Electronic Warfare System On Air Force F-16 Gets Software Update In Flight

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However, the system can only do that if the threat in question is one that it knows how to categorize based on the information in its internal database. Beyond the issue of dealing with previously unknown signal types, that library of information could also have a hard time identifying known signals that are being sent out a novel way or are simply muddled together with other emissions. That’s why this new remote updating capability, which the Air Force says began as “a bar-napkin idea,” is so important. “This proof-of-concept test demonstrated the ability for a pilot to properly correlate a previously unknown electronic threat in near real-time,” according to the Air Force.

“We believe this is the first time a fighter aircraft has received a software update and gained new capability all while in flight,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Zachary Probst, the commander of the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron, said in a statement about the test. “This is a big deal. There’s a tactical need to be able to rapidly update software, especially mission data files because that’s what ties into our ability to identify, find, and defend ourselves against enemy threat systems.”

It’s hard to overstate how significant this new capability could be. Potential adversaries, including possible near-peer opponents, such as China and Russia, are constantly developing new air defense systems and associated sensors, as well as electronic warfare and cyber warfare capabilities. Some of those systems are then made available for export, though often with somewhat reduced functionality. 

Altogether, it is not hard to imagine a scenario in which U.S. combat aircraft would fly into combat and be faced with previously unseen or otherwise little understood air defense and electronic warfare threats that existing countermeasures systems are not immediately capable of responding to. That’s where Cognitive EW comes in. 

One envisioned near-term capability that is part of this broader concept is the ability for a wide variety of platforms, including aircraft, as well as various assets down below, to feed data about new threats into a larger electronic warfare ecosystem. Analysts and engineers can pick…