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Research Questions

  1. How are adversary capabilities in the EMS evolving?
  2. How fast does electronic warfare–related software reprogramming need to be to keep pace with threats?
  3. What obstacles exist within the current intel-to-reprogramming process?
  4. What advanced technologies are needed to achieve necessary improvements?

The U.S. Air Force's electronic warfare integrated reprogramming (EWIR) enterprise examines intelligence on adversary threats that emit in the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) (in particular, radars and jammers) and configures electronic warfare software and hardware to enable aircraft or other resources to react to and/or respond to adverse changes in the EMS environment. With the growing advancements in U.S. adversaries' electronic warfare assets that enable complex and diverse EMS capabilities, identifying, tracking, and responding to these threats requires much faster updates than the existing EWIR enterprise was designed for. The research team conducted four interrelated technology case studies that together comprise the fundamental elements necessary for creating a near-real-time, autonomous, inflight software reprogramming capability and, more specifically, artificial intelligence–enabled cognitive electronic warfare capabilities—the use of machine learning algorithms that enable platforms to learn, reprogram, adapt, and effectively counter threats in flight. The research team also highlighted important continuing roles for the existing EWIR enterprise even as the U.S. Air Force moves toward a cognitive future.

Key Findings

  • To remain competitive and adapt to changing threats, U.S. Air Force (USAF) systems that operate in the EMS must be capable of rapid reprogramming (including evaluating the environment, detecting adversary activity, and synthesizing an appropriate response), at least on the order of seconds to minutes, in order to effectively react to the most advanced threats.
  • Agile software solutions, hardware upgrades, data engineering, and interoperability with other systems are all required to achieve the needed speed.
  • Accompanying changes in policy, organizational mission alignment, personnel and computing availability, and personnel professional development are also needed.


  • The USAF should start working today to accelerate and integrate technologies needed to realize cognitive electronic warfare. Steps include supporting a shift toward updated software architectures, such as containerized microservices, that would allow faster deployment of capabilities and needed updates to increase the reprogramming speed and provide support for the deployment of cognitive electronic warfare algorithms on platforms in the future; enhancing onboard high-performance computing; expanding experimentation and early technology adoption; prioritizing policies and technologies that will allow better data collection, standardization, classification, access, and integration processes; and ensuring coordinated investment and implementation of these activities given high interdependencies among key technologies.
  • The USAF should also take immediate steps to adopt new software deployment architectures to enable faster fielding of capabilities and implement rapid and airborne mission data file updates in theater. This necessitates changes to existing policy; personnel professional development; review of requirements; and investments in software architecture standards, onboard processing, and computing and connectivity by the aircraft during the mission.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Plans, Programs and Requirements Directorate, Headquarters Air Combat Command (ACC A5/8/9) and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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