After accepting the delivery of the first F-15EX fighter jet, the US Air Force is looking to equip its F-15 aircraft with AI-enabled electronic warfare (EW) systems.
Called cognitive EW system, it will provide the fighter jet with instant countermeasures against potential enemy attacks, thereby increasing its survivability.
Electronic warfare (EW) is the ability to make use of the electromagnetic spectrum—signals such as radio, infrared, or radar— to sense, protect, and communicate.
With the EW system, the aircraft will be able to use the electromagnetic waves to either disrupt, intercept, or sabotage enemy electronic systems in offensive operations or to protect assets using the same.
As per Lockheed Martin, electronic warfare is divided into three parts — electronic attack, which comprises of disrupting, denying, degrading, destroying, or deceiving; electronic protection which includes preventing a receiver from being jammed or deceived; and electronic support that involves sensing of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The F-15 Fighter Jet
The F-15 is a modern, heavyweight fourth-generation American fighter jet. Apart from the US, Israel, Japan, and Saudi Arabia possess F-15 fighter jets.
Developed by US aerospace giant McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), the F-15 Eagle is an all-weather tactical fighter that was designed in 1967 to cater to the US Air Force’s need for a dedicated air superiority fighter.
The fighter is armed with air-to-air missiles that can be launched from beyond visual range. It has the air-to-ground capability to penetrate hostile air and ground defenses to deliver up to 24,000lb of precision ordnance.
Moreover, it offers next-generation technologies including an advanced cockpit, AESA radar, the world’s fastest mission computer and modern sensors to remain ahead of current and evolving threats, and a digital electronic warfare suite.
However, due to the advancements in technologies in the military systems of countries across the world, the US Air Force is now researching adding “cognitive electronic warfare” capabilities to its F-15 fighters.
As per a notice issued by the US Air Force on March 11, it is looking for AI and machine learning “algorithms to advance the capabilities of airborne electronic warfare systems in development and production” for the F-15 fighters.
The main objective of this is to have the ability to increasingly automate and speed up critical processes that range from analyzing electronic intelligence to developing new electronic warfare measures and countermeasures.
Cognitive Electronic Warfare
Cognitive electronic warfare uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to quickly and automatically identify new signals, which will enable the computer onboard the fighter to rapidly develop countermeasures against potential threats.
At the moment, BAE Systems provides the F-15 fighter as well as the advanced F-15EX with the electronic warfare and countermeasures system known as the Eagle Passive Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWSS).
The US fighter jets and other aircraft currently rely on a database of known electronic emissions from adversaries. However, with the advancement in radar technology, there is a high chance of enemy radars being able to track US aircraft with novel signals that are not in the US library of electronic emissions.
The process of gathering more intelligence on these new signals and then developing countermeasures to deal with them is very time-consuming, which can leave the aircraft vulnerable to attacks.
This is why the US Air Force felt the need for an advanced electronic warfare system. The Air Force says it wants “algorithms and technologies that provide the capability for [electronic warfare] systems to more rapidly and intelligently respond to emitter ambiguities, emerging threats, in both sparse and dense signal environments”.
According to the US Air Force notice, it wants to improve F-15’s electronic warfare capabilities by “injecting cognitive techniques into new and emerging” electronic warfare systems.
“Cognitive electronic support and electronic attack technologies will investigate and resolve challenges of adaptive, agile, ambiguous, and out-of-library complex emitters that coexist with background (signals that are not the primary signal of interest) signal challenges,
“The government is also interested in cognitive technologies which provide rapid [electronic warfare] reprogramming capability or leverage the interplay and accumulation of knowledge for improved system performance,” says the USAF notice.