Electronic warfare detects hostile signals in the electromagnetic spectrum and disrupts them. The hostile signals are usually radar or microwave. Electronic warfare can be classified as 3 types. Electronic Attack (EA), Electronic Support (ES) and Electronic Protection (EM). EA prevents hostile electromagnetic activity such as hostile detection radar and engagement radar. ES deals with support activities such as collection and distribution of data. ES is part of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT). SIGINT deals with collecting signal data such as radar signatures of enemy ships and aircrafts and enemy communications data. EM deals with protection of friendly forces from enemy EA.
EW aircrafts predominantly provide radar jamming, jamming pods can be added on these aircrafts depending on the mission requirement. Some EW pods give the aircraft the capability to detect electromagnetic signal sources. EW aircrafts also have self-jamming protection which enable them to communicate with friendly forces while jamming enemy communication. Newer generation jammers are to use AESA (Active Electronic Scanned Array) radar to focus jamming in specific directions. EW aircrafts act as a force multiplier when working in tandem with traditional attack aircrafts. Since EW aircraft have anti-radar missiles at their disposal, they will be able to quickly detect, jam and destroy enemy radar units as part of suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) mission.
In a recent deployment, Germany has shown interest to procure Boeing EA-18G Growler EW aircraft to replace its aging Tornado aircrafts. The tornado was the premier EW aircraft of the Luftwaffe for years and are at the end of their lifecycle. EA – 18G Growler which is very similar to the F/A- 18 super hornets. However, the ALQ-99 jamming pods on board the EA-18G Growler have had reliability issues and Raytheon is working on AN/ALQ-249 jamming pods which is expected to have significant performance advantage over ALQ-99 pods. China’s J-16D which is based on the Russian flanker design is China’s EW aircraft and its capabilities are unknown. EC-37B compass call aircraft EW system is manufactured by BAE systems. It is based on the Gulf Stream G550 airborne early warning aircraft. The system is expected to replace the existing EC – 130H compass call aircraft which has been in operation since 1982 with the USAF. The new aircraft is expected to be capable of operating at high altitudes.
The market is predominately driven by miniaturization of land and sea based system, this enables the systems to be integrated on to smaller aircrafts. Airborne EW systems are seeing increased demand due to UAV proliferation and UAVs being used as EW platforms. There is a global trend to develop UAVs as a cost effective solution to carry out ISR missions (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance). Hence there is increasing funding to develop capable cost effective airborne EW systems which can neutralize emerging threats such as Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) and Loitering Munitions. DEWs have made significant process with respect to their capability and total energy output. Loitering munitions have developed capacity to make precision attack on target with the help of EO/IR real time video.