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"Electronic Warfare" Topic

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02 Jan 2020 12:10 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Akalabeth02 Jan 2020 11:55 a.m. PST

Hey guys,
What's a good resource, whether book or website, to understand how modern electronic warfare works. Working on some space combat rules and wanted to look at modern warfare as a basis for some aspects of sensor operations. I know some of the different basic terms, like passive vs active sensors, EW and CEW and CCEW and AWACs and such. I also know different missiles track different types of targets, like heat-seaking, or missiles that track radar emissions or laser-guided, that sort of thing. But I don't know the nitty gritty of how it all comes together in a theoretical engagement.


Personal logo aegiscg47 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2020 12:13 p.m. PST

There might be some books from the Naval Institute Press or articles from some of the Jane's subscription services, but most of that aspect of warfare is classified. For example, F-18Gs are supposedly able to make a "hole in the sky" where the aircraft and anything it is escorting can't be located by any known means. How big is the hole? How many EW pods does it take to do that? What's the known range vs. IAD sensors? Most, if not all of that info is classified.

Akalabeth02 Jan 2020 12:41 p.m. PST

Yeah the one book I found in a quick search is by Alfred Price, "Instruments of Darkness" from 1978. Though I don't know if it talks about conceptual stuff or just development history. Either way seems super dated.

Or there is also War in the Fourth Dimension I see from 2001 and the same author.

Sundance02 Jan 2020 1:09 p.m. PST

Depends how deep you're trying to get into it. Air Combat by Mike Spick, (1980s, IIRC) Has a pretty basic but thorough chapter on electronic warfare.

Daricles02 Jan 2020 1:39 p.m. PST

Most of what I've read about realistic space combat suggests that detection is almost guaranteed in space due to the thermal output of any realistic ship design.

I've read that the thermal signature of a ship's life support systems alone would stand out like a road flare in a dark room.

Unless your rules involve some kind of cloaking tech, realistic space combat will likely be dominated by other aspects than what we traditionally consider EW.

Drive tech and weapons systems will determine engagement distances not detection and tracking. Comms lag will likely be a bigger problem than detection and tracking since you will likely be able to detect and track targets well outside the range you can effectively engage them.

Daricles02 Jan 2020 1:57 p.m. PST

If you are looking for a modern equivalent to base future space combat on I'd start by examining what naval warfare might look like if every ship on the planet always knew what the location, heading and velocity of every other ship on the planet was a couple of minutes ago.

Or more precisely, if you always had precise location and tracking info on all possible targets, but there was a lag in the timeliness of your location and tracking information that increased with distance to the target.

Whirlwind02 Jan 2020 2:55 p.m. PST

This thread worth a read: TMP link

I'd give Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising a read too for some bits and pieces. There is something in one or two of the other Clancy novels too.

IIRC air/naval PC games Harpoon and Command: Modern Operations link model certain aspects of EW.

Akalabeth02 Jan 2020 3:32 p.m. PST

Thanks for all the replies.

My interest is not really in detection but in ship-to-ship targeting and missile target tracking. Or is the suggestion that thermals and visual targeting would trump radar or other means of tracking in space?

Also sundance, that sounds like the sort of thing I'm looking for. Just want to understand how it works, not- the minutia and math or anything like that.

Daricles02 Jan 2020 4:02 p.m. PST

Yes. I think visual and thermal detection systems would invalidate the need for much of what we use EW for, which is target detection and tracking and avoidance of the same. It's just not possible in space.

You will always know where the enemy was and where they were heading at least a few minutes ago at vast ranges, probably far beyond effective weapons ranges.

Daricles02 Jan 2020 4:22 p.m. PST

If you are interested in sensors then questions like target resolution are important. You see a bright blip moving on your screen at some vast distance. How big is a single pixel at that range? 100 meters, a kilometer, 100 kilometers?

Look at the recent images from the Ceres probe. At the farthest ranges 1 pixel was an entire dwarf planet. Now, that's a simple science instrument and future spaceships would undoubtedly do better, but it illustrates the concept.

How close do you need to be to actually target something ship sized and hit it and how long did it take the visual information to reach your sensors from that range.

If it was far enough away they may be able to change their position/heading enough to cause you to miss or be unable to predict their position accurately enough to hit it with an energy or kinetic weapon or your missile may not carry enough delta v to adjust its course from the distance you can detect th3 target.

It becomes a imaging quality, diffusion or delta v contest. The outcome of an engagement may even be inevitable before a shot is ever fired.

Realistic, but boring from a gaming perspective.

Akalabeth02 Jan 2020 5:22 p.m. PST

So EW if I understand it, is basically electro-magnetic detection like RADAR and so on. Whereas, in space it would be more passive, heat-seeker based like modern air to air missiles or ship killers. Okay that clears that up a bit. EW is basically just one type of tracking and I should really research the breadth of tracking to understand everything.

I read on wikipedia that heat seekers are increasingly effective because of their ability to get past counter measures. Though, if weaponized lasers are a part of the arsenal, one would think that IR jammers could be more effective in disrupting the tracking capability by simply burning out the sensors. Maybe these IR jammers could even be applied to ship-borne tracking systems.

For me I'm less interested in the specific numbers behind a thing. It doesn't really matter how good the sensors are, because there will be a range where you're going to hit and there'll be a further range where you're going to miss, the gameplay is going to happen in-between. Also I think that offensive and defensive capabilities are in a constant race with each-other and that in the future, as in the past, there are going to be gains and counter-gains that keep uncertainty in an engagement between two technologically equal opponents.

The one thing that does matter for numbers is speed relative to engagement range, but games usually inflate the speeds to make them more interesting (and to make the map relevant) so I'd probably go the same route.

Daricles02 Jan 2020 7:09 p.m. PST

Except that if the IR jammer is strong enough to do what you suggest it's essentially just another energy beam weapon that has the same problems as the laser weapon you are trying to disable and at the engagement distances we are likely considering needs to be a laser beam itself to avoid dispersion problems.

If you are just wanting to create a fun game that is loosely based on a spaceship setting things are much easier than worrying about real world limitations. Just make fun rules. If you want EW make fun EW rules that have neat in game effects and apply some EW handwavium for flavor.

Design the in game effects first and then use what you already know about EW to give the rules you come up with the appropriate fluff.

Sundance03 Jan 2020 8:46 a.m. PST

Something to consider is that with the ranges in space, you know where they were, not where they are, so being able to predict current trajectory based on previous trajectory will be essential. An active homing missile will have to predict less as it gets closer, but for laser weaponry, for example, prediction capability is essential to score any kind of hit.

Aethelflaeda was framed03 Jan 2020 9:48 a.m. PST

Decoys are going to be important.

williamb03 Jan 2020 10:14 a.m. PST

Daricles sums it up well.
For information on space warfare this site is an excellent resource
Click on site menu and then space war.
Also the space combat game Starcruiser (Sensor Drones, Active and Passive sensors and their effects)
Finally David Weber's Honor Harrington later books have some EW missiles used to overload defending ships sensors.

Throw in things l9ke decoys, directional emp emitters, target identification, etc.

williamb03 Jan 2020 10:29 a.m. PST

Daricles sums it up well.
For information on space warfare this site is an excellent resource
Also the space combat game Starcruiser (Sensor Drones, Active and Passive sensors and their effects)
Finally David Weber's Honor Harrington later books has some EW missiles used to overload defending ships sensors.

Akalabeth03 Jan 2020 11:39 a.m. PST

Yeah I've seen the atomic rocket page, but have been increasingly less of a fan of it. It's authorial voice, as it were, is too authoritarian about what is essentially unknown. Saying something is impossible is different than saying that something is impossible based on our current understanding of science and technology, and that page tends to go with the former. It's also inherently a secondary source, not a primary one, when it comes to research.

Ironic thing is that science fiction, as a medium, exists because the world was losing its mystery. As more of the world was explored, authors began to set their stories on other planets. Now some science authors want to define everything that's possible and to eliminate any mystery in space as well, thereby eliminating science fiction as a concept in the process.

Sundance yes that sounds about right, also as I understand it- infrared isn't very good at determining range either. So it's probably good for detection, not targeting, though active scanners would need to go both to the target and back thereby increasing the delay.

Lion in the Stars04 Jan 2020 4:48 p.m. PST

Active sensors have another, much bigger, problem than round-trip delay: The inverse-square rule.

Double the distance means you are detecting 1/4 the energy, so you can essentially detect a ship on passive thermals at 4x the distance of radar/lidar.

Daricles04 Jan 2020 5:40 p.m. PST

Even assuming a ship purpose built for "stealth" in space operating under ideal conditions you are still talking about detection ranges of 10s of thousands of kilometers.

Akalabeth05 Jan 2020 8:14 p.m. PST

Yeah but we don't know what capabilities ships in the future will have to mask their infrared and active sensor profiles. There are already light materials that claim to make people invisible from infrared, though that's probably among ground clutter not in space of course. But I think it's safe to assume that people are going to research all avenues of defense and offense for centuries to come, especially with regards to stealth which has been the major focus of militaries in the last few years. Are they going to focus on one thing, then get to space, and just ditch it all to focus on something entirely different?

That's what I don't like about the rocket page- it's one thing to say what people know currently, it's another to claim what's possible. You can know what current understanding of science tells us, you can't claim what technology will bring.

Science fiction I think gets the short shrift of late, most surprisingly from the people who allegedly enjoy it- most of the terms related to science-fiction story telling seem pretty disparaging, "technobabble", "hand wavium", "unobtainium". I don't really understand the shift in perception.

Bozkashi Jones06 Jan 2020 12:44 p.m. PST

Going back to the OP, this book is an excellent starting point:



It looks like a typical coffee-table book, one of which one would have fairly low expectations, but it does actually include a lot of detail on how detection and weapons systems work, tactics, etc, in a fairly comprehensive and accessible way.

It got me started in modern naval, once you have the basics you can find other more technical books to go into the details.


Daricles06 Jan 2020 7:03 p.m. PST

I just think you aren't the target audience for the atomic rocket page. They are dedicated to hard science fiction that stresses the science over the fiction.

Their goal is to extrapolate what we already know to make a best guess at what future technology might look like. They avoid making any assumptions about scientific breakthroughs that contradict our current knowledge.

They don't rule them out, but if there currently isn't any evidence to support a particular thing is possible they are reluctant to just wave their hands and say that we will figure something out in the future to make something possible when everything we currently know says that it isn't possible.
That's where the term handwavium comes from.

Unobtanium simply means that our understanding doesn't rule something out, we just don't have any idea how to achieve it.

For example, time travel is handwaving. Relativistic effects on the passage of time are unobtanium.

I don't think it's condescension. They don't care if you like or write about more fiction based sci-fi like Star Wars or whatever. They just have little tolerance for people who go there trying to prove, for example, that Star Wars tech could be real by spouting off about scientific concepts they don't understand.

If you want to make a game about stealth combat in space, they are cool with that, but don't go there and pretend there is any basis for it in reality unless you want to be thoroughly debunked by a lot of real world math and engineering analysis.

If you think there will be some amazing scientific advancements that will make traditional stealth combat in space possible, that's fine. Just know that everything we currently know suggests that ain't so and those are aren't scientific advancements you are counting on they are fundamental changes in our understanding of the universe that overturns everything we know now. Even Einstein's ideas didn't unravel Newtonian physics and the math behind it.

Stealth in space requires a complete revision of the laws of thermodynamics, which are well established and underpin a huge portion of modern science.

Keifer11305 Feb 2020 10:30 p.m. PST

I don't know where I read it, but I recall something about the heat generated by a spaceship using fusion, for example, would be so great it would mess up any kind of ECW countermeasures etc.

This would require anti-missile guns etc to be used. Though I'd think that the heat would mess up any kind of electronic targeting.Any info on this?

Daricles09 Feb 2020 4:43 p.m. PST

The general gist of this thread is that ECW is generally useless in space.

Akalabeth13 Feb 2020 5:19 p.m. PST

I don't think your assessment of the Rocket Page is accurate. They clearly do rule things out all the time, and also ridicule opinions to the contrary with memes and flippant remarks. You are right in that the page is no longer for me, not because they stress hard science, but because I disagree with the manner in which it is written and presented.

Also I don't need hand-wavium and whatever to be defined. I know what they mean. What I'm talking about is the loaded meaning behind those terms.

Hand Waving if you don't know is a pejorative, it's a derogatory term to basically say a thing has no substance.

Unobtainium is a joke term coined by engineers in the 50s. Brought back by Avatar and ridiculed immediately there as well.

Technobabble, again, disparaging and dismissive.

Of course it's condescension. If it weren't condescension, people would use the neutral terms that ALREADY EXIST to describe these things- terms like imagined, invented, theoretical, etcetera. Or just a phrase like Far Future technology, essentially saying it's so far in the future, we can't imagine a way to achieve it.


Bozkashi Jones, thanks will have a look for it!

Daricles14 Feb 2020 3:46 p.m. PST

Ok, Akalabeth. It seems like you are personally affronted.

We at least agree that Rocket page is dedicated to hard sci-fi. Let's start there.

Try looking at it another way for a minute before you get mad. Hard sci-fi is synonymous with *probable* sci-fi. Probable comes from being strongly based on science as we understand it today. That means you should be able to support your sci-fi ideas with engineering and math analysis and any assumptions you make should be an extrapolation of what we know now and not defy it.

If you go there expecting a warm welcome for your ideas about stealth ships, time travel or FTL you'll be disappointed. That's like going to chess club with your checker board. It's kind of rude to ignore the purpose of the group and push your own interests instead.

As far as the terms you are offended by being loaded, well, that seems like you are being a little thin-skinned.

I like to write and create board games as a hobby and use those same terms to describe aspects of my own work, as do many members of the rocket page.

It's just descriptive jargon or shorthand used to indicate quickly which aspects of your story or game are pure artistic license and for others to be able to gauge where on the sliding scale of "based on reality" your work falls.

It also signals "I know this particular maguffin isn't realistic" and therefore is not suitable for strict scientific scrutiny.

Also, the writers on the trek series coined the term technobabble and used it as a placeholder in their scripts to indicate they needed to explain a sci-fi plot mechanic to the audience.

So, yeah, I guess we disagree. The good news is that you are free to like or dislike whatever you want.

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