Israel Aerospace Industries Says This Is The Next Leap In Exportable Electronic Warfare Systems

IAI’s latest Scorpius systems leverage the advantages of active electronically scanned arrays to knock out threats over land and sea.

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IAI

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has unveiled two new additions to its electronic warfare systems portfolio, designed to provide protection against a wide range of threats on land and at sea. The latest iterations of the Scorpius system are based on active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology, harnessing its various advantages to provide what the company claims is a new type of soft-kill capability in the land-based and maritime domains.

IAI officially announced the existence of the new Scorpius G (ground-based) and Scorpius N (naval) systems on Thursday, November 11, and The War Zone spoke to Gideon Fostick, director of marketing for the Intelligence, Communications and EW division of IAI’s Elta Systems subsidiary to find out more. 

The latest products are derived from technologies used in two previous airborne pods, the Scorpius SP (self-protection) and SJ (standoff jammer), as well as a ground-based training version, the Scorpius T.

IAI

An artist’s conception of the ground-based Scorpius G engaging an enemy fighter, AWACS plane, and drone, using its AESA-based electronic attack beams.

The Scorpius electronic warfare (EW) systems are designed to target multiple threats simultaneously, using jamming to disrupt the radio frequencies used by those systems. Because of the AESA technology behind it, these kinds of systems are readily scalable and, once scaled up, are able to provide a defensive bubble around a much wider area, sufficient to defend a warship against long-range anti-ship missiles, for instance, or to protect an armored column on the move.

“You can detect anything that’s happening all over the sky, even tens or hundreds of targets and you can send each one of them a dedicated narrow jamming beam,” Fostick explains. “Instead of targeting a single or just a couple of targets, you can now detect and address and disable [multiple targets].”

The concept of attacking enemy systems with electronic means, or radio waves, has been around for a very long time, but up until now, this typically involved specific limitations. Using a traditional dish antenna meant pointing it in the direction of the threat emitter, before moving it to engage a different target. This limited engagements to a very small number of targets at a given moment, something that AESA can overcome.

The advantages of AESA radar technology are something that we have discussed in depth in the past and it’s something we often hear about in relation to airborne radars. Fundamentally, an AESA system uses a flat array and can simultaneously send multiple narrow beams in many directions, using an array of transceivers. Using an AESA array for this kind of EW application is not unique to IAI, with the U.S. Navy’s AN/SLQ-32(V)7 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block III, or SEWIP Block III, is also using an advanced set of AESA arrays to make highly precise electronic attacks on multiple targets at once, and to act as secondary sensors and even communications nodes. You can read all about the capabilities of that system here.

IAI of course has a long history of developing AESA radars for all kinds of applications, including as part of the Iron Dome air defense system that featured so prominently in the last Gaza conflict. This technology is now being developed in another direction altogether, in the form of the Scorpius family of EW systems.

The Iron Dome system in action during tests last year:

At the heart of Scorpius is taking the advantages of AESA and then optimizing those for the purpose of electronic attack. In this way, the EW system can benefit from the increased range provided by an AESA antenna and its ability to scan for threats in directions simultaneously. Then, in response, Scorpius uses the same technology to send narrowly focused beams to interfere with multiple threats across a broad swathe of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Typical threats include manned aircraft, air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles, cruise missiles, smaller drones, and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). As Fostick explains “basically anything that’s in your line of sight that uses the spectrum somehow.” That could include the radar, electronic sensors, navigation systems, and data communications employed by those threat platforms.

Fostick claims the receiver sensitivity and transmission power of Scorpius are so great that the system essentially represents a “whole new category of product.”

Looking at the two newly unveiled systems in more detail, the Scorpius G is a mobile EW system that’s mounted on a truck, in its initial form. It uses an AESA system used to detect and disrupt ground and airborne threats. Fostick describes the Scorpius G as “the most groundbreaking application” in the family, due to its ability to defend “a region, a battlefield” against a full range of modern threats, including cruise missiles and small-size attack drones.

Since these kinds of threats usually use some portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to navigate, communicate, or to sense what’s going on around them, the opportunity exists to disrupt them. While IAI has not disclosed the range at which the Scorpius G system is effective, Fostick says that threats can be addressed “from much farther distances” than is possible with legacy jamming systems.

It’s notable, of course, that Scorpius G (and associated products) offer a means of air defense that does not rely on a hard kill. The ability to defend against incoming threats without employing a gun, missile, or even a laser is especially relevant in urban environments or when there are troops in the open or soft-skinned vehicles in the vicinity.

While Scorpius G is currently mounted on a truck, the system, in general, is designed to be highly modular and Fostick says that it’s conceivable that it could be installed at different sizes, weights, and complexities on platforms of varying size and capacity. Clearly, if it could be scaled down small enough, it could even provide protection to a single vehicle, or could be installed on one vehicle to protect a larger convoy.

The maritime-optimized Scorpius N is intended to defend warships against advanced threats, including cruise missiles, drones, and airborne imaging radars. Here, the particular advantage offered by AESA technology is the ability to tackle threats at a longer range than was normally possible in the past.

IAI

A computer-generated artwork showing the naval Scorpius N protecting a smaller warship.

“Naval EW is pretty tricky,” Fostick admits. “If a missile is coming at you and you’ve got this huge ship [to defend], it’s pretty difficult to confuse it. The only way to really be able to do that is to destroy it at longer ranges. Scorpius technology, by having these multiple narrow beams, dramatically increases the range at which you can detect that missile coming at you and act to confuse and deflect it. It’s really effective in defending a vessel in a way that would previously require a huge system.” The reduction in equipment size that AESA also offers means that Scorpius N can be installed on a frigate “easily,” while integration on a corvette is “possible.”

Already on the market is the Scorpius T that provides EW training for pilots, emulating a variety of modern air-defense systems simultaneously and intended to challenge even fifth-generation aircraft, a growing concern for air forces around the world. It also reflects the increasing demand for threat emulators in general, as operators seek to inject more realism into aerial combat training, exposing pilots to threatening emissions associated with a wide array of potential enemy air defense systems.

Scorpius T made its public debut during the international Blue Flag air combat exercise that took place in Israel last month. “We believe it’s the only system in the world today that can effectively train pilots of modern fifth-generation aircraft,” Fostick says. Here, the AESA technology is used to generate multiple different air defense threats to challenge different aircraft, for an enriched training experience that would be hard, or even impossible, for older systems to achieve.

“The pilot flying in the air suddenly gets that buzz, that alarm in their cockpit telling them that they are being targeted by the most advanced air defense systems existing in the world today,” Fostick explains. “I was told by pilots participating in the exercise that it really gets you, you feel the threat out there and then you have to perform your evasive maneuvers, or chaff, or all kinds of other protection techniques.’ At the same time, Scorpius T records everything that is happening to help with a debriefing at the end of the mission.

“The system itself is mobile, you can shift it from place to place, the advantage being you can change up the training scenario, otherwise you’re getting used to doing the same thing every time,” Fostick adds. “If you want, you can emulate multiple systems from the same point. In that sense, it’s a huge saving and logistical advantage versus previous expensive and cumbersome systems, each of which only emulated a single threat.” And, since Scorpius T is digital-based, it can be quickly updated to emulate newer threats as they become relevant. 

Finally, there is the airborne Scorpius SP/SJ for combat aircraft, offering either an autonomous self-protection capability or standoff jamming to protect a formation of friendly aircraft against enemy air and ground-based threats. In its basic form, the airborne Scorpius is pod-mounted and entirely self-contained, but it can also be installed on transport aircraft or, potentially, on drones.

IAI

The podded airborne version of the Scorpius EW system.

The airborne Scorpius would seem to have an immediate application for the growing adversary air community, as a means of challenging fifth-generation aircraft, in particular, during red air simulated combat. Fostick notes that the adversary air market is one of those that IAI is targeting and it is an area where Israel has already featured prominently, including supplying EW equipment to U.S. aggressor units, while different air arms around the world use similar systems for self-protection during operational missions.

As of today, actual Scorpius hardware has been sold to what Fostick describes as “several prominent customers across the world,” with several applications having been ordered — this would imply both the airborne pod and the Scorpius T training aid are now in use. The newly announced Scorpius G and N exist currently as “actual working systems,” which are said to be close to operational use, but there have been no orders announced so far.

IAI’s activity in bringing new versions of Scorpius to market reflects a growing realization about the advantages inherent in AESA technology, and the ability to spiral this into different development paths. The company’s Elta division was well placed to leverage the work already achieved in AESA radars for an EW application, although adapting it to this new role was not necessarily straightforward, as Fostick explains”

“There is a huge difference between radar and EW. With AESA radar, the radar operator selects the frequency. But for EW, you need to engage an enemy who is using any possible frequency across the spectrum, so you need to be able to have multiple shifting beams operating over a very, very wide band. Getting AESA to work across a huge bandwidth of threat frequencies was a huge technological leap.”

With its modular design, the different Scorpius iterations can be adapted in terms of size, complexity, and autonomy. These options will be reflected in the cost of the system, but Fostick says it falls within the “same price ballpark as previous systems.”

There is also a persistent discussion about the potential for AESA systems like Scorpius to be tuned to cause actual physical damage, using bursts of energy. The types of powerful AESA radar sets that are becoming widespread on modern combat aircraft, for example, are known to have a secondary non-kinetic attack capability, employing high-power pencil-sized beams of electromagnetic energy to disable enemy missile and air defense-related electronics. Although there is no confirmation of this capability in relation to Scorpius, it would clearly add another powerful facet to knock out threat emitters.

Further development of Scorpius only reinforces the fact that the electromagnetic spectrum is fast becoming a preeminent domain at the center of modern warfare. Every field of conflict is likely to see forces seeking to exploit the spectrum for their own needs while simultaneously trying to deny the enemy from doing the same like never before. The Scorpius presents one potential way of addressing the challenging requirement of achieving electronic dominance.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com