Modern radar and electronic countermeasure (ECM) systems are examples of how electronic warfare (EW) is becoming more sophisticated. 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) / machine learning (ML), and other advances are expanding their performance. They’re also adding design complexity, digitally modulated signals, and increased vulnerability to interference compared to earlier generations. Another challenging factor is more stringent size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) requirements by the Department of Defense (DoD).
Engineers developing components used in military and aerospace systems, as well as overall systems engineers, need to verify performance at every stage, to ensure EW systems operate in the most hazardous missions. To do so, proper test strategies must be in place.
Figure 1: Modern military missions rely on digital systems leveraging open architectures.
EW has become integral to most new defense initiatives. Two key aspects of EW programs funded by the DoD to counter complex threats are advanced radar systems and ECM.
Radar – A new generation of high-performance embedded computing is sharpening radar imagery to protect U.S. and allied forces from sophisticated threats. Improving existing radar systems while developing new defense solutions is necessary to combat enemy attacks that use equally advanced techniques to jam signals and guide missiles and related air weapons to hit their targets accurately.
Modern radar must seamlessly integrate into the new era of EW, which focuses on greater processing power to succeed in a more dynamic battlespace. Modern, advanced military radar systems are designed with more transceivers in various positions, such as Active Electronically Scanned Arrays (AESAs). The primary benefit is to form high-fidelity battlefield images, as well as to enhance stealth missions. Hundreds of sensors are used in these systems, which pose their own set of test challenges.
Higher frequencies, more complex waveforms, and mode agility place greater importance on transmitted radar pulse phase and amplitude stability. Test solutions need to have a wide dynamic range for phase stability measurements. These measurements are necessary to assess radar sensitivity accurately and are vital to detecting specific targets. Advanced radar applications employ bursts or complex pulse sequences. Consequently, accurately testing radar components under realistic modes of operation requires the same burst signals. Table 2 lists critical radio tests for pulse-radar transmitters.
Peak power/average Tx power
Pulse rise time/fall time
Pulse duration/pulse width
Tx frequency/frequency deviation
Table 2: Measurements for pulse-radar transmitters.
ECM – An active part of EW, ECM is used for defensive and offensive initiatives. Modern, advanced 3D-phased array radar systems are used to defend aircraft, ships, and military deployments. Offensively, ECM provides time-critical means to deprive the enemy of effective radio communications and radar return signals. Consequently, the power and generation of ECM and radar systems use higher frequencies and signal manipulations to be most effective.
To support the advancement of ECM, test and measurement solutions are being developed with expanded sophistication and greater efficiency to verify performance. The result is modern radar and ECM test solutions that are intuitive, efficient, reliable, and accurate. They also utilize a flexible platform with a clear upgrade path to support the continued evolution of modern radar and ECM systems.
Finding a Test Partner
Implementing effective testing processes for emerging radar and ECM designs at the R&D and manufacturing stages requires flexible solutions that address DoD goals. Solutions must enable real-time, real-world simulation of radar targets using conditions such as clutter, interference, and jamming. This type of environment allows the testing capability to evolve and advance synergistically with advanced next-generation ECM, radar, and other EW systems.
Selecting a test partner with a “total solutions” approach is beneficial. It integrates accurate instruments, dedicated software, and support to tailor solutions that meet the project’s specific requirements. Software is particularly noteworthy, as it helps create the flexibility, speed, and reliability necessary for emerging designs. The total solution approach also allows for economies of scale to control long-term cost-of-test and help create a greater return on test investment.
Another challenge is creating test environments for scenarios that may not yet exist, coupled with emerging cognitive systems that “learn” on the battlefield using AI. Software can be developed to create a digital twin virtual battlefield. This approach allows simulated tests to be conducted for greater confidence systems will perform in the field.
Other integral solutions for a test environment include:
- Real-Time Spectrum Analyzer (RTSA) – Interoperability testing is essential for advanced and integrated jammer designs. A key test instrument for this scenario is a real-time spectrum analyzer, such as the Field Master™ Pro series.
- Spectrum Analyzer/Signal Analyzer – Modern adversarial threats often utilize multiple emitters. Various bands in the electromagnetic spectrum need to be supported. A vector signal generator, such as the MS2840A (figure 2), can simulate complete scenarios due to its high-quality signal generator with optimal ACLR and SSB phase noise. It reduces the effect on wideband and narrow-band measurements to improve test margins and yields.
Figure 2: A High-performance vector signal generator is necessary to create ECM simulation environments.
- Signal Generator – As radar technology has advanced, the detector sensitivity of modern radar systems is often determined by phase noise of the LO source. The low phase noise of the Rubidium™ allows the signal generator (figure 3) to be used as an LO source at offsets between 10 Hz to 100 kHz for more accurate sensitivity measurements. It also has extensive built-in signal simulation capabilities to test pulsed radar systems.
Figure 3: The Rubidium signal generator has the phase noise, stability, and simulation tools for emerging radar designs.
To learn more about radar and EW test challenges, download this new detailed application note.