Hat tip to Solomon for the link: http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/01/most-important-technology-f-35/125228/
EW is one of the more obscure aspects of warfare that exists on the battlefield today. While people can inherently comprehend SONAR, and by extension RADAR, the discipline of EW is not one that is inherently familiar with most people.
So when someone uses the phrase, “Cognitive Electronic Warfare will be the most important thing on the F-35” they are blowing smoke up your ass. Especially when they say that an as yet to be perfected technology will somehow be able to identify an unknown waveform married with unknown frequency hops and formulate a jamming/deception plan based on that.
You wanna know why this is bullshit? It’s technology. Called random frequency hopping RADARs and passive RADAR. To understand a random frequency hopping RADAR Imagine a RADAR where EVERY pulse is a unique waveform, or unique frequency, or both and any repeats of combinations are truly random. There is essentially nothing to “learn” in against this RADAR. The ultimate goal of a sensor on the battlefield is to look like random environmental noise.
To explain this in a better way, think of a piano, all those keys represent a single frequency (ignoring overtones for the music geeks out there). Imagine that the piano could randomly play a key only once. Now think of the pedals on the piano, push a pedal and change the pitch (waveform). You’ve multiplied the number of possibilities by four (on a good piano, three on a cheaper piano). Now think of a massive pipe organ, a piano, and a whole symphony orchestra. They all have to operate in the same audible spectrum, but if each one were playing randomly with variation, the audience (the EW suite on the plane in this analogy) would have no idea where the next sound is coming from, and can’t predict which instrument will play next, on what pitch.
In short, the broader the spectrum, the more waveforms the RADAR can generate uniquely, and the more random the frequency/waveform selection, the harder it will be to counter act. The only potential fly in the ointment is creating a truly “random” frequency and hop pattern, whatever it ends up being it has to be more “random” than the target aircrafts ability to pick out signal from noise.
To explain what passive RADAR is, think of passive SONAR. Instead of flooding the electromagnetic spectrum with the “ping” of active SONAR or RADAR, it simply listens for what is there, and notes shifts and changes to the environment. The world at large is already flooded with a massive number of ground based emitters in all sorts of frequencies (AM radio, FM, Radio, Television, Trunked Mobile Radio Systems, FRS/GMRS repeaters, Cell Towers, navigation beacons, even civilian RADAR emitters). All these existing emitters put out electromagnetic radiation that bounces off of the atmosphere, terrain, and planes in the sky.
There is no jamming a passive RADAR because it isn’t emitting anything to give you a waveform to re-broadcast. Passive RADAR was publically announced to the world a few years back. Then all the companies involved in the US and Europe shut up about it, closed down their websites talking about it, and declined to answer any emails I sent to the program managers previously listed on the web pages. I honestly can’t tell you whether or not passive RADAR is a reality right now or not, but I do know that money has been spent researching it and at least one prototype system was tested.
Now, will “Cognitive EW” become a thing? Probably. But so will “Cognitive random RADAR tuning/optimization” and “Cognitive passive-RADAR optimization” which will ensure that organizations around the world upgrade the logic processors and software for their ground based systems in conjunction with the “flying supercomputer” that the F-35 is supposed to be. “Cognitive EW” will make entire generations of radars completely obsolete, but it it isn’t “future proof” by any stretch.
And I also expect the EA-18G “Growler” platform will be a much better Electronic Attack platform for a long time into the future. The Next Gen Jamming Pod program has been delayed for so long because: 1, the current legacy pods meet the bulk of the service needs, and 2, the technology needed for the next gen jammer keeps getting refined faster than Boeing/Raytheon/Et All can cram circuits into the thing. The next gen jammer will need to handle all sorts of communications and data link targets as well as RADAR.
So, is “Cognitive EW” a justification for the F-35? No. Cognitive EW, when it does become a viable technology, will not be limited to any specific airframe and you can expect EVERY airframe flying with Electronic Countermeasures to upgrade to the best (look at the EW suite upgrades the F-15s just got budgeted). No one wants to see an 80 million dollar 4++ generation aircraft brought down by a legacy RADAR system or cheap old radar guided missile.
When “the gadgets we bolt onto the frame are more important than the frame” argument is justification for the continued purchase of the frame, it’s time to say, “bolt that gadget onto a different frame” and be done with it.