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New UAV technology intercepts enemy transmissions

Jun. 1, 2013 - 11:59AM   |  
The Army's MQ-1C Gray Eagle is one in a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Army's MQ-1C Gray Eagle is one in a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles. ()
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The Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system has added an electronic jamming capability to its growing repertoire.

The Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system has added an electronic jamming capability to its growing repertoire.

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The Gray Eagle unmanned aerial system has added an electronic jamming capability to its repertoire.

This new mission is made possible by a 330-pound pod called the Networked Electronic Warfare, Remotely Operated, or NERO, system. It will allow battlefield commanders to intercept enemy transmissions and jam everything from a cellphone to a communications network area from beyond line of sight.

Unlike current technologies, NERO will not require an aircrew to be in harm’s way. The Gray Eagle, for example, can fly for 25 hours at speeds nearing 200 mph and altitudes of 29,000 feet. Previous systems had been flown aboard the Army Beechcraft King Air C-12 or Navy EA-6B Prowler.

Here’s what soldiers need to know:

1 Built on a proven design. Raytheon’s NERO builds on the Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or CEASAR, program that was awarded in 2010. Upgrades will allow missions to last up to three times longer while operating costs are reduced, Raytheon officials said. Task Force CEASAR arguably launched the Army’s Airborne Electronic Attack when it arrived in Afghanistan in August 2011. It has since logged hundreds of successful missions.

2 Teamed with a proven asset. Gray Eagle was born when General Atomics Aeronautical Systems beefed up its Predator UAS with a host of advanced technologies. The new variant boasts more horsepower, has triple-redundant avionics and flight controls, and can carry multiple payloads such as Electro-optical/Infrared with laser designation, Synthetic Aperture Radar and communications relay. The first full Gray Eagle company of 12 aircraft deployed in the summer of 2012.

3 The way of the future. While Gray Eagle is the first Army UAV to boast this electronic jamming capability, it is not likely to be the last.

“It is important for our senior leaders to know that the future of electronic warfare within the Army will rely on much more than [Counter Radio Electronic Warfare] devices,” said Col. Jim Ekvall, Electronic Warfare Division Chief. “Programs such as NERO, CEASAR and the Army’s future Integrated EW System are the future of dominating the electromagnetic spectrum.”

4 An aid in fighting IEDs. By jamming electronic signals, NERO is able to knock out remote-control detonators used to trigger roadside bombs.

Radio-detonated improvised explosive devices have decreased when similar technologies are employed, according to the Joint IED Defeat Organization, which joined the Army in funding the NERO system.

5 A budget battle brewing. The Government Accountability Office has, on more than one occasion, raised a red flag in the airborne electronic attack mission area, where “systems in development may overlap — at least to some extent — in terms of planned mission tasks … yet, they are being developed as individual programs by the different services.”

One report identified nine related programs with a combined cost exceeding $40 billion. While CEASAR and NERO are at the lower end of the cost spectrum, a consolidation could be required that will save dollars but add time.

Raytheon in May delivered two electronic attack payloads. The Army is scheduled to do an operational assessment of NERO in fiscal 2014. The service also will host an open competition during the technology and development phase.

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