US Navy plans to test its new electronic warfare drones

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The Dash X is a foldable Class II UAV‭ – ‬manufactured by VX Aerospace‭ – ‬that can loiter on targets for over 10‭ ‬hours and carry electronic warfare payloads‭. (‬VX Aerospace‭) ‬Complex electronic warfare‭ (‬EW‭) ‬platforms‭ – ‬such as the U.S‭. ‬Navy’s EA-18G Growler‭ – ‬could soon release swarms of drones from the aircraft‭, ‬allowing the smaller vehicles to fly ahead to scout out for radar and other battlefield emitters‭, ‬and potentially even take part in electronic attack missions themselves by jamming enemy sensor networks‭. ‬The concept is part of a project the U.S‭. ‬Navy is working on with Northrop Grumman known as Remedy‭.‬
As part of the program‭, ‬a small Class II unmanned aerial vehicle‭ (‬UAV‭) – ‬developed by North Carolina-based VX Aerospace‭ ‬–‭ ‬would be packed into a cluster munition canister that would then eject from a‭ ‬“mothership”‭ ‬and fly a programmed route ahead of stand-off jammers and strike aircraft‭. ‬The small drones‭ – ‬outfitted with various payloads including electronic support measures‭ (‬ESM‭) ‬or electronic attack jammers‭ – ‬would integrate a datalink to send information back to‭ ‬manned aircraft for either immediate tactical use or intelligence planning for later missions‭. ‬The small UAVs‭, ‬which are difficult to detect‭, ‬owing to their size and slow speed‭, ‬would get‭ ‬“up close and personal”‭ ‬to radar systems allowing them to perform novel jamming techniques‭, ‬and even infiltrate command networks to perform cyberattacks‭.‬
“It gives me more‭ ‬‘attack surfaces’‭ ‬to get at the enemy radar‭,‬”‭ ‬said John Thompson‭, ‬Northrop Grumman’s director of business development for airborne C4ISR‭. ‬“And because I’m so close‭, ‬I can now hear more details or hear signals that previously vehicles that were further away couldn’t receive simply because of the physics‭.‬”
Northrop Grumman envisages its Remedy concept will utilise the Dash X in a wing-mounted container that will be released from a Super Hornet or Growler‭.‬
Since first unveiling the technology in 2017‭, ‬Remedy has matured‭ ‬“substantially”‭, ‬company leaders said‭. ‬The UAV‭, ‬known as the Dash X‭, ‬has flown trials in which operators onboard a Northrop Grumman test aircraft controlled the drone to hunt and locate electronic targets‭. ‬This fall‭, ‬Northrop Grumman plans to take this concept further by‭ ‬linking the drone with an actual U.S‭. ‬Navy Growler as part of Fleet Tactical Grid‭ (‬FTG‭) ‬2019‭, ‬organized by Navy Warfare Development Command‭.‬
Northrop Grumman has already worked with the Navy on a project to‭ ‬“mesh together”‭ ‬Growlers into a common data environment‭. ‬This is now expanding to include other air vehicles‭ – ‬including unmanned aircraft‭ – ‬in‭ ‬order to‭ ‬“see the‭ [‬electronic support measures‭] ‬environment as a team”‭ ‬using common data standards‭.‬
VX Aerospace continues to develop the canister ejection system‭ – ‬utilizing a Tactical Munitions Dispenser nicknamed the‭ ‬“hotel”‭ ‬by the company‭ – ‬which has to ensure the small UAV can survive the extreme temperatures and maneuvers before‭, ‬during and after‭ ‬release‭.‬
Flight clearance for the modified dispenser and subsequent release trials are the next stage of the roadmap after proving out the software integration‭. ‬When this will occur is still not known‭.‬
Thompson said the company is currently seeing the most interest in equipping the Super Hornet and Growler tactical fleet aboard‭ ‬Navy carriers‭, ‬enabling a forward-deployed loitering capability ahead of strike packages‭. ‬It is expected that the dispensing aircraft for the EW drone could be the Super Hornet‭, ‬replicating how the two aircraft types perform kinetic operations together against enemy radars with high-speed anti-radiation‭ (‬HARM‭) ‬missiles‭.‬
“An anti-radiation missile is an unmanned ESM device that is moving into the environment‭, ‬50‭ ‬to 100‭ ‬miles in front of the battle‭ ‬force‭,‬”‭ ‬explained Thompson‭. ‬“We give those missiles data and those weapons communicate back to the airframes as well‭. ‬This is now just a different idea‭, ‬instead of it being a high-speed HARM‭, ‬in this case Remedy is a low-speed loitering ISR weapon that’s in the space‭.‬”
In the future‭, ‬these small UAVs could be released from other airborne assets such as the P-8‭ ‬Poseidon or helicopters to monitor‭ ‬the electronic battlespace for missions such as anti-submarine warfare or wider surface fleet protection to decoy incoming missile threats‭. ‬Northrop Grumman is also exploring future concepts that would see Remedy swarms used by land forces for EW roles such as disrupting enemy c2‭ ‬networks‭.‬

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