Friday, 9 July 2010

Slick 32 : AN/SLQ-32 ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) system

The US Navy’s AN/SLQ-32 ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) system uses radar warning receivers, and in some cases active jamming, as the part of ships’ self-defense system. The “Slick 32s” provides warning of incoming attacks, and is integrated with the ships’ defenses to trigger Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff (RBOC) and other decoys, which can fire either semi-automatically or on manual direction from a ship’s ECM operators.

The “Slick 32” variants are based on modular building blocks, and each variant is suited to a different type of ship. Most of these systems were designed in the 1970s, however, and are based on 1960s-era technology. Unfortunately, the SLQ-32 was notable for its failure when the USS Stark was hit by Iraqi Exocet missiles in 1987. The systems have been modernized somewhat, but in an era that features more and more supersonic ship-killing missiles, with better radars and advanced electronics, SLQ-32’s fundamental electronic hardware architecture just won’t do. Hence the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).

Though SLQ-32 is a Raytheon system, SEWIP began in 2003 with General Dynamics as the lead integrator.

Block 1A adds improved displays and a modern interface, along with some hardware switchouts that add modern commercial-off-the-shelf hardware to drive the new display, and handle some signal processing (Electronic Surveillance Enhancements, or ESE).

SWEIP Block 1B1 made more changes to replace obsolete electronics, some of which are not even manufactured any more, and improved the system’s ability to locate the source of incoming radar signals.

SEWIP Block 1B2 provides some signal processing and display upgrades.

SEWIP Block 1B3 adds additional display upgrades, and a High Gain High Sensitivity (HGHS) subsystem, to help ships deal with modern missiles that announce their presence less and offer less warning time.

Those low-cost, low-risk inserts deal with some of the SLQ-32 system’s issues, but not all. Over the longer term, the system’s fundamental receiver/emitter electronics need to be updated to modern technologies, accompanied by software improvements that let ships take better advantage of the new hardware’s capabilities, and make it easier to share SEWIP information with their own ship’s combat system and with other ships.

Block 2 is described as an upgrade, but it’s more like a major home renovation. It replaces the old SLQ-32 receivers and antennas with modern technologies, whose digital capability and flexibility has come a long way, and adds additional signal processing muscle. It’s also being modified so that there’s a single, unified interface to the combat system, rather than the previous set of interfaces to individual components of the system. This makes future upgrades simpler, and may also have the effect of improving performance. Lockheed Martin’s ICEWS materials touted under 200ms end-to-end latency, as well as a good high-pulse throughput for cluttered environments and a low false alarm rate.

The Block 2 contract was awarded to a Lockheed Martin/ ITT partnership at the very end of FY 2009. June 2010 was the next key milestone, and a July 2010 contract continues development.
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