Airborne Electronic Attack

Disable, deceive & degrade

As Russia continues its aggressive actions and the threat of state-on-state conflict heightens, the ability for NATO aircraft to freely operate within congested and contested airspace will become increasingly challenging for the Alliance. In this operational context, electronic attack capabilities become essential for military airborne operations, and HENSOLDT is leading the development of a new escort jammer that will enhance crew protection and freedom of manoeuvre.

A difficult situation

As soon as a Eurofighter takes off from Germany, it is already within the radar ranges of advanced integrated air defence systems (IADS) situated in the Kaliningrad Oblast, a small Russian territory sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. This is the reality that NATO nations now face every day.

IADS are used by an increasingly aggressive Russia to dominate airspace in Europe and deny operating freedom for NATO forces and their allies.

Russian IADS – normally consisting a large network of long-range digital sensors, command-and-control (C2) equipment and advanced long-range surface-to-air missiles – are currently the biggest threat to fighters and other enabling aircraft operating not only in Europe.

For this reason, the ability to disable, deceive, degrade and deny these systems the use of the electromagnetic spectrum is becoming an important requirement.

Electronic Warfare – essential component of modern warfare

Although it may not always make the headlines, electronic warfare (EW) plays a critical role in modern combat. Most modern combat systems will use the electromagnetic spectrum in some capacity, and if friendly forces are able to dominate and disrupt the invisible waves in this space – whether that is radar signals, communications, navigation or weapon guidance systems – then they will have the upper hand in operations.

EW is generally made up of three areas; electronic protection (EP), electronic support (ES) and electronic attack (EA). It is the latter that is one of the most popular, with EA capabilities allowing forces to actively jam, disrupt and spoof adversary electronic signals to gain an advantage on the battlefield.

Typhoon survivability

When the Eurofighter Typhoon entered service some 20 years ago, non-state actors were considered as the main threat and the need to operate in anti-access/aerial denial (A2/AD) environments was not necessary, and as such no electronic attack capability was included in “normal” fighters, but was limited to a few special ECR aircraft only. However, this requirement has become more important over recent years as the global security context has changed, and an EA capability is now becoming a defining feature of any air force.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a very capable platform, which is why it continues to be the fourth generation platform of choice for a number of nations across the globe. The fighter is being heavily invested in by operators to ensure that it remains relevant and is able to contend with existing and future threats, one of which is the A2/AD environment in which forces have to operate today.

Germany is committing to the operation of its Typhoon fleet to as far out as 2050, so the platform needs to be able to contend with – and exceed – the performance of any adversary system. Survivability is therefore key, and only by outfitting our forces with an electronic attack capability will this be possible.

The German government is seeking to fit 15 or more Eurofighter with an escort jammer electronic attack system that will suppress enemy radio frequency-based systems such as an IADS, allowing the aircraft to freely operate in these congested, hostile environments.

HENSOLDT has been working with the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) to develop a solution that will meet the needs of the German armed forces, which will use a multitude of jamming techniques to simultaneously jam a number of threats.

Kalaetron Attack – the next-generation of electronic attack

Leveraging over 50 years of experience in the development of EW technologies, HENSOLDT has developed Kalaetron Attack, an airborne EA solution that is part of the wider Kalaetron self-protection family of systems.

The AESA- and DRFM-based system allows for digital targeting and jamming of a signal, and is able to jam over ten threats simultaneously and offer protection against attack from multiple sources. It can be controlled from an aircraft cockpit, and can integrate with existing interfaces. Kalaetron Attack can be autonomously operated, and the 360 degree electronic support measures (ESM) capability – that passively detects and identifies threats – can be operating in the background, cross-referencing with an existing library to alert the pilot to what it considers to be a threat.

However, the pilot will always have the final say over whether to accept the recommendation to jam a signal. There are also options for how to suppress the enemy signal, for example jamming, spoofing or misdirection.

Furthermore, it is HENSOLDT’s ESM technologies that were developed for other systems including the PEGASUS signals intelligence (SIGINT) system that are being utilised in Kalaetron Attack, resulting in a complementary suite of digital protection systems. A stand-off jammer capability also continues to be developed by the company.

Teaming for success

In 2022, HENSOLDT teamed with Rafael to jointly integrate Kalaetron Attack with the latter’s Sky Shield escort jammer, bringing together a mature EA capability into a nationally-developed system for the German customer.

This will utilise the interfaces of Rafael’s Litening airborne targeting pod, a system that is already integrated into the Luftwaffe’s Typhoon fleet. A tactical datalink from the Litening pod that is integrated underneath the aircraft allows communication with a ground station, and Kalaetron Attack will utilise this existing datalink.

HENSOLDT began a test flight campaign of the system in Germany onboard a testbed at the end of 2022, and testing will go on in 2023. During this testing, Kalaetron Attack is being used against simulated air defence radar targets, demonstrating its ability to jam multiple targets at once.

HENSOLDT is working to an ambitious timeline to develop and deliver before the end of this decade a system that is operationally ready and able to content with relevant threats.

The company is also working on pan-European EA development efforts, including a European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) project with France, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

The nations are collectively working on the Responsive Electronic Attack for Cooperative Task (REACT) EDIDP project to prototype and specify EA capabilities to allow nations to operate in an A2/AD environment in an escort jamming role. This involves developing non-specific, platform-agnostic components that will help to inform future work in this area.