The first Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3 production unit was recently delivered so let’s do a quick review of the status of the program. You can read a previous post on the subject, here.
SEWIP, is the Navy’s project to improve the venerable and increasingly obsolete SLQ-32 system. The project is divided into a sequence of four Blocks, each of which adds additional capabilities to the overall system. Not all ships will receive all four Blocks.
Here are the SEWIP Block descriptions as summarized from the Navy website (4)
- 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.
- SEWIP Block 2 upgrades antennas and receivers and improves the signal processing.
- SEWIP Block 3 provides active signal emissions to defeat incoming missiles.
- SEWIP Block 4 is a future upgrade that will provide EO and IR capabilities.
Let’s check a brief history of the program by looking at the timeline.
1974 - Northrop Grumman’s (NG) AN/SLQ-32(V)1 (‘Slick 32’) was launched
2008 – Lockheed Martin (LM) received contract to develop SEWIP Block 1
2009 - LM received contract to develop SEWIP Block 2 (AN/SLQ-32(V)6)
2010 – Navy approves LM Block 2 design
2011 – General Dynamics (GD) begins full rate production of Block 1
2013 - LM began LRIP of Block 2 and delivered the first SEWIP Block 2 system
2015 - NG received a $92M contract modification to a previous contract for SEWIP Block 3 engineering, manufacturing, and development intended to produce two prototype units.(2)
2015 – DOT&E testing found that Block 2 had severe deficiencies in generating and holding target tracks
2016 - LM received full rate production contract for SEWIP Block 2
2019 - Dept. of Defense approved the SEWIP Block 3 Milestone C to enable the start of low rate initial production (LRIP)
2020 - NG received a $16M contract modification to an existing contract to provide support for two Low Rate Initial Production SEWIP Block 3 systems.(3)
2020 - Navy issued a contract to Northrop Grumman for SEWIP Block 3 production systems.
The $100.7 million base contract is for the first follow on production lot of AN/SLQ-32(V)7 SEWIP Block 3 systems. The contract has a maximum value of $1.16 billion. (1)
2021 - NG delivered the first production SEWIP Block 3 to the Navy
There are a few noteworthy aspects to the SEWIP program:
Priorities – For reasons unfathomable, the Navy has never considered electronic warfare to be of much value. The original SLQ-32 served for 34 years with only minor improvements. For the last decade or so, the SLQ-32 was so obsolete as to be almost useless. In contrast, during the same time frame, the Navy poured vast resources and funds into Standard missile development, clearly demonstrating where their priorities lay; this despite the overwhelming evidence that electronic countermeasures have, historically, proven far more effective than hard kill measures.
Even with the commencement of the SEWIP program, it has taken 13 years to get the Block 3 into initial service.
The Navy misguidedly and unwisely continues to place little emphasis on electronic warfare. The time span and leisurely pace of development demonstrates that the Navy is not particularly serious about shipboard electronic warfare. We’ve discussed how the Navy should be hugely increasing the size, scope, capabilities, and power outputs of ship’s EW systems and should be building dedicated EW ships. One has only to consider the vast resources and wide variety of equipment and capabilities being put into ground combat EW systems (with Russia leading the way!) to see that the Navy simply does not prioritize EW defenses despite overwhelming evidence of their effectiveness (see, “AAW – Hard Kill or Soft Kill”).
Block 3 – This is the development that adds active output transmissions and provides active countermeasures. This needs to be thoroughly tested under realistic conditions and widely installed across the fleet. The distribution is a concern because the previous SLQ-32 system was not uniformly distributed. Ships received different, less capable versions depending on the ship type. Once upon a time, when some ships were cheaper and therefore more ‘expendable’ this might have made some degree of sense (not really!) but today, with every ship costing $1B+, every ship should have the maximum possible protection.
Testing & Reporting - The last report from DOT&E on the SEWIP program was 2016. In that report, SEWIP Block 2 was reported as operationally effective but not operationally suitable or survivable due to myriad reliability, training, reboot times, and cyber vulnerabilities. Reports mysteriously stop at that point. I don’t know if that means that the Navy has stopped conducting tests, which would be foolish in the extreme though not without ample misguided precedent, or if the Navy considers the SEWIP program ‘finished’, which would also be foolish since the system has never been tested in anything approaching an operationally realistic manner.