Information overload: Visualising electronic warfare to manage data proliferation

A proliferation of devices and technologies to intercept and manipulate the electronic spectrum has resulted in an often-overwhelming deluge of complex data. The questions for many is what do we do with it? Visualisation software could hold the key, as Claire Apthorp finds out.

Image: Crown Copyright/MOD

There is no doubting that the modern battlespace generates vast quantities of data and that commanders struggle both to capture and interpret it. However, at least in areas like firepower or mobility, there is the opportunity to cast an eye over what is happening and gain some comprehension of the situation on the ground.

There is no such comfort blanket when it comes to electronic warfare. The interplay between offensive and defensive systems is largely invisible to the naked eye and the overwhelming electrical nature of modern warfare means there is a veritable deluge of signals and information. For the soldiers, sailors and airmen charged with conducting electronic warfare operations this poses a conundrum.

They may well get a picture of what is happening from the systems they are using and understand the complexity of the electronic spectrum in the battlespace far more, but systems with a dedicated purpose can only give them a narrow window on what is happening. As a result, visualising, interpreting and planning can be difficult.

Leveraging commercial systems

Fortunately, it is not only the military that suffers from this difficulty of interpreting the ones and zeroes of modern life. Wherever data and the intangible is everyday, people and companies have moved towards developing ways to visualise and collate the data flows in order for the human brain to better interpret them.

When confronted with such a dense and hostile electronic environment, it is no surprise that the military has also begun to look at how such tools can be employed. Whether it’s electronic warfare sensors operating in unexpected ways, such as indicating a threat that is not present, or the need to be able to quickly identify a source of ambiguity and correct it, visualisation tools can assist in the smooth operation of duties.

The solution that the Canadian Forces Electronic Warfare Center developed…was to repurpose a commercial off the shelf visualisation product.

One example presented in a recent NATO paper on the subject was the programming of a radar warning receiver (RWR), which requires a set of unique parametrics for each threat radar. RWR programmers are required to search through lengthy tabular listings of parametrics to find the conflict, which is a tedious and time-consuming exercise. The solution that the Canadian Forces Electronic Warfare Center developed, through Defence Research and Development Canada, was to repurpose a commercial off the shelf visualisation product into a tool called the Visual Interface for Electronic Warfare system that could display and sort the parametrics more easily.

The problem is also being addressed by the US Army which, in June last year, issued a solicitation to industry that aimed to "identify industry sources capable of providing a range of services and efforts necessary to continue the design, build, integration, testing, delivery, and maintenance of the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) system”.

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US Army programmes: EWPMT and Raven Claw

EWPMT features a composable, open architecture, which means it can be customised for different services, and fielded in almost any deployment environment. It has been a US Army programme of record since 2014. Raytheon is the main contractor for EWPMT and this year delivered Capability Drop II. “For the first time, electromagnetic spectrum operators can plan electronic warfare and control the battlefield spectrum in one standard tool,” Frank Pietryka, director of electronic warfare systems at Raytheon's Space and Airborne Systems business stated at the time.

“The beauty of EWPMT is that we designed it from the ground up as a buildable architecture; the end product is determined by which plug-ins are included,” said Dan Kilfoyle, technical director of electronic warfare systems.

“The beauty of EWPMT is that we designed it from the ground up as a buildable architecture.”

The objective now for the army is to move EWPMT beyond headquarters and into forward command posts. A tool for this, Raven Claw, has been built on the foundational components of EWPMT Capability Drop 1 and 2 and was conceived during EW experimentation at Fort Sill.

Raven Claw is designed to work networked or in a disconnected, intermittent or latent environment. As a result it is not dependent on a host server or external data and can function on its own with last known data and real-time feeds from sensors all within the environs of a ruggedised military laptop.

Building to interface with the Electronic Warfare Integrated Reprogramming Database

Elsewhere in industry, SRC, a large developer of signals intelligence and electronic warfare systems, has built a number of visualisation tools around its products to provide fast, accurate and timely data, so that operators can receive actionable intelligence when it’s needed.

According to the company, its “tools have been designed by an experienced team of software developers and EW engineers and analysts to automate processes so that analysts can focus on what’s really important — the threat. This blend of software engineers and subject matter experts provides a unique advantage by combining technical know-how with true insight into the problem set, resulting in more efficient solutions”.

The tools are built on and designed to interface with the US Government’s Electronic Warfare Integrated Reprogramming Database.

The tools can be used individually to help with specific segments of the intelligence production and reprogramming cycle or they can be used collectively to assist the entire process. Specifically, the tools are built on and designed to interface with the US Government’s Electronic Warfare Integrated Reprogramming Database, which is the standard source of parametric data for radars and other non-communications emitters for the US military.

Europe looks to defences as Russia invests in advanced capabilities 

As Russia invests in more advanced electronic warfare capabilities, European armed forces are also waking up to the need for both better systems and better integration of systems in order to combat these capabilities. At the Electronic Warfare Europe conference in 2017 a number of companies presented tools that are the initial response to this emerging requirement.

In particular, the drive here is also towards exploitation of commercial off-the-shelf or military off-the-shelf systems that can be rapidly fielded. One promising line of investigation is the repurposing of test and evaluation systems to give a coherent visualisation tool also in an operational environment.

Advanced tools are still in their infancy and will need to be supported and resourced.

Rohde & Schwarz, Saab and number of other European companies already have such tools on offer for the test and evaluation community and point to their development for the operational community. However, as one presenter pointed out, the lack of a coherent European-wide project that could release the necessary funds for further development is a significant hurdle.

Electronic warfare visualisation tools are a relatively inexpensive way to enhance and harness existing capabilities. In the future they will give commanders and operators a much better understanding of the dense and complex electromagnetic battlespace. However, advanced tools are still in their infancy and will need to be supported and resourced in order to come to fruition.