The Army is taking a deep dive with General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) in an effort to uncover new target acquisition and sensing technologies capable of penetrating the defenses of Russia and China. This special exploratory effort is called a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement. It was created between the Army and GA-EMS, intended to help the U.S. military overcome a new generation of Russian and Chinese countermeasures engineered to jam, block, disrupt or destroy U.S. attack operations.
Other possible areas of exploration between GA-EMS and the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center could include the hardening of radio frequency (RF) targeting systems for precision-guided missiles or rockets. For example, one technique that is being explored is called “frequency hopping,” which means a weapon’s guidance system would be able to switch from one frequency to another in the event that a particular frequency is jammed, occupied or disabled by an enemy. While the spectrum is finite, there are a variety of different electromagnetic frequencies that RF signals might be able to operate within to essentially ensure that a weapon stays its course toward its target despite operating in an extremely high-threat, contested jamming environment that could include electronic warfare. Yet another evolving tactic is something called “collaborative bombing,” such as the Air Force’s Golden Horde program. This tactic relies on two airdrop bombs coordinating targeting information through a two-way independent data link autonomously between the two bombs to help discern targets and adjust flight trajectory mid-course as needed. Adjusting course in flight to overcome countermeasures or respond to moving targets and new information is often achieved through artificial-intelligence-enabled autonomy and hardened datalinking between manned platforms, drones and the weapons systems they operate.
Much of the emerging target acquisition and sensing technology is not only made possible through smaller form factors and greater power efficiency but also through networking and computer processing. Essentially various kinds of computer processing and data sharing at the point of collection enable targeting specifics to be gathered, analyzed and even bounced off of a seemingly limitless database in seconds. Much of this can function at even higher operation tempos should artificial-intelligence-enabled computer algorithms be used to identify points of relevance within hours or massive volumes of gathered sensor data as well as make target identifications to pass the information along or even make recommendations to human decisionmakers.
Target acquisition advancements can identify targets and use computing to draw comparisons with previous scenarios and available weapons to essentially “recommend” courses of action or pair sensors to shooters operating in a tactical situation. Also, laser systems can be used as optical sensors to either help identify targets or simply pass information. Additional advances will likely take shape in the form of a threat database similar to the F-35 fighter jet’s well-known Mission Data Files which include a detailed compilation of likely targets in a given geographical area. This on-board computer database or library, compares incoming sensor data against fixed or “known” information to make immediate identifications. Should this kind of technology be improved with GA’s SWAP expertise, then smaller platforms such as drones might have a vastly improved ability to positively identify and therefore destroy targets.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: Flickr / The U.S. Army