How the Army's Legacy Systems Take on 21st Century Threats

How the Army's Legacy Systems Take on 21st Century Threats
May 22, 2017 | Source: C4ISRNET, c4isrnet.com, 18 Apr 2017, Mark Pomerleau

Despite the high-tech threats facing U.S. forces, the Army continues to operate platforms and vehicles that are decades old.

The threat from electronic jamming or electronic warfare is significantly more advanced than decades past, with adversaries such as Russia demonstrating capabilities that have worried commanders.

The Army Reprogramming Analysis Team (ARAT) works to keep legacy radars and systems relevant in this highly complex world by collecting and analyzing previously unknown threat signatures and sending updates back to systems and soldiers in the field in a timely manner.

One of the mission sets ARAT supports is radar warning receivers onboard helicopters.

The radar warning receiver is a box that must have updated software to incorporate newly observed threats in the field. This fix is delivered over SIPRNet across the ARAT Warfighter Survivability Software Support Portal, or AWSSSP, for soldiers to download themselves and upload to their mission system upon receiving an unclassified email that the fix is available.

This entire remote process eliminates the need for direct field support. In the past, field support engineers would have to go into the field, pull out cards from each individual helicopter, reprogram it and put it back in. ARAT was formed in the wake of these inefficiencies following Desert Storm.

In fact, the entire process – from receiving a new or emergent unregistered threat, to delivering the fix over AWSSSP – can be done on a short timeline.

This process is very similar to what occurred in the Cold War. In decades past when forces would deploy to a theater and observe a type of jamming signal, frequency, wavelength or bandwidth, troops would collect evidence and take it to a laboratory for analysis and countermeasure development. Months later, a countermeasure or antidote would be programmed in the system and used in theater. The advances in modern software and , today make this previous paradigm infeasible, leading to a new shift in leveraging machine learning.

This new machine-learning concept, termed cognitive EW, enables sensors to automatically learn and understand the jamming signals, adapting techniques to minimize the jamming effect.

The systems ARAT supports and sustains are 20 years to 30 years old, and built before some of the new waveforms and jamming systems were even created.  Nonetheless, the ARAT team allows their legacy systems to still be able to react against them.

While the radar receiver aboard an Army helicopter might not be able to detect or make sense of these new waveforms or functions initially, the work done by the engineers at ARAT upgrade the legacy systems and radars so they can continue to detect the threats in the field despite the apparent technology paradox.

With constrained resources and budgets, the military will be increasingly reliant on legacy systems, despite the proliferation of commercial and adversarial technology.

One of the capabilities that has revolutionized what ARAT’s team is able to do is the use of automated software testing.  While ARAT’s process and mission has not changed, what has is the automated testing, which has borne out significant cost avoidance and time saving.