Electronics technology plays a crucial role across nearly all aspects of modern military systems. Electronic systems provide capabilities that are essential for national defense and military operations.
This article explores how electronics are applied to enable key military capabilities. We’ll examine the roles of electronics for communications, surveillance, weapon systems, vehicles, identification, and other defense applications.
With continuous advancement in electronic systems, digital processing, and microelectronics integration, electronics will continue transforming the future battlefield and systems. Let’s explore the vital current and emerging applications of electronics technology for military purposes.
Reliable communications are essential for coordinating operations between military units. Electronics technology enables various tactical and strategic communication links:
- Handheld radios for ground troop communications
- Vehicle-mounted military radios with encryption
- Airborne radios with frequency hopping spread spectrum
- Wideband networked radios to transmit data
- Software-defined radios for multi-waveform links
- Satellite communication radios for global reach
Radios provide short and long-range wireless voice and data links between forces using the RF spectrum.
- Deployable cellular infrastructure (cell towers)
- Smartphones for multimedia messaging
- Mobile command centers with 4G/5G connectivity
Cell networks enable secured mobile battlefield networks.
Wireless Data Links
- Frontline sensor data receivers
- UAV and drone command/control and live video downlinks
- Wireless links between ships, aircraft, ground vehicles
- Wi-Fi and mesh networks to connect forces
High-bandwidth wireless connectivity shares mission-critical data.
- Submarine communication systems
- Underwater acoustic modems for ship-to-diver links
- Sonobuoys for underwater submarine signal monitoring
Sound wave transmission enables underwater communications.
- Line-of-sight ship-to-ship laser links
- Short burst laser “flash” systems on the battlefield
- Free space optics links from aircraft
Optical transmission provides very high bandwidth, secure lines of communication.
Military operations depend heavily on advanced electronic communications technologies to coordinate actions between units across land, sea, air, and space.
Situational awareness of enemy positions and battlefield conditions is critical. Electronics enables various surveillance technologies:
- Ground-based air surveillance and fire control radar
- Shipboard surveillance, navigation, and targeting radar
- Airborne fire control, ground/maritime surveillance radar
- Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) for high-resolution ground imaging
Radar utilizes radio waves to detect, locate and track targets.
- Infrared cameras for night vision and heat sensing
- High zoom daylight cameras for long-range observation
- Multi or hyperspectral sensors to detect chemical agents
- Image intensifiers and thermal weapons sights
- Laser rangefinders and target designators
- Night vision goggles and scopes for infantry vision enhancement
Advanced EO/IR sensors provide battlefield imaging and visibility.
- Radio and radar emissions surveillance
- Communication link interception and decryption
- Spectrum analyzers and direction finding systems
- Encryption cracking computers
SIGINT monitors, intercepts, and obtains intelligence from adversary communication signals.
- Hand-launched mini-UAVs for local area visibility
- Medium and high altitude long endurance UAVs with multi-day flight
- Tethered aerostats for persistent regional surveillance
- Swarming algorithms to coordinate drone networks
- AI processing of sensor and image data
Unmanned aerial vehicles outfitted with sensors provide tactical reconnaissance.
- Underwater hydrophones to detect submarine signatures
- Gunshot detection systems
- Battlefield microphones and seismic sensors
- Aircraft and vehicle noise signature databases
Acoustic sensors detect and analyze sounds to reveal military activity.
Advanced electronic sensor systems deliver critical environmental awareness and targeting data.
Modern militaries employ advanced electronics to enhance precision, effectiveness, and networking of weapons systems:
- Radar and infrared guidance for long-range air-to-air, surface-to-air, and air-to-ground missiles
- Laser beamriding guidance
- GPS/INS guidance for cruise missiles
- Imaging infrared seekers with target recognition
- Data links between air controllers and missiles
- Multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs)
Guidance electronics provide precision missile targeting and autonomy.
- Gunner displays with ballistics computation
- Integrated navigation, attitude heading reference systems
- Automated targeting and fire control
- Guided artillery shells with GPS and inertial guidance
- Muzzle velocity radar to measure shell velocity
- Meteorological and topographical sensors
Smart electronics assist accurate artillery gun laying and firing.
- Air defense radar warning receivers, laser warning systems
- Thermal weapon sights and vision enhancement
- Tank stabilized gun fire control systems
- Autoloaders to mechanically reload tank barrels
- Remote weapon stations for infantry fighting vehicles
- Active protection systems to intercept incoming projectiles
Electronics enhance armored vehicle survivability, visibility, and lethality.
- Laser and GPS guided bomb systems with moving target capability
- Image recognition algorithms enable striking specific targets
- Software defined radio controls alterations after launch
- Networking between smart bombs for coordinated attack
- Onboard autonomous target recognition
Guidance electronics allow accurate smart munition delivery.
- Autopilots, flight control systems, and motors
- Sensors like synthetic aperture radar and EO/IR cameras
- Secure digital data links to ground control stations
- Network technology to coordinate drone swarms
- AI algorithms for autonomous target identification
UAV electronics enable unmanned aircraft with ISR capabilities or armed attack roles.
Advanced electronics transform weapons capabilities and lethality for the networked battlefield.
Military ground, air, and sea platforms depend on electronics for navigation, control, and subsystem integration:
- Drive-by-wire electronic engine and brake control
- GPS navigation and in-vehicle awareness systems
- Armored vehicle health and usage monitoring systems
- EMI/RFI hardened automotive-grade electronics
- Autonomous convoy driving algorithms
Automotive electronics enable networked combat vehicles.
- Inertial navigation systems and GPS
- Flight control computers and fly-by-wire
- Heads-up displays and multifunction displays
- Radar altimeters, terrain following radar
- Distributed avionics architectures
- Engine and flight data recorders
Avionics integrate critical flight and mission systems.
- Phased array radars for ship defense
- Electronic chart display and information systems
- Thermal imaging systems for machinery monitoring
- Ballast control systems for submarines
- Integrated bridge systems for automation
- Sonar systems for underwater detection
Marine electronics provide awareness, control, and automation.
- Lightweight autopilots and flight controllers
- MEMS inertial sensors and GPS receivers
- Embedded computing payloads for image processing
- Cloud connectivity and swarm coordination
- AI autonomy for independent missions
UAV electronics enable unmanned aircraft flight and sensing.
Advanced military platforms require integration of diverse electronic subsystems.
Identifying friendly forces is crucial in military operations. Electronics enables various identification technologies:
- Passive RFID tags worn by soldiers and attached to vehicles
- Handheld RFID readers for proximity identification
- Active RFID with longer read ranges for asset tracking
- RFID triangulation for localization
RFID provides short range wireless identification.
- Aircraft transponders responding to secondary surveillance radar
- Automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B)
- Cryptographic identification friend or foe (CIFF)
- Selective availability anti-spoofing modules (SAASM) GPS
Avionics identification systems distinguish friendly aircraft.
- Fingerprint, face recognition, and iris scanners
- Hand geometry and palmprint readers
- Speaker recognition systems
- Behavioral analysis identification
Biometrics verify personnel identity biometrically.
Combat ID Systems
- Vehicle mounted tag readers and transponders
- Soldier worn tags
- Blue force tracking GPS locators
- Networked battle management systems
Tags and data links provide position location identification.
Electronic identification technologies help discriminate between friendly and hostile forces.
Individual soldier systems utilize electronics to provide enhanced capabilities:
- Ruggedized mobile computing devices
- AI-enabled decision making and planning tools
- Augmented reality headsets displaying mission data
Handheld computers assist ground forces with navigation, communication, and decision making.
Night Vision & Sights
- Image intensification scopes and goggles
- Uncooled thermal weapon sights and handheld viewers
- Low light CMOS digital cameras
- Laser aiming and illuminators
- Wearable transparent displays
Digital night vision enhances visibility in low light conditions.
Body Armor & Exoskeletons
- Embedded health and biometric monitoring sensors
- Thermoelectric cooling and heating
- Ballistic shock damping
- Powered and load sharing exoskeletons
Smart armor protects and augments the soldier.
Hearables & Audio Processing
- Bone conduction communications headsets
- Noise canceling hearing protection systems
- 3D audio recognition and localization
- Voice command human-computer interfaces
Advanced audio systems aid communications and situational awareness.
- Lightweight batteries with high energy density
- Solar charging systems
- Energy harvesting from soldier motion
- Compact fuel cells
Portable power sources energize soldier electronic systems.
Electronics aid dismounted forces with enhanced sensing, computing, and communications.
Trends in Military Electronics
Many technology trends are shaping the evolution of electronics for military purposes:
- Ubiquitous sensing with miniaturized MEMS sensors
- Artificial intelligence for data processing and decision making
- Autonomy enabling unmanned systems
- Additive manufacturing to produce electronics and parts
- Flexible hybrid electronics manufactured on fabrics
- More electric technologies and conversion from hydraulics and pneumatics
- Nanotechnologies for ultra-small sensors and electronics
- Higher frequency electronics like millimeter-wave radar
- More powerful embedded computing resources
- Everything connected – the Internet of Military Things
These trends will transform how militaries leverage electronics to gain a tactical edge and field increasingly advanced capabilities using smart systems.
In summary, electronics technology plays an indispensable role across nearly all aspects of modern defense systems. Electronics provide critical advantages in communications, surveillance, target acquisition, weapon systems, vehicles, identification, soldier systems, and computing capabilities.
Continued research and development will further integrate electronics to create a more networked, information-driven, instrumented battlefield. The precision, automation, awareness, and coordination enabled by military electronics will continue to evolve warfare capabilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
How has electronics impacted the evolution of military systems?
Electronics have enabled modern militaries to field very advanced communications, sensor systems, precision-guided weapons,satellite navigation, and networked coordination that were not possible with purely mechanical systems.
What are some examples of cutting edge military electronics research?
Areas like phased array radars, directed energy weapons, hypersonic technologies, advanced stealth materials, quantum sensing, AI-enabled systems, and augmented reality are pushing the boundaries of military electronics.
Which fields of electronics research are important for defense applications?
What new capabilities might future military electronics enable?
Future systems may feature directed energy weapons, large drone swarms with AI cooperation, railguns with power electronics drives, augmented reality heads-up displays, smart dust sensor networks, and increasingly autonomous robotic systems.
What challenges constrain applying advanced electronics to military systems?
Technical challenges include operation in extreme environments, security, reliability, Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) restrictions, radiation tolerance, and cyber vulnerabilities that must be overcome to field cutting-edge military electronics.