The U.S. Navy Wants Electronic Weapons That 'Go To 11'

The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham

The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham U.S. Navy/AP

This tech could potentially be capable of frying enemy electronics.

The U.S. Navy is courting proposals from defense contractors to design the next generation of electronic warfare technology. It’s looking for devices that can be used to jam enemy radar and missile systems and deceive hostile forces—and the service branch wants equipment that “goes to 11.”

“The saying is, ‘He who controls the electronic spectrum controls the world,’” Stanton Parsons, a former Navy pilot who flew the radar-jamming EA-6A Electric Intruder airplane, told Quartz. “If you don’t control the electronic warfare spectrum, you will lose.”

Reflecting the Navy’s increasing use of small, unmanned ships and drones to augment and extend the capabilities of its existing force, the service branch is looking for ways to use a multitude of these devices to at once create an antenna capable of sending out radio frequencies with the power equivalent to those emitted from “black hole jets” or “gamma ray bursts,” according to documents from a Navy presentation given to defense contractors last month and posted in a federal contracting database. 

Those celestial bodies generate extremely large amounts of power at incredibly high frequencies, which “would be very hard to defeat if you’re using that as a sensing technology,” Bryan Clark, a former special assistant to the U.S. chief of naval operations and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national security research institute in Washington DC, told Quartz. “Because to jam it an adversary would have to generate equivalent power and generate at a very high frequency,” he added.

Clark said that such technology would also potentially be capable of frying enemy electronics with the amount of radiation it generated.

While electronic warfare has been a priority for the U.S. defense community since World War II, Clark said that recent advances by Russian and Chinese militaries have ramped up U.S. interest in the technology.

Radar systems send out radio waves that bounce off a target and return to the receiver, supplying data about the object’s size, speed, and location. Electronic countermeasures send signals at specific frequencies calibrated to confuse or render useless enemy systems.

“A radar has an electronic signature, a certain radio frequency. If we have it already recorded, we know how to go against it,” Parsons said. “If it’s something new, everybody gets excited to delve into that system. ‘What is this, we haven’t seen it before.’ Who’s got the latest thing? How can we exploit it so it can’t be used against us? That’s the state of warfare.”