October 13, 2020 — The System Performance and Real Time Analysis (SPARTA), an advanced electronic warfare (EW) measurement and analysis software system developed by Southwest Research Institute, was recognized by R&D World magazine as one of the 100 most significant innovations of 2020.
Defense systems on fighter jets and critical aircraft use electronic countermeasures (ECM) that emit electronic smoke screens to thwart radar or other detection systems to deny accurate targeting information to an enemy. SPARTA evaluates these defense systems to ensure electronic countermeasures send a correct countersignal for a given radar “ding.”
“Because current electronic countermeasure systems are inadequate, we developed SPARTA to better determine if today’s most advanced jammers are accurately generating desired responses,” said Finley Hicks, a staff engineer in SwRI’s Defense and Intelligence Solutions Division. “SwRI leadership felt so strongly about protecting the crew of our fighter jets, they agreed to internally fund the development of this system.”
Depending on the scenario, ECMs will create the illusion of multiple targets or make the real target disappear or move about randomly to protect aircraft from guided missiles. Jamming also creates radio signals to disrupt communications, creating electronic noise that degrades or denies targeting capabilities.
“Conventional electronic tester systems struggle to determine if anti-radar jammer systems give the correct response for any given radar stimulus,” Hicks said. “SPARTA, however, measures every parameter — even in a highly congested and noisy electromagnetic spectrum. This represent a leap forward in ECM processing, analysis, visualization and reporting capabilities.”
The system provides automated and manual real-time EW analysis. It can evaluate systems during the development and acquisition phase and for ECM maintenance and sustainment.
In testing other countermeasure evaluation systems, SwRI researchers found, in one typical example, that of 61 ECM parameters, only 24 were measurable using conventional testers. SPARTA flags out-of-limit parameters, identifying problems so engineers can focus on solving those. In a multiple signal environment, SPARTA parses each signal out of the spectrum and analyzes it independently. The software can extract, isolate and analyze signals of interest within highly congested spectrums, achieving a 99+% detection rate.
SPARTA takes large amounts of data available and assesses it for relevance. The faster the data is generated, the faster it must be collected and processed. SPARTA provides the user with out-of-limit notifications, error tables and visualization presented through interactive video graphs.
“We are committed to continuously improving the world around us through innovation,” said SwRI President and CEO Adam L. Hamilton, P.E. “It’s an honor to see the Institute recognized for those efforts at what’s widely known as the ‘Oscars of Innovation.’”
SPARTA is one of two SwRI-developed technologies recognized at this year’s innovation awards competition. The R&D 100 Awards are among the most prestigious innovation awards programs, honoring the top 100 revolutionary technologies each year since 1963. Recipients hail from research institutions, academic and government laboratories, Fortune 500 companies and smaller organizations. Since 1971, SwRI has won 47 R&D 100 Awards.