The Air Force’s ‘Angry Kitten’ training device, explained
South of Death Valley this spring, the Air Force experimented with electronic warfare. In tests that took place in April at China Lake, California, fighter jets flew 30 training missions, testing the effectiveness of an electronic warfare training device called “Angry Kitten”. In an August 3 announcement, the Air Force recommended using Angry Kitten for actual combat.
“Given the pod’s success in training and its demonstrated ability to be reprogrammed, Air Combat Command recommended that four pods be converted to combat pods to provide attack capabilities against radio frequency threat systems. enemies, instead of simulating them,” the ad read.
Electronic warfare is a crucial element of modern armed conflict. It is, broadly, the transmission and obstruction of signals along the electromagnetic spectrum, primarily but not exclusively in the radio wave domain. These signals are used for communication between pilots; with radar to perceive the location of enemies beyond visual sight; and for the guidance of weapons. If one side can block signals from the other side, it can potentially prevent their pilots from communicating, their radar from perceiving, and their weapons from following radar vectoring.
The Angry Kitten was developed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute to simulate other nations’ aircraft electronic warfare devices, the kind the Air Force might encounter in the skies. It is a system that incorporates a software defined radio, which means that its signal and frequencies can be changed by code. This contrasts with traditional hardware-defined radio, which is limited by the frequencies that the physical components can produce and receive.
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“The project, known as the Angry Kitten, uses commercial electronics, custom hardware development, new machine learning software and a unique test bed to test unprecedented levels of adaptability in [Electronic Warfare] technology,” wrote the Georgia Tech Research Institute in 2013.
An adaptable training tool allows the Air Force to train against a range of simulated enemies. This work is done by aggressor squadrons, specialist pilots who train against USAF aircraft to try to prepare those pilots for the forces they might encounter in a real war. Because the United States doesn’t have the very sensitive high-end fighters built by countries like the Chinese J-20 and the Russian Checkmate, it will instead use other aircraft to simulate them, which means using a tool to simulate how these jets will conduct electronic warfare. .
Angry Kitten “provides the ability to collect realistic and representative jammer data on advanced waveforms. It can be used to represent virtually any known threat – and even hypothetical radar systems that do not currently exist” , said the Georgia Tech Research Institute in 2013.
While countermeasures for radar detection and jamming have been around for decades, the ability to change technique and frequency makes a successful jamming session more likely. This adaptability was a crucial part of what the Air Force tested Angry Kitten on in April.
“The flight test at China Lake was our final operational evaluation event,” said Keith Kirk, experimentation program manager for AERRES, a program examining in part how open source software can lead to better electronic warfare tools. .
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“The software was updated within hours based on the performance they were seeing against certain threats, then improved, and those improvements were verified in flight testing the next day. It’s really hard to do with software and tools that are not designed for open standards,” Kirk continued.
In a future war, the Air Force can be reasonably certain of the types of aircraft its fighters will encounter, as aircraft are difficult to produce or store in secret. Also, because combat aircraft are often designed for military export markets, airframes are promoted at trade shows and international armaments exhibitions to be seen by potential customers.
However, specific fighter systems are easier to keep secret. A jammer designed for the future therefore has flexibility if it can perceive and adapt to the specific signals it encounters in combat. If data can be shared from aircraft to the entire Air Force, a possibility with open standards and reliable, open bandwidth, then the second day of air combat against a hostile jammer could be unroll much more easily than the first.
With Air Combat Command’s recommendation, Angry Kitten could go from a versatile training tool to an integral part of future combat. Operating in a contested electromagnetic spectrum is integral to future warfare. For the Air Force, a dedicated sensor and jammer pod that can perceive the spectrum, adjust, and share what it learns could provide a significant advantage in the skies.