New Combat Pod System Wakes Up With Software Updates During Test > Air Force Materiel Command > Article view



Operational evaluation of the Angry Kitten Combat Pod Electronic Attack System in April demonstrated rapid reprogramming between flights. This combat pod, an updated version of the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Angry Kitten pod, simulates enemy electronic attack signals during Air Force test and training missions. The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Office of Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation funded this operational evaluation as part of the Rapidly Reprogrammable Electromagnetic/Electronic Warfare Systems Experimentation Campaign by Application, or AERRES.



Experimentation Program Manager Keith Kirk said AERRES is evaluating the operational usefulness and competitive advantages of open hardware/software architectures and standards to deliver application-compatible electronic warfare/electromagnetic systems solutions. He said Air Force leaders noticed the test because they expected to use more open-architecture software to enable agile changes in future systems.


“Over the past four years, this has been well documented in the strategic directions we need to do,” Kirk said. “This is the first operational evaluation of a potentially deployable, combat-ready electronic warfare system for combat aircraft moving in this direction.”


Given the pod’s success in training and its demonstrated ability to be reprogrammed, Air Combat Command recommended that four pods be converted to combat pods to provide attack capabilities against enemy radio frequency threat systems , instead of simulating them.


The experiment was intended to show how this new government-owned architecture could be used to better counter threat systems that use software-defined radars to quickly change their radio frequency signature to make it harder for US aircraft to identify and to attack them.


Historically, Air Force electronic warfare systems were designed to have tightly coupled software and hardware, which were effective, but also took a lot of time and funding to update. The Angry Kitten architecture provides greater flexibility to update or reprogram the system as the electronic warfare environment changes.


Similar to a smartphone and a digital app store, Kirk said today’s electronic/electromagnetic warfare systems must be quickly updated or loaded with new software to defeat complex emitters and threats from constantly evolving electromagnetic systems.


“Siloed hardware and software solutions prevalent across the Air Force enterprise significantly compromise the Air Force’s ability to quickly adapt and defeat new emerging electromagnetic system threats,” it said. -he declares. “AERRES demonstrates open hardware/software solutions that allow platforms to upgrade their capabilities by swapping hardware modules and/or software applications to modify the offensive and defensive effects of electromagnetic systems.”


Lt. Col. Stephen Graham, Angry Kitten Combat Pod Operational Evaluation Testing Manager, said that during the two weeks of testing, the Self-Defense Jamming Pod’s mission data file software was updated overnight to improve performance against everyday threats.


Graham, who is also director of F-16CM electronic warfare testing for the Combined Test Force of Air Combat Command’s Operational Flight Program, said government-owned software allows programmers to update software. and install new mission data files without delay.


The data files use an open source programming language, which allows programmers to design effective threat jamming techniques with known radio frequency signature data. Graham said the techniques were evaluated over several months to improve accuracy and efficiency. Several organizations, including the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron, the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center and the US Air Force Air Warfare Center, have worked to ensure that the latest techniques were scheduled.


Prior to the flight test event, programmers developed the specific mission data files for the system, and the team worked with the Air Lifecycle Management Center’s Agile Combat Support Directorate Force to verify and validate these updates at laboratories at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. Team members created data file updates the next day at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, during operational evaluation.


“The flexibility of the Angry Kitten technique’s description language allowed for daily modifications to mission data files based on outdoor test observations to improve effectiveness against a multi-threat environment,” Graham said.


He noted that the operational evaluation was intended to identify the combat pod’s effectiveness and suitability and to provide operational feedback to inform Air Combat Command of a possible future fielding decision.


The test team flew 30 sorties and demonstrated post-flight reprogramming to enhance the effects seen on previous flights.


“The flight test at China Lake was our final operational evaluation event,” Kirk said. “The software was updated within hours based on the performance they were seeing against certain threats, then improved, and those improvements were verified in flight testing the next day. It’s really hard to do with software and tools that are not built to open standards.


Kirk said that while the future of Angry Kitten Combat Pod is still undecided, the program has significantly shaped the direction of electronic warfare in the Air Force.


“The AERRES experiment demonstrates application-like capabilities for the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing and the electronic warfare enterprise in general,” Kirk added. “We are making great strides toward software-enabled electronic warfare systems that allow us to quickly update our effects based on changes in the radio frequency environment and the type of effects we want to produce.”


Graham said he expects work on open architecture software from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the new Spectrum Warfare Wing will benefit more DOD systems in the future.


“It’s an exciting time to work on improving our electronic warfare capabilities,” Graham said.



Lance B. Holton