Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Maritime Electronic Warfare Programme

The Maritime Electronic Warfare Programme (MEWP) has entered the Major Projects spreadsheet for the first time in the issue published earlier this month. This project has been in existence for multiple years already, but only now that various portions of it are about to progress it has started to be covered by the annual report. 

 MEWP is actually split into two Category A (which means their value is greater than 400 million) projects: MEW System Integrated Capability and EW Countermeasures Project. MEWP is described as a project intent on modernizing the Royal Navy’s Electronic Warfare capability through the adoption of open architectures with the potential to contribute to the development of shared Situational Awareness and Automated Cooperation in responding to missile attacks. 

Increment 1 of the Maritime Electronic Warfare System Integrated Capability (MEWSIC) should go under contract in the third quarter of this year, according to the report. Increment 2 is in its Concept Phase, while a 3rd Increment has not yet seen activities begin. We don’t know much about what these Increments involve, but we can assume that Increment 1 is likely to be the open architecture command and control element of the EW suite, to enable the later integration of new sensors and of the new countermeasures to come from the parallel project. 

Back between 2017 and 2018, two different industrial teams formed up to pursue MEWSIC and the wider MEWP opportunities: BAE Systems, CGI and Thales form one team; Lockheed Martin and Elbit form the other. Elbit UK is not too subtly offering its eM-e dominate system of systems for maritime EW. This is an adaptive, open architecture system split in its Command and Control element, sensors element and countermeasures element. 

The Royal Navy is unlikely to be giving maximum priority to the sensors at this stage since it has already completed some efforts in the previous decade to modernize these elements, mainly through adoption of the Thales VIGILE D fully digital Radar ESM system. 

On the other hand, a notice has been published calling for a new Communications ESM (CESM) capability for the Type 23s, under Project ARDENT WOLF. Invitation to negotiate is expected in September 2021 with contract signature penciled in for April 2022. The new CESM will be fitted to a minimum of 7 frigates (accounting for the fact that, while it will happen over more than a decade, the Type 23 fleet is on its sundown path) and will replace the HAMMERHEAD CESM, which is around one decade old. 

It will be very interesting to see exactly what Increment 1 will cover. It is obviously intriguing to see the Royal Navy hanging on to hopes to develop a better capability for automated cooperation against missile attacks. The Navy notoriously wanted the US Cooperative Engagement Capability on the Type 45 destroyers but was never able to fund its adoption. The requirement has not gone away, however, and the Navy probably wants to acquire the means to connect into today’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air architecture at the heart of the US Navy efforts. 
Cooperative engagement prominently features in the slides published a while ago by the Navy and highlighting its priorities on the way to 2030. 
In may and june, during exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD in the Hebrides range, both SAMPSON and ARTISAN radars were put to the test tracking ballistic and supersonic sea skimming targets, but it was the dutch HNLMS De Zeven ProvinciĆ«n that was able to share tracking data from its upgraded SMART-L MM/N radar to enable the “launch on remote” of an SM-3 missile from the USS Paul Ignatius. It is important that the ability to cooperatively deploy countermeasures and fire interceptors timely is developed as soon as possible. 

Coming to the EW Countermeasures project, we are told that Increment 1A should see the competition start in September this year ahead of a full business case in August 2022. 

This first increment involves the acquisition of a “trainable launcher” for the decoys. Currently, the Royal Navy uses fixed, six-barrel launchers bolted on deck which cannot “aim” autonomously to launch a decoy in the most convenient direction to face an incoming threat. The ship thus has to manoevre to make best use of the cloaking effect generated by the deployed countermeasures, but this wastes precious time that, in particular against supersonic, and even more so hypersonic, threats is simply not available. The trainable launcher is a key upgrade to enable a quicker and more effective deployment of countermeasures. 

This is a requirement the Navy has felt for many years now and which generated response in the industry: Chemring notoriously developed the CENTURION system and SEA developed its own take. From France, Lacroix can offer its DAGAIE / New Generation Dagaie Systems (NGDS®), while Italy employs the SCLAR, marketed today in its ODLS incarnation by Leonardo. The Chemring and SEA products might be favorite in the Royal Navy contest because they are designed around the 130 mm decoy that is the standard caliber for the RN, US and multiple other countries, while the DAGAIE goes hand in hand with SEACLAD rounds also from Lacrois, and SCLAR / ODLS is mostly about 105 to 118 mm rockets, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see both producers offering a variant compatible with the 130 mm SeaGnat format.

The CENTURION launcher delivers a beneficial impact on Radar Cross Section. It has also been demonstrated as a missile launcher, firing JAVELIN back in 2013 as an anti-FIAC option. 

Increment 1B remains “subject to the outcome of a feasibility study”. 
A november 2020 tender gives us a pretty good idea of what Increment 1B might be about because it was split in two parts: a trainable launcher and a new Radio Frequency Active Decoy. For the Trainable Launcher, Invitation to Negotiate was expected in May 2021 with Contract Award in December 2022. The Major Projects spreadsheet suggests these timelines have slipped, but hopefully not by too much. 

For the Radio Frequency Active Decoy (which would effectively replace the current MK251 SIREN) the notice said 2021 would see a Feasibility study, with an Invitation To Negotiate target of April 2022 and Contract Award expected in August 2023. Overall, things match. 

Loading of a MK251 SIREN decoy in the current fixed launcher barrels. 

The Royal Navy has been working on a new active RF jammer decoy for multiple years. Under the ACCOLADE project, France and UK collaboratively designed a Manoeuvring Expendable Airborne Carrier round fitted with a Thales-developed RF ECM payload. The ACCOLADE round was test fired on Salisbury Plain, but the technology demonstrator phase ended in February 2016 and was not followed by adoption. The RF payload from ACCOLADE is still around, however, and in 2019 was actually demonstrated to the Royal Navy installed on the HALCYON Unmanned Surface Vehicle, the prototype of the USV that is the core of the MMCM counter-mines system. This was a demonstration of the concept of Recoverable Offboard Decoy System which might well bring results in the coming years, although, of course, an 11 meter USV is clearly oversized in comparison to this particular payload. The choice of boat was probably made out of sheer convenience; a much smaller one would be used in an operational system. Or, conversely, one could seek a much larger payload. 

ACCOLADE test firing on Salisbury Plain 

During 2019 the Royal Navy had also put up a notice for the replacement of the current Outfit DLF (3B) inflatable floating decoy. A Naval Passive Off-Board Decoy (N-POD) of similar concept is wanted from 2023. 

An airborne corner reflector decoy, of similar concept to the DLF (3B), has possibly entered service. A DSTL document mentions a MK217 “mini corner reflector” decoy round. In 2018 Chemring unveiled its TORERO 130 mm ammunition which, fired into the air, deploys a Fast-Inflating Airborne Corner Reflector to passively seduce missiles away from the ship. Airborne Systems and Rheinmetall offer their ADS 103 round, very similar in concept. The corner reflector begins its seduction in the air and floats on the surface of the sea after coming down.