Air Force may install 'Angry Kitten' on aircraft for electronic warfare advantage
- The latest test of the U.S.' "Angry Kitten" electronic warfare was performed in April of 2022
- It was discovered that it could update itself while in operation
- This system could prove very useful for various existing and future jet fighters for the U.S.
Back in April 2022, an operational evaluation of the "Angry Kitten" Combat Pod electronic attack system showed that it could quickly re-program itself between flights. This battle pod, which is an improved version of the Georgia Tech Research Institute's "Angry Kitten" pod, simulates enemy electronic attack signals during Air Force test and training operations.
The Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office of the Air Force Research Laboratory paid for this operational evaluation as part of the App-Enabled Rapidly Reprogrammable Electronic Warfare/Electromagnetic Systems experiment campaign, or AERRES for short.
On an F-16 "Fighting Falcon" assigned to the 53rd Wing, the Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force tested the Angry Kitten electronic countermeasures combat training pod at the Joint Preflight Integration of Munitions and Electronic Systems, or J-PRIMES, test facility at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, from October 18, 2021, to November 5, 2021. The test's objective was to evaluate how well the combat pod worked with other F-16 equipment.
In order to provide solutions for apps-enabled electronic warfare/electromagnetic systems, Keith Kirk, the experiment program manager, stated that AERRES is evaluating the operational utility and competitive advantages of open hardware/software architectures and standards. He claimed that Air Force commanders observed the test because they plan to use more open-architecture software to support agile system modifications in the future.
“Over the past four years, it has been well documented in the strategic guidance that we have to do this,” Kirk said. "This is the first operational assessment of a possible electronic warfare system that could be deployed and ready for battle for fighter planes heading in that direction."
Air Combat Command proposed that four pods be converted into combat pods to enable attack capabilities against adversary radio frequency threat systems rather than simulate them, given the performance of the pod in training and its ability to be re-programmed.
The goal of the experiment was to show how this new architecture, owned by the government, could be used to better deal with threat systems that change their radio frequency signature quickly to make it harder for American planes to find and attack them. Such threat systems use software-defined radars.
The "Angry Kitten" is far from being cuddly
In the past, Air Force electronic warfare system were built with tightly integrated hardware and software, which was efficient but required a lot of time and money to maintain. As the electronic warfare environment changes, the "Angry Kitten" design makes it easier to update or re-program the system.
Kirk claimed that in order to resist sophisticated emitters and constantly evolving electromagnetic system threats, today's electronic warfare and electromagnetic systems must be swiftly upgraded or loaded with new software.
"The hardware and software 'stovepipe' solutions common across the Air Force's enterprise make it much harder for the Air Force to adapt quickly to new electromagnetic system threats and defeat them," he said. “AERRES is demonstrating open hardware/software solutions that allow platforms to upgrade capability by swapping hardware modules and/or software apps to change electromagnetic systems' offensive and defensive effects.”
According to Lt. Col. Stephen Graham, the "Angry Kitten" Combat Pod operational assessment test director, the mission data file software for the self-defense jamming pod underwent an overnight upgrade throughout the two-week test to increase performance against threats each day.
Graham, the F-16CM electronic warfare test director for Air Combat Command's Operational Flight Program Combined Test Force, says that the government-owned software makes it easy for programmers to update the software and add new mission data files immediately.
Because the data files are written in an open-source programming language, programmers can create efficient jamming strategies to counter threats with well-known radio frequency signatures.
Graham says that the methods were tested over time to make them more effective and accurate. The 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center, and U.S. Air Force Air Warfare Center all worked together to ensure that the latest programming methods were used.
The team collaborated with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Agile Combat Support Directorate to evaluate and validate these modifications in labs at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, before the flight test event. Programmers created the unique mission data files for the system. At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, team members worked on the operational evaluation the next day while updating data files.
“The flexibility of the Angry Kitten technique description language enabled daily mission data file changes based on open-air testing observations to enhance effectiveness against a multi-threat environment,” Graham said.
The "Angry Kitten" pod was actually able to update itself mid-mission
He also said that the goal of the operational evaluation was to find out how well and how well-suited the combat pod was, as well as to get operational feedback that could be used to tell Air Combat Command about a possible fielding decision in the future.
The test crew carried out 30 sorties and showed off post-flight re-programming to enhance the results of earlier flights.
“The flight test at China Lake was our final operational assessment event,” Kirk said.
“The software was updated within hours based on the performance they were seeing against certain threats and then improved, and those improvements were verified during flight test the following day. That’s really tough to do with software and tools that are not designed to open standards,” he added.
Although the fate of the "Angry Kitten" Combat Pod is still uncertain, according to Kirk, the program has significantly changed how the Air Force approaches electronic warfare.
“The AERRES experiment is demonstrating app-like capabilities for the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing, and the electronic warfare enterprise in general,” Kirk noted. “We are making great progress toward software-enabled electronic warfare systems that allow us to quickly update our effects based on the changes in the radio frequency environment and the type of effects that we want to make happen,” he added.
Graham stated that he anticipates more DOD systems will eventually benefit from the open architecture software development by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the new Spectrum Warfare Wing.
“It’s an exciting time to be working to improve our electronic warfare capabilities,’’ Graham said.
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