CRANE, Ind. – Electronic Warfare (EW) or Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) is military activity that uses electromagnetic (EM) energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). Warfighters use this technology to degrade or deny an adversary’s combat capability, gather intelligence data and ensure friendly use of the EM spectrum. Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division’s (NSWC Crane) solutions are employed across air, ground, maritime and space domains to ensure safe and effective missions for the joint and coalition forces.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy says, “The security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war. The drive to develop new technologies is relentless, expanding to more actors with lower barriers of entry, and moving at accelerating speed.”
The acceleration of technological development and growing threats from adversaries is why NSWC Crane EW Chief Scientist James Stewart thinks adopting a futurist mentality is important to delivering a decisive advantage to end users.
“I want to ensure our EW community isn’t blindsided by a new technology,” said Stewart. “We need to be intentional in our foresight. I think if I can cultivate that type of culture here at Crane, so that it’s embedded in the fabric of our department…I think that would be huge.”
Stewart is the first black Chief Scientist at Crane, and was the first black Chief Engineer as well. He was lead engineer for the NSWC Crane Jamming Techniques Optimization (JATO) organization, and was recently recognized as a Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) 2021 Modern-Day Technology Leader. Stewart is currently pursuing a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering focused on Metastructures for Electromagnetic Fields and Optics.
Stewart said EW professionals need to look beyond current tech for answers. He recommended looking at open-source research and employing unorthodox ideas so the U.S. can get ahead.
“We have to look at least 10 years into the future to be ahead of our opposition,” said Stewart. “Our near-peers may not be subjected to our long acquisition cycles in order to field new technology. We need every advantage available to ensure we can leverage our ingenuity in a timely matter. It’s all about thinking outside the box and not being satisfied with the status quo.”
LOKI, a brainchild of Stewart and EW Deputy Department Director Erika White, is one way he hopes to implement unconventional tactics. LOKI, named after the Norse god of mischief, is a conceptual mindset whose purpose is to anonymously delay, distract, and make sure the adversary is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It’s a bit far out there, but that’s where the gaps are in the EW community – wild, unconventional ideas that sow seeds of doubt,” said Stewart. “We want them asking, ‘What’s going on over there?’”
In addition to futurist thinking and uncommon tactics, Stewart said collaboration with allies is crucial. According to Advantage at Sea, the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, strengthening alliances and partnerships is “our key strategic advantage in this long-term strategic competition.” Stewart has a direct hand in this effort through his role with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He is the first black chairman of a NATO subgroup.
He advances EW capabilities on a global scale as Chairman for the NATO Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) Task Group and as Chair for the NATO SEAD Science and Technology Organization (STO).
He leads the task group members to better understand each nation’s EW needs and methods to address the technical challenges related to conducting successful collaborative SEAD missions in various regions of the globe.
“We do studies, conduct workshops, execute test events, and validate scenarios through modeling and simulation...we’re helping other NATO nations find their gaps and improve,” said Stewart. “It’s a true partnership, as our strengths and weakness complement our NATO allies in many ways. We can’t do it alone. To truly control the spectrum, we need strong allies.”
Stewart said his aptitude for engineering was encouraged from a young age.
“As early as I can remember, I wanted to be an engineer,” said Stewart. “I was the kid ripping apart radios and racing to put them back together before my parents got home. They recognized that passion for learning and supported it. By 11 years old, I had a pretty decent engineering lab! And then in high school, I took electronics as an elective – that’s where it really grew.”
Stewart said his passion for knowledge is a trait he continues to develop far into his career. His goal for the Crane EW community is to foster a culture of academia and learning.
“I think having a willingness to both teach and be taught have helped me,” said Stewart. “It’s important to have the mindset of, if you’re not learning, you’re not growing. It’s especially important in EW. If you’re behind a year, like dog years – you’re seven years behind given how fast technology in being implemented. You have to have an appetite and an aptitude to learn and be willing to pass what you know on. That’s how we can continue to be successful.”
Stewart teaches others what he has learned through mentoring, an activity he said is a mix of guidance and assurance. Guidance to make sure they are on the right path, and assurance when they find it.
“I think we can all use some guidance, especially when you’re relatively new in the field,” said Stewart. “For people like me, it can be tough. I came from Chicago to Southern Indiana – no one looks like you, no one shares your same interests, and you might not eat the same food. It’s intimidating. So, I make a point to seek out folks who may seem a bit overwhelmed and simply ask questions like, ‘What’s going on,’ ‘How do you like your work?’ Some of them are like, ‘Who are you?’ but it’s all good. I just want them to know they have someone they can talk to. My door is always open – to a fault, probably.”
Stewart’s inclination to serve others – and his nation – came naturally. He grew up surrounded by veterans – his father, grandfather, and uncles all served. Stewart said a sense of service was instilled at him from a young age, and he always knew he wanted to serve in some way. He found his path at Crane.
“There’s an unbridled energy at Crane to continue to expand technically out of an obligation to our warfighters,” said Stewart. “It’s hard for me to describe. There’s this unspoken duty to the nation. For us, it’s more than a job – it’s a mission. We just keep our heads down and do the work.”
Stewart said he was exposed to this attitude early in his 18-year career at Crane. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are bombs attached to remote detonators like key fobs or cell phones. When soldiers get close by, enemies detonate the bombs.
“We just couldn’t get them out of harm’s way fast enough, and we needed a solution,” said Stewart. “I led a team who developed an antenna that allowed transmitters to focus enough energy to suppress or detonate the IED so they could get from point A to point B safely.”
Before that antenna, the jamming platform aircraft had to be too close to the mine. With the antenna the Crane team designed and manufactured in house, they were able to ensure the airplane was out of range.
“That’s when I truly learned what a profound impact we can all have at Crane,” said Stewart. “I’m glad I got that lesson early on in my career. Everything we do matters. There are folks overseas counting on us.”
About NSWC Crane
NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today's Warfighter.
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