003-2006 and Chief of Defence Intelligence and Deputy Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee 2006-2009. He held the appointment of Chief of Joint Operations at PJHQ(UK) from March 2009-December 2011 before becoming the first Commander of the UK Joint Forces Command from December 2011-Apr 2013. He was appointed as Vice Chief of Defence Staff in May 2013.
Monday was the kick-off day for the symposium with the Keynote and first three sessions providing an overview of topics to be discussed over the next three days, providing focus on the evolving needs and challenges of EW systems and the fiscal challenges of funding development and procurement these days. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, opened the Symposium with a discussion of critical issues facing today’s intelligence community, touching on history, integration and the impact of the three S’s: Sequestration, Snowden and Shutdown.
On the subject of sequestration, Clapper spoke of the immediate impact on intelligence gathering, “the capabilities that we do away with, cut, eliminate or reduce today – the impact of which may not be known for months or even years,” Clapper said. “From my vantage, where I sit, we simply can’t sustain the cuts in the long term.” In discussing NSA consultant turned leaker, Edward Snowden, Clapper stressed that the intelligence community is still assessing the impact of the damage from the information he has released. “It will probably be years before we know the full extent,” Clapper said. “That all said, some of the conversation we’re having about our so-called domestic surveillance program probably needed to happen.”
Discussing the recent U.S. government shutdown, Clapper noted that 70 percent of civilians in the intel community were initially furloughed. And while those under the DOD were brought back quickly under the Pay Our Military Act, intel at CIA and NSA were not protected. “The shutdown had a devastating and, I believe, long-lasting impact on the workforce. It was an attack on them and their service, which came on the heels of some people being furloughed because of sequestration,” Clapper said. “I’m really watching carefully now just to see what impact this has on our recruiting and retention.”
Session one, entitled “Future Acquisition strategies in a Constrained Environment”, reflected the realty of defence budget cuts in the age of government austerity programs. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering OASD (R&E), Al Shaffer, assured the audience at the opening joint session that the DOD has a strategy for guiding its future EW acquisition activities – a strategy that emphasizes continued and early investment in developing new EW technologies and capabilities together with an increased focus on the development of adaptable, rapidly-reconfigurable systems.
Shaffer observed that although the military of tomorrow will be leaner, it will also need to be more technologically advanced and agile, and he reminded the audience that in past budget downturn cycles, the DOD has worked hard to protect its science and technology R&D funding. At the same time, however, he warned that “We have to stop thinking about large, monolithic systems that are hard to change, and instead focus on developing systems that are adaptable and capable of being reconfigured very quickly.”
Session two was an industry response to the future acquisition challenge with a panel chaired by Steve Hogan, Vice President & General Manager, Northrop Grumman Technical Services, and inclinged representatives from Selex ES, Capitol Defense Consulting, Exelis, Raytheon, Rohde & Schwarz, BAE Systems, and Cobham Defense Systems.
The industry participants generally agreed on the need to increase collaboration and drive toward more flexible, rapidly-adaptable capabilities while raising a number of their own additional points and suggestions. These included potentially increasing levels of Cooperative R&D and Independent R&D funding, the opening up of technology roadmaps, improved field testing, and, in particular, the continued need for flag-level EW “champions” within DOD to help drive whatever new collaborative EW acquisition plans and initiatives might be adopted to successful fruition.
Other common observations and recommendations of the panel included the need for new and innovative partnerships and collaboration between government and industry, international partners, as well as between industry players who might in the past have seen each other as strictly competitive. The need for greater use of both developmental and operational prototyping was also noted, and well as continued appreciation of the fact that decisions regarding technology investment and project prioritization must absolutely “be informed by the threat.”
On Tuesday, Keynote speaker Admiral Jonathon W. Greenert, USN Chief of Naval operations, opened the second day of the symposium with a focus on EM spectrum management and cyber operations. Increasing reliance on scarce electromagnetic spectrum is prompting military planners to rethink their spectrum strategies as conventional tools like electronic warfare merge with cyber operations to become what senior leaders call “spectrum warfare.” In addition, the speed of advancing threats due to technology proliferation and flexibility is creating an unprecedented tightening of the timeline required to provide solutions to counter threats such as IED was a topic of discussion in Session 4, Chaired by Marvin Potts, Division Technical Advisor, Spectrum Warfare Division, Air Force Research Lab.
Taking the IED threat to a new level, Philippe Guillaume of Thales Communication & Security posed questions about the possible threats coming from small unmanned aerial systems, in his presentation titled “MINI-UAS: a New Threat, and a New Challenge for Electronic Warfare?”. According to Guillaume, “these systems’ ability to do everything from ISR and SIGINT to jamming and to essentially become a flying IED, make them an evolving threat that will need to be considered in terms of near-term countermeasures solutions.” Also in this session, Dr. Yiftach Eisenberg, DARPA’s program manager for the Information Innovation Office (I2O) discussed some of that agency’s current work in Adaptive EW programs, specifically the Adaptive Radar Countermeasures (ARC) program, which deals with counter radar, and the Behavioral Leap for Adaptive EW (BLADE) program, which is counter communications.
The goal of the ARC program is to develop ways to counter adaptive radar threats quickly based on over-the-air observable signals. Threats of particular interest include ground-to-air and air-to-air phased array radars capable of performing several different functions, such as surveillance, cued target acquisition, tracking, non-cooperative target identification, and missile tracking. These kinds of radar systems are agile in beam steering, waveform, coding, and pulse repetition interval. The Behavioral Learning for Adaptive Electronic Warfare (BLADE) program is developing the capability to counter new and dynamic wireless communication threats in tactical environments.
Technologies to support “Navigation and Communications in Contested/Congested Environments” was the topic of discussion in Tuesday’s session 6, which featured a variety of solutions currently being studied to assist with navigating and dominating the EMS domain. Chaired by Dr. Jeffrey Boksiner, electronics engineer, Antennas and Spectrum Analysis, Space and Terrestrial Communications, US Army CERDEC, the discussed topics included the shift toward Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA). DSA systems locate unused spectrum, and organize their users to operate within the spectrum they have identified. DSA allows both for spectrum integration and response to changing circumstances. Marc Russon, director of emerging technology for L-3 Communications Systems – West, noted that DSA is being pursued by the commercial market that that it will turn out to be “financially irresistible” to the point where anyone running spectrum dependent systems will have no choice but to plan for its use.
New and emerging technologies, including software defined, cognitive technologies are critical to managing future spectrum and the ability to not just manage but to take advantage of the small areas of spectrum that aren’t being used are critical to long-term success. Other presentations discussed new technologies such as “layerless” networking and improved algorithms to enable better control traffic cycles.
DARPA’s Dr. Yiftach Eisenberg discussed his agency’s efforts to address the current spectrum challenge using new radio technology to enable reliable communications in congested and contested electromagnetic environments. According to Eisenberg, DARPA is “looking at strategies that can do this without direct coordination and spectrum pre-planning.”
Session 7, titled “Advanced EW Technologies” included a number of “wow-that’s-impressive” talks as some of the nation’s top academic and research centers including MIT Lincoln Laboratory, UC Santa Barbara, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and the Universities of Nebraska at Lincoln and Colorado at Boulder presented their work ranging from the latest advances in RF and EO devices to network-enabled, collaborative, EW applications of small tactical UAVs.
Wednesday was a forward looking day in the Symposium featuring sessions with titles such as “Can “Skynet” and “the Borg” solve the EW and Cyber Challenge?” and “Game-changing Technologies: Revolution over Evolution”. One trend in the language coming out of top military planners is the need to remove barriers between disciplines such as EM spectrum technology, cyber-intelligence, EW battle management and IT. Closing the symposium with the final keynote address, Major General Robert E. Wheeler, USAF gave a dynamic presentation addressing the role of the EW community in the DOD’s efforts to deal with DOD/Commercial spectrum management allocation and management challenges. Wheeler identified a number of areas for attention to assure spectrum access for our fighting forces including: adaptable, agile, efficient and rapidly-responsive communication systems; comprehensive and effective cyber security, and communication tool mobility driving the latest tools “from fixed bases to the tactical edge of the battlefield.”
General Wheeler emphasized that the EW community must continue to be knowledgeable educators and advocates for the concerns and requirements of the EW, spectrum management and cyber communities within the EMS environment noting that the DOD is also working to create a National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN) to support an environment for testing DOD systems together with commercial systems.