Deployed by six military customers worldwide under the US Government foreign military sales (FMS) programme, the Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite (AIDEWS) is a next-generation radar warning system designed to provide F-16 pilots with situational awareness and protection against radar-based threats, including modern surface-to-air and air-to-air weaponry.
The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, the first of the US Air Force multirole fighter aircraft, is the world’s most prolific fighter.
Available as an internally installed system or an externally mounted pod, AIDEWS can be tailored to unique customer requirements to provide integrated radar warning and radio frequency (RF) countermeasures, along with advanced stand-alone radar warnings.
The original AIDEWS design is based on the ITT Exelis ALQ-211 Suite of Integrated RF Countermeasures (SIRFC), a modular, scalable system developed to protect rotary aircraft, such as the AH-64D Longbow Apache, the MH-47 and the MH-60, against RF air defence systems actively engaging the aircraft.
"We recognised that our F-16 pilots need the same type of protection, especially with the Block 50 and 52 aircraft that are currently in production and being sold internationally," said Stuart Altman, ITT Exelis Electronic Systems AIDEWS business area lead.
"Exelis decided to take a technology leap and incorporate state-of-the-art digital receiver capability and advanced digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) technology into the SIRFC system, and adapt it better for the F-16 fast-flyer environment."
Counting the cost: the modular technology revolution
ITT Exelis, a specialist provider of electronic warfare and self-defence technologies, recently completed development of an externally mounted pod version of AIDEWS (pronounced ‘eh-dooz’). The only electronic countermeasures (ECM) pod currently in production, it offers unrivalled scalability to the US Air Force (USAF) and its international allies as they look to provide pilots of new and legacy fighter aircraft with increased situational awareness and survivability in theatre.
"The pod-based system has completed its development and is in production now with our first customer," Altman tells me from the ITT Exelis Electronic Systems division in Clifton, New Jersey, US. "There are a lot of legacy aircraft out there, and F-16 users are looking to upgrade and protect their investment."
AIDEWS is based on modular electronic warfare (EW) technology, meaning upgrade costs are shared and affordable. New and legacy F-16 users have the advantage of sharing the exact same components for the internally mounted and external pod versions, significantly reducing the cost of ownership at a time when MoDs – hamstrung by swingeing budget cuts – are turning in ever greater number to the commercial aerospace sector in search of economies of scale, technical innovation and systems support.
"AIDEWS can be modified to be a radar warning receiver (RWR) only or a full RWR and jammer system by adding or removing modules," explains Altman. "For most aircraft today, the cost of integrating new on-board systems is beyond the customer’s budget because of the extensive aircraft wiring changes required, while legacy aircraft may not have the real estate on board to accept the boxes. Being a modular system, AIDEWS is less expensive to upgrade for two primary reasons.
"One, newer capabilities such as increased bandwidth and more advanced software are available by simply adding a new digital receiver card or module. Two, the broad user base means the cost of an upgrade gets spread over a much larger number of users, making it a lot less expensive. The modularity of the AIDEWS system allows it to be continually upgraded, ensuring that our warfighters have the edge in any environment."
Testing times: AIDEWS design verification and deployment
ITT Exelis is currently in production, providing more than 180 AIDEWS suites for six nations. The ALQ-211 technology is already integrated into a plethora of US and allied defence rotary-wing and fighter aircraft, including the NH-90 helicopter, V-22 Osprey, MH-47 and MH-60 Black Hawk, as well as several commercial platforms.
The V-22 Osprey is a joint-service, medium-lift, multimission tilt-rotor aircraft developed by Boeing and Bell Helicopters.
In July of 2012, at Los Condores Air Base in Chile, Exelis and the USAF successfully tested the AIDEWS Block 5.2 configuration aboard the Chilean Air Force’s (FACh) F-16 Block 50 Fighting Falcon aircraft against a wide range of airborne fire control radars with overlapping operating frequencies. The upgraded Block 5.2 standard supports the forthcoming delivery of combat-capable electronic warfare mission data to five nations with AIDEWS-equipped F-16 aircraft.
"The AIDEWS system has gone through extensive design verification testing by the US Government, including validation by mission data development experts at Eglin Air Force Base," confirms Altman. "Currently, most AIDEWS systems in production are earmarked for Block 50 and 52 F-16s that customers are buying new."
Already in 2012, ITT Exelis has awarded a contract for AIDEWS jamming pods for integration into the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets as part of a deal worth $54m. This was followed in July by another FMS contract – ultimately worth more than $50m – to supply 12 electronic warfare suites to the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO). Without revealing specifics, Altman hints at further procurement deals in the pipeline.
"If a country is looking to buy new production F-16 aircraft that are still in full production at Lockheed Martin, then we always try to be part of that install," he says. "There are a lot of legacy F-16s around the world that are now being upgraded to be frontline fighters, and that’s exactly what we built this capability for. There’s a huge market there that we are on top of."
Suite escape: AIDEWS technology explained
AIDEWS has advanced off-the-shelf warning and jamming technology by an order of magnitude. The system architecture incorporates a channelised digital radar warning receiver (RWR) that operates in high-density environments; a lightweight, high-performance digital RF memory (DRFM)-based jammer designed to defeat pulse, pulse Doppler and continuous wave threats; and leading-edge electronic warfare control capability.
"The AIDEWS system has radar warning receiver capability as well as jamming capability, and searches the environment for anticipated radar threats," explains Altman. "These could simply be acquisition-type radars that are looking for the plane as it enters a dangerous area, or they could be radars that are guiding weapons.
"One of the best things about AIDEWS is that we can identify these threats well in advance of them even knowing we are there. This gives the pilot the advantage of being able to take evasive manoeuvres, while at the same time knowing he is protected by state-of-the-art DRFM-based jamming algorithms.
"AIDEWS can also be reprogrammed for any mission, defining which threats to look for, how to look for them and which type of jamming to perform when that threat is identified," he adds.
The system’s modular design also supports the substitution of both line replaceable units (LRUs) and shop replaceable units (SRUs) in the field without returning the entire system or pod.
The sky’s the limit: budget cuts and the future of AIDEWS
I conclude by asking Altman if he believes that the trend for modular, off-the-shelf solutions will continue as air forces and commercial aerospace companies adjust to the ongoing global economic downturn and the gradual shift in power towards the emerging BRICs economies.
"Sure, there are budget issues throughout out the world – including in the US – but there are still priorities being set around the various investments made in global defence forces," he says. "Regardless of budgets, air forces still have to maintain their aircraft and protect their pilots. That’s not going to go away."
AIDEWS, by its very nature and design, will continue to be in demand as allied air forces across the globe look to upgrade their F-16 fleets with reliable, effective countermeasures to complete the full gamut of mission requirements, be it close-air support, battlefield area interdiction, strike, suppression of enemy air defences or defence interception.
"AIDEWS is not a paper system," Altman states. "We are out there, we are flying and we can provide this proven off-the-shelf solution faster and at a significantly lower cost."
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