The US Navy Has Big Plans to Win at Electronic Warfare

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The U.S. Navy Wants to Outfit More Ships with a Powerful Electronic Warfare (EW) System: SEWIP Block III is currently in use on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, but if miniaturized, it could give other ships a potent EW capability too.

Northrup Grumman is working with the United States Navy to design a smaller, more light-weight version of it AN/SLQ-32(V)7 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block III (also known as SEWIP Block III) for use on smaller surface warfare ships.

“We’re also looking at opportunities to scale down the system for smaller ship classes — frigates and smaller — and looking at ways to make a scaled-down version of SEWIP that can be effectively employed and rapidly installed on the smaller ship classes,” Mike Meaney, Vice President of Land and Maritime Sensors at Northrop, explained to C4ISRNET.

SWEIP’s latest Block III upgrade gives destroyers outfitted with the system the ability to target incoming missiles with electronic precision and take them down without using a kinetic penetrator. In its current iteration, the SWEIP system is installed on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Still, the electronic warfare system is noted for its substantial footprint, which necessitated a re-design of its superstructure.

Electronic Warfare, Miniaturized

“On smaller ships sizes, we know it’s of great interest to the Navy to put this soft-kill capability with unlimited bullets on almost every ship that they have because the incredible protection electronic warfare offers you,” Mike Meaney explained.

“We know that they’re interested in doing that, so we’re off on our own trying to develop what we think would make sense to go do in anticipation of the Navy having a requirement to do a scaled-down version of it.”

In an interview last year, Meaney highlighted SWEIP’s timeliness and utility to the Navy. “This system was developed at a really good time because as our peer and near-peer adversaries are growing in capability, one of the areas that they’re growing in is anti-ship missiles.”

“Really, really essential that all of our deployed forces have effective EA [electronic attack] against some of our adversaries’ weapons.”

Unlimited Magazines

In addition to SWEIP’s pinpoint accuracy, the electronic warfare magazine is virtually unlimited, as it relies on electrical power rather than bullets.

“What we see as the future is by having effective electronic attack systems like SEWIP on ships, it’s going to allow the ship’s captain and crew to depend on them and solve the anti-ship threat with non-kinetic solutions, allowing them more missiles than their magazine to shoot for offensive purposes,”  Meaney explained.

“That’s the opportunity that SEWIP provides to the Navy, is an opportunity to rely out how they configure their ships’ missile magazines. And as it’s proven out there and fully demonstrated, the confidence will grow, and then the Navy can look at putting more offensive weapons into their ship magazines than they currently have today.”

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson

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