Understanding the role of FPGAs in Electronic Warfare

In the landscape of contemporary military operations, electronic warfare occupies an increasingly prominent place. Indeed, rapid technological advances and the increasing digitization of defense systems have led to a critical reliance on electronic capabilities to maintain advantage on the battlefield. At the heart of this revolution are FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays), programmable electronic components that offer unprecedented flexibility and processing power in electronic warfare.

The foundations of electronic warfare (EW)

Electronic warfare is an essential element of modern military operations, aimed at controlling or disrupting adversaries’ communications and intelligence systems. On the modern battlefield, a multitude of electronic threats can be encountered, ranging from radar jamming attacks to cyberattacks on military computer networks. The ability to effectively gather, analyze and exploit electronic intelligence provides a decisive advantage in terms of decision-making, strategic planning and coordination of operations in the field.

Why do we need Electronic Warfare?

Warfare electronics are essential to modern military operations, because of their crucial role in managing and protecting electronic systems, and in manipulating enemy communications. As a key component of national security, it enables the control and contestation of electromagnetic space, which is vital for informational and operational superiority on the battlefield. Electronic warfare capabilities include electronic surveillance, defensive electronic warfare (such as jamming enemy signals), and offensive electronic warfare (such as cyber attacks and disruption of adversary networks). In a world where technology plays a central role in military operations, electronic warfare has become essential to ensure the protection, intelligence and strategic advantage of armed forces.

Understanding FPGAs

FPGA = Field Programmable Gate Array

An FPGA, made up of basic logic gates and complex functions, is a conventional integrated circuit. Users can reprogram it to suit their specific applications.

Functioning as a hardware platform for FPGA-based electronics projects, an FPGA board provides resources such as programmable logic blocks, on-board memories and various input/output interfaces. These boards meet the needs of users involved in FPGA-centric projects.

The exceptional flexibility and programmability of FPGAs allow easy adaptation to a variety of applications, offering a dynamic solution to meet the changing needs of diverse projects.

Unlike an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit), the FPGA offers exceptional flexibility and adaptive programmability, making it possible to adapt to a variety of applications. This fundamental difference lies in the compromise between the highly optimized specialization of an ASIC for a specific task, and the ability of FPGAs to be reprogrammed to meet a wider range of needs.

FPGAs offer several significant advantages over traditional integrated circuits in the context of electronic warfare. Firstly, their flexibility and field-programmability enable rapid adaptation to changes in the electronic threat landscape, offering crucial operational agility. What’s more, FPGAs offer exceptional parallel performance, enabling them to efficiently process multiple data streams simultaneously, increasing their effectiveness in detecting and neutralizing electronic threats.

FPGAs are widely used in radar detection and jamming systems, where they are employed to generate complex, realistic jamming signals to disrupt enemy radar operations. They are also used in electronic surveillance systems for real-time analysis of electronic intelligence signals, enabling rapid identification of threats and appropriate response; but also in secure communication systems for encryption and decryption of sensitive data, thus ensuring the confidentiality of critical military communications. Finally, FPGAs are essential in electronic warfare systems on air, land and sea platforms, offering advanced electronic protection against adverse threats.

Specific roles of FPGAs in electronic warfare

In the complex field of electronic warfare, Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) play crucial roles, illustrated through a variety of strategic applications. Firstly, they are widely used for the collection, processing and analysis of electronic intelligence (EI) data, offering the flexibility and processing power needed to extract valuable information in highly dynamic environments. Secondly, their importance is evident in the design and deployment of electronic countermeasures (ECM), where FPGAs enable the rapid implementation and modification of jamming techniques to counter adversary threats. Finally, FPGAs are at the heart of jamming and electronic jamming (EW) systems, providing an adaptable and scalable platform for generating sophisticated jamming signals, contributing to operational superiority in a variety of tactical scenarios.

In short, FPGAs are emerging as essential elements of modern electronic warfare, offering advanced capabilities that support military operations and enhance the security of engaged forces.

How does electronic warfare jamming work?

Electronic interference, or jamming, is a fundamental electronic warfare technique used to disrupt adversary communications and compromise their operational capability. Jamming works by intentionally transmitting electromagnetic signals on frequencies used by the enemy, creating noise or interference and thus disrupting the transmission of data or communications. Jamming can be used defensively to protect one’s own communications and electronic systems, or offensively to compromise an adversary’s capabilities. Ultimately, jamming plays a crucial role in electronic warfare by disrupting the enemy’s communications and intelligence capabilities, thereby contributing to strategic advantage on the battlefield.

What is the difference between Electronic Warfare and radar?

Electronic warfare (EW) and radar are both overlapping fields of defense technology, but have distinct functions. Radar is a system used to detect, locate and track objects such as aircraft, ships, missiles or vehicles by measuring the properties of radio waves reflected by these objects. It is mainly used for surveillance and reconnaissance. Electronic warfare, on the other hand, aims to disrupt, jam or neutralize enemy communication systems and sensors, including radars, using techniques such as jamming, suppression, decoy or deception.
While radar is primarily concerned with detecting and locating targets, electronic warfare focuses on manipulating the electromagnetic environment to gain a tactical or strategic advantage on the battlefield.
In short, although both fields are linked to radio wave technology, their objectives and methods differ considerably.

In conclusion, FPGAs have become central elements in the collection, processing and analysis of electronic intelligence data, as well as in the design and deployment of electronic countermeasures and jamming systems. Their flexibility, processing power and adaptability make them invaluable tools for enhancing the electronic warfare capabilities of armed forces.

Looking to the future, it is likely that the use of FPGAs will continue to evolve, with technological advances that could include closer integration with artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as improvements in security and resilience in the face of adversarial threats.

In this ever-changing context, it is essential to stress the importance of a competent partner to develop and implement these FPGA-based systems effectively in the field of electronic warfare.

reflex ces is the partner of choice, with proven expertise in electronic warfare and many years of experience in the development of advanced FPGA systems. Our in-depth understanding of the specific requirements of EW, combined with our technical know-how and commitment to innovation, enables us to design tailor-made solutions to meet the most demanding needs of armed forces. By collaborating with reflex ces, EW players can be sure of benefiting from cutting-edge technologies and reliable solutions that enhance their operational capabilities and competitive edge on the electronic battlefield.


Many of our FPGA boards are perfectly suited to Electronic Warfare and radar systems applications:


  • Ares SoM, based on an Agilex™ 7 SoC F-Series FPGA
  • Zeus SoM, based on an AMD Zynq® UltraScale+™ MPSoC FPGA
  • COMXpress SoM, based on an altera® Stratix® 10 SoC FPGA

>PCIe boards

>A Modified-COTS or fully customized board can also be offered, depending on your requirements. 

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