ComNavOps is often critical of Navy leadership and programs and rightly so. Navy decision making is so poor as to almost defy belief. The wrong equipment is pursued. The wrong policies are implemented. And so on. Frankly, it gets tiring and discouraging. I’d love to present more good news and I do so when I can but the Navy gives me little opportunity. So, I’m happy to present this bit of good news about the Navy’s Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).
To refresh your memory, SEWIP is the evolutionary successor to the venerable, and now badly outdated and nearly obsolete SLQ-32 (Slick-32) electronic warfare system mounted on nearly every surface warship. The old SLQ-32 is an electronic detection and warning system but has little or no ability to defeat threats. It can see a threat (or could once upon a time) but can’t do anything about it, at least not directly.
The Navy instituted a series of block upgrades to the system to bring it into the modern age and provide an electronic anti-missile capability.
- SEWIP Block 1 upgrade addresses obsolescence issues by replacing obsolete parts and installing improved control stations and displays. It also adds additional threat signal receivers. The system is in full rate production.
- SEWIP Block 2 upgrades antennas and receivers and improves the signal processing. The system is in low rate initial production. A second IOT&E test is pending after a failed initial test.
- SEWIP Block 3 provides active signal emissions to defeat incoming missiles. The system is in development.
- SEWIP Block 4 is a future upgrade that will provide EO and IR capabilities.
This attention to electronic warfare is long overdue. Setting aside the tardiness, I fully commend the Navy for implementing this program. As we’ve documented in other posts, electronic countermeasures have proven far more effective than active missile defenses so this is a case of placing money, effort, time, and resources in a program that will assuredly pay off.
Of course, being a Navy program, there are problems. DOT&E’s 2015 Annual Report notes that the SEWIP Block 2 upgrade has severe problems detecting and holding target tracks.
“Analysis of the available IOT&E data showed that, while the AN/SLQ-32 EWS equipped with the SEWIP Block 2 upgrade provides more capability in detecting and classifying threat emitters than the legacy AN/SLQ-32 EWS, the system generates multiple tracks from a single emitter source in addition to incorrectly categorizing emitter tracks and an inability to hold them after initial detection. … Until these deficiencies are corrected, the AN/SLQ-32 EWS equipped with the SEWIP Block 2 upgrade will not have operational utility.”
“… will not have operational utility.” Ouch! That’s a pretty poor evaluation. Still, that just means there is more work to do. At least this work is for a system that meets a need and there is every reason to believe that it will eventually be quite effective.
I’ve said before that I can accept developmental problems (that’s what “development” means!) and growing pains. What I can’t accept is throwing developmental systems into production or developing systems that have no utility even if they work. SEWIP is a rare example of a very good, if overdue, decision by Navy leadership combined with a proven need that is historically beneficial and should offer outstanding protection to the fleet. The only reservation I have is that the Navy is somewhat pushing the production of the units before the development is completed.