Enhancing the Navy’s protection against modern threats

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March 16, 2016

It is getting increasingly complex to defeat a naval threat in today’s defence environment. Defence Research and Development Canada’s (DRDC) Radar Electronic Warfare team aims to provide the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) with the technology it needs to defend against threats to its fleet.

“The objective of the project is the improved defence of naval ships against modern anti-ship missiles,” explained Frederic Arpin, lead defence scientist for the project at DRDC. “Improvements to current and future threats mean the RCN have less time to defend themselves. It has become increasingly difficult with opponents having improved electronic protection measures to move threat targeting off the ship.”

A project is moving forward within the RCN to attain two to four systems for an operational evaluation.

“The project is going to allow us to purchase some commercial jammers because what we developed is experimental. It’s not rugged or combat ready in any sense,” said Arpin.

DRDC prepared the specifications for the project based on years of lessons. The jammer technology has evolved over ten years of trials and data analysis. The first proof of concept was  demonstrated with a basic noise jammer that tested its effect on threat simulators.

“The noise jammer was basically passive, we knew the frequency of the threat simulator and we just output noise,” said Arpin.

The next step was to develop a coherent digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) jammer to target cutting-edge threats.

"The DRFM jammer captures and digitizes the incoming radio frequency pulse which the threat is transmitting. Next it stores and retransmits a modified signal which indicates a false target with different coordinates and a different signature," said Arpin. "This technology is a smarter way of defeating the threat." 

The DRFM jammer is fitted on an unmanned vessel or drone, off-board of a nearby ship that would be the target of the threat.  The jammer works on incoming frequencies and can either make the threat attack the unmanned vessel, thus protecting the main target, or modify the signal to misdirect the threat away from both the unmanned vessel and the target ship.  Either outcome protects the lives of sailors on-board nearby ships.

“After a jammer was suggested, Fred [Frederic Arpin] came up with the idea of putting the jammer on an autonomous vessel. That way no people were needed on the vessel to operate it,” explained Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Timothy Bromige, formerly Staff Officer Electronic Warfare  at Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre.

The project is part of the TAPA, or the Technical Cooperation Program Anti-ship Threat Project Arrangement program. The Technical Cooperation Program is an international organization that collaborates in defence scientific and technical information exchange and shared research activities for five nations: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“TAPA is very much cutting edge, looking five to ten years into the future. That’s where you want to be,” explained LCdr Bromige.

TAPA conducts trials every two years as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise and is one of the highest priority experiments since 2006. RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime exercises comprised of nations with an interest in the Pacific Rim region. It is conducted from the Hawaiian Islands and Pearl Harbour and provides an important training opportunity and a means to strengthen military-to-military partnerships. 

“TAPA is very much cutting edge, looking five to ten years into the future. That`s where you want to be,” - LCdr Bromige

“RIMPAC is good because the ships are already there. We leverage all the international partners and assets. One of the tests we did in 2014 needed five ships, one Canadian ship, one Australian ship and three ships from the United States. We need a mix of different international assets to be able to run certain tests,” said Arpin, who is also the National lead for TAPA at DRDC.

“RIMPAC gives an immediate benefit to the participating Navies,” explained LCdr Bromige. “There is cross pollination between the Navies that take part, leveraging others work,” he said. “It is not just what you do. Over the years working together and getting to know what each party wants and knows – the continuity – it’s like a marriage,” added LCdr Bromige.

The TAPA team are currently working toward the next RIMPAC, which is scheduled for 2016. They will be building upon past successes and putting the experimental jammer to the test.

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