Tools to test new electronic weapons propel growth for Santa Rosa's Keysight Technologies

When Russia took over part of eastern Ukraine in 2014, its military jammed the target country's cellular and other communications, attacked radar systems and destroyed command-and-control networks. Russia's moves show that its electronic-warfare capabilities are potent and sophisticated.

Santa Rosa-based Keysight Technologies has a large and growing role in development of technology used to wage electronic war. The company provides measurement tools to U.S. Dept. of Defense contractors such as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin that develop electronic-warfare weapons. In its earnings report on Dec. 6, Keysight cited electronic warfare as a growth market.

Weapons in electronic warfare include jamming devices and decoys that fool radar, where beams of high-frequency radio waves are transmitted by antennas that intermittently listen for reflections. Decoys can be used by fighter jets to trick radar or incoming missiles from enemy jets and ships.

Warfare in this realm happens in split-seconds. Electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light — nearly a billion feet per second — and need no medium in which to travel. Sonic waves, used by submarines to detect threats, travel much slower at about 5,000 feet per second in seawater. Sound travels even slower through air.

Lasers can be used in electronic warfare to knock out satellites. Electronic warfare includes radio, infrared, optical beams and ultraviolet weapons.

'We are building momentum in key segments of the market that are undergoing technology transformation,' said Ron Nersesian, CEO of Keysight Technologies. 'In the aerospace-and-defense end market,' Nersesian said, 'electronic warfare and defending against malicious actors looking to take advantage of security gaps in our electronic and digital communications are growing in importance.

'Aerospace defense accelerated and had 20 percent growth in Q4' of fiscal year 2017, Nersesian said. 'We anticipate strong order growth for aerospace defense in Q1' of 2018.

Ukraine reported a sophisticated Russian device called the 'Leer-3' complex used in 2016 to jam cellular signals, according to the Jamestown Foundation, an institute for research and analysis based in Washington, D.C. Another system of electronic suppression, called the 'Borisoglebsk-2' complex, is used to jam high-frequency and ultra-high-frequency radio channels as well as mobile terminals, and was employed in Russia's 2015 occupation of Luhansk in Ukraine.

Electronic warfare is both offensive and defensive. Jamming of radio signals used in radar designed to detect incoming missiles can be countered by anti-jamming electronics. Electronic weapons can be used to detect and defend against improvised explosive devices. Military experts describe part of electronic warfare as 'hardening the kill chain,' such as preventing a U.S. drone from being hacked or jammed by an enemy. Electronic warfare is typically less expensive than firing interceptor missiles at incoming threats.

Military technology must race ahead of commercially available technology to remain viable. 'This is driving innovation across multiple dimensions,' Nersesian said. 'In communications, new breakthrough frequency domains need to be explored (on the electromagnetic spectrum). Aerospace and defense needs to be on the cutting edge of software-defined radios, future generations of satellite communications and private mobile ad-hoc networks. Keysight provides the industry's most advanced electronic-warfare and radar-testing solutions and has been a longstanding leader in this market.'

Keysight's aerospace-defense sector generated revenue of $182 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Neil Dougherty, Keysight's CFO.

Greg Peters, vice president and general manager at Keysight, has overseen the company's aerospace-defense division for the past two years, refocusing on the industry and the Department of Defense.

About half of Keysight's aerospace-defense market is overseas, such as India and Japan. Keysight sells some products to Russia and China despite their position as U.S. adversaries in some respects. The DOD restricts delivery of certain Keysight products to these countries, Peters said.

'We absolutely cannot sell to a certain small set of countries — North Korea and Iran,' Peters said. 'We can sell commercial products to places like Russia and China that are appropriate under export control. There's also a restricted party list,' such as people listed by the Obama administration when sanctions were imposed after Russia's annexation of Crimea and actions in Ukraine. 'We wouldn't have sold anything to them anyway,' Peters said. 'We comply with all that.'

Selling a voltmeter, for instance, would not likely be controlled. 'It's not a threat to national security,' Peters said. 'We are considered a defense company by the U.S. government because of some things we do.' The Department of Defense accounts for about 30 percent of Keysight's aerospace-defense sales, with additional sales to domestic defense contractors.

Keysight's aerospace-defense sales to other countries include allies. 'New Zealand has a navy, and would need our equipment,' Peters said.

Electronic warfare has surged to the forefront in recent years. 'There are domains of warfare,' Peters said. 'Land, sea, air, space, cyber. Cyber is in or about the network — from the moment a radio wave touches your laptop and the laptop is connected to the Internet — that's cyber. Electromagnetic-spectrum warfare is the sixth dimension of war.'

'It's a cheap way to disrupt an enemy's command-and-control. If you have a missile to take action against an adversary, the missile itself is a piece of hardware you have to protect. It has to have EW (electronic warfare) sensors on it to know that somebody is aiming for it to take evasive action.'

Using an electronic weapon is much less expensive than firing a missile, such as a ship-fired Rolling Airframe Missile or Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, to intercept an incoming missile.

A military airplane needs 'sensors to give it 360 (degree) ability to see what's going on, to protect plane and pilot,' Peters said. 'The electromagnetic spectrum is something you want to control,' he said. 'It's critical to today's connected battlefield. We're not running cables. It needs to be protected and controlled.'

Identifying a threat quickly and accurately is vital. Gallium nitride, a compound of the soft silver-blue metal gallium, in radar substantially improves its range and sensitivity. Because gallium is used in smartphone technology, the material has become cheaper and more available.

In electronic warfare, 'anywhere, anytime, any adversary can have access to that (gallium-nitride technology),' he said. 'It makes defending really difficult. You are trying to disrupt the enemy, and they're trying to disrupt you. It's not a pleasant experience. It makes the test problem much harder than doing a cell phone.'

One Keysight simulator depicts a mock threat environment where a plane is flying using an electronic-warfare receiver to pick up radar from an airport, a destroyer and a helicopter. 'It shows emissions from all those,' he said. 'We emulate those emissions in real life. We send an RF signal out. That is used to test the EW receiver on an airplane. You bombard it with signals and figure out if it's responding appropriately,' he said.

'Each threat is generating a signal,' with enemy radar scanning a target plane. 'This software takes a threat library from each one of those radars,' he said. Keysight's technology turns digitally coded information into a radio-frequency signal represented graphically. 'We can emulate dozens of threats,' he said, including frequency-hopping radar. 'Engineers geek out on this stuff.'

A rack of three Keysight analyzers of this type might cost $300,000. 'Typically aerospace-defense customers buy more than they need,' Peters said. 'They never know what they're going to run into.'

When Russia went into the Ukraine, 'they were aggressive in use of new technologies,' Peters said. 'They patterned their activities in a way to understand and interrupt command-and-control of their adversary. What they did was of some surprise to western governments' in terms of its sophistication.

'Swarms of drones create a new threat as a physical weapon,' Peters said, 'or low-cost missiles — hundreds of them — that can be used as false emitters and decoys. You have to have a very accurate and sensitive receiver that works across a broad frequency range. Then you have to have the intelligence behind it to know what to do with' the data gathered. 'How can we make receivers more intelligent and give us information we need to take action instead of a bunch of bits and bytes.'

Modern radar signals can be quite subtle. Keysight measurement devices determine if a receiver detected such signals.

'Was it sensitive enough to pick it up? Then did it take the right action? We look at the response side as well — countermeasures that would respond with some RF signal of their own,' Peters said. 'You can operate with a lower power signal and have more information bandwidth to know what's going on.'

Keysight products are used in radar design and testing. The company does not deal with classified military information.

'I have confidence from working with the DOD that we have the technologies, if given a specific condition' such as a missile launch by North Korea, 'that we could do whatever we wanted,' including taking over command and control. 'If four missiles went up at once, do we have enough interceptors? Being able to know what and where the threat is, that's the most classified information' held by the U.S. military.

The DOD pushes Keysight to develop custom technologies, sending its requirements through Raytheon, Lockheed Martin or other defense contractors, which in turn may order Keysight products.

L3 Technologies, with nearly $10 billion in 2017 sales, makes military and commercial communications and electronic systems, including aerospace and military aviation simulators. The company builds turreted stabilized sensors and gimbals, and has L3 Sonoma EO offices in Santa Rosa near the airport. 'L3 Sonoma EO's 1508M DragonEyes provides wide-area tactical overwatch/critical event monitoring for airborne mission commanders and up to 10 ground-based users,' according to the L3 website.

'We accept some of those requirements when they fit our business model and we have high leverage,' Peters said of custom orders. 'They tell us in generic terms. We get wacko questions,' he said, such as 'can you measure a femtovolt (quadrillionth of a volt) or an attovolt (quintillionth of a volt). Yes we can, but don't breathe on it because it may not work right. We won't sell it commercially because only one customer needs it. A lot of what we do looks like magic to most people. There is money spent on futuristic research,' he said.

'They don't provide us with anything (such) that we could even infer what frequency they're using,' Peters said. 'It's wheeled into a room and we never see it again. If something breaks, they wipe it and wheel it back out.'

Export regulations may bar Keysight from selling instruments that analyze the spectrum at 40 gigahertz or have sophisticated hopping capability. 'Adversaries can always find ways to obtain information,' Peters said. 'They can steal a unit.'

In December the Pentagon announced formation of a special enterprise-capability-collaboration team to study next-generation electronic-warfare. 'They are trying to build a future common platform to approximate the threat that's out there,' Peters said, such as radar and countermeasures. 'We are plugged into that — a large growth area. This is a hot one.'

Electronic warfare can be considered part of information warfare, Peters said. 'In the battlefield, we talk about disruption of command-and-control, identification of friend or foe,' but also cyber-attacks and traditional boots on the ground. 'For Russia to maintain the territory' in Ukraine, 'they have to have people in the territory,' he said.

'What makes the challenges for defense and security so hard is that new dimensions are added — psychological, biological' weapons. 'Wow, now you have to defend against that as well,' Peters said.

Facilities are being upgraded to test electronic-warfare receivers on aircraft, tanks and missiles. 'Labs are going to get upgraded,' he said. 'We are getting ourselves embedded in those labs. We are going through a rapid-growth phase.'

Keysight anticipates military requirements rather than wait for custom orders. 'The best way to tackle this is to innovate and go do it rather than ask questions,' Peters said. 'Our data converters are the best in the world,' especially with spurious-free dynamic range, where subtle signals are accurately differentiated from noise. 'Our goal is to be 10x better than what needs to be measured,' he said.

'We are doing our part to protect the country,' Peters said. 'When we are at our best, the war fighter benefits.'

James Dunn covers technology, biotech, law, the food industry, and banking and finance. Reach him at: or 707-521-4257

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