Dean's Lecture Series: ‘We Save Lives Every Day’
L3Harris Technologies electronic warfare president and her team are featured at special spring edition of School of Engineering & Science Dean’s lecture series.
Jennifer Lewis, President, Electronic Warfare, L3Harris Technologies, and a member of the President’s Leadership Council at Stevens Institute of Technology, is among the world’s experts in using modern radar, radio and infrared technologies to control the electromagnetic communications spectrum and launch or stop an enemy assault — whether from land, air, sea, space or cyberspace.
On February 14, 2023, Lewis and two of her team members visited Stevens for a special spring edition of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering & Science Dean’s Lecture Series. In addition to meeting with Stevens President Nariman Farvardin and faculty members, the L3Harris guests led a panel on “Technologies within Electronic Warfare at L3Harris,” hosted by Dean Jean Zu.
Dozens of students, professors and other attendees were on hand to learn about electromagnetic spectrum operations in a contested spectrum environment — otherwise known as electronic warfare. Lewis and her colleagues discussed the challenges and realities in this work and explored developing technologies before opening the floor for a Q&A session.
Understanding the technology ‘is what makes our jobs fun’
Lewis kicked off her presentation by sharing the story of how her career initially took flight.
“I studied math and computer science, but I had no idea what I was going to do after college,” she recalled. “I interviewed with all kinds of companies — from building web search engines to writing software for bowling alleys... I went to Raytheon… and they showed me I could work on weather algorithms for radar that would keep planes landing safely, so they didn't crash If they hit a burst of wind coming in for landing... I thought, how cool is that? And how important is that?”
Raytheon was the start of a stellar career that led to her 2018 move to Harris Corporation, which soon merged with L3 Technologies to become L3Harris Technologies. The global aerospace and defense technology company now has more than $17 billion in annual revenue and 47,000 employees in more than 100 countries. Before taking on leadership of the electronic warfare division, Lewis had also served as vice president of engineering for the electronic systems segment, vice president of engineering and technology for the integrated missions solutions system segment and vice president and general manager for the F-35 mission avionics division.
“We do most of our work with the U.S. Department of Defense and with allied nations and their departments of defense,” Lewis explained of her current role. “We also work with the Federal Aviation Agency and other civil agencies. We have 19,000 engineers, who hold more than 2,300 patents. Understanding the autonomy side and how electrical, mechanical and software systems come together for a solution is what makes our jobs fun.”
Lewis then shared her definition of electronic warfare.
“If you think about going out to do a mission, you need to operate and communicate across the electromagnetic spectrum, whether it's soldier-to-soldier, air-to-ground, or space-to-everywhere, but you don't want to be seen doing it,” she said. “Anytime you do turn on something, other people are searching… it's this game of deploying countermeasures so that you can carry out what you need to do safely without being interfered with or seen.”
She referenced 2022 blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick as an example of the kinds of challenges she and her team work to solve. The F-18 aircraft flown in the movie include L3Harris equipment designed to alert pilots to enemy trackers so they can complete their missions and return home safely.
“That's what it's all about,” she said simply. “We save lives every day.”
‘The elegance in engineering and design’
Paul DeLia, L3Harris director of strategy business development, electronic warfare, picked up the discussion to address the evolving battlespace. He explained that the electromagnetic spectrum where electronic warfare occurs also includes the operations of cell phones, AirTag trackers, Bluetooth devices and other common gadgets of everyday life.
“The electromagnetic battlespace has evolved to a point where it's contested and congested,” DeLia said, “and we have to be able to maneuver in that space where we may be fighting in the future. You're not going to have the ability to shut things off, because communications will still need to happen… That's where the elegance in engineering and design comes into play, being able to counter a threat while remaining stealthy in appearance as well as being effective and not affecting any of your teammates who may be flying with you.”
He then noted that electronic warfare encompasses three things: attacks, support of the spectrum, and protection.
“If you're a radar, you want to protect against someone jamming you,” he said. “That's the engineering chess game that you play, measures and countermeasures, and back and forth… What we're seeing now is what the Department of Defense calls EMSO, and it stands for electromagnetic spectrum operations. What that means is being able to maneuver within that spectrum space.”
DeLia shared the team’s pride in supporting drone surveillance and other defense efforts in Ukraine, and hypothesized what electronic battlefield could look like in the future.
“We’re seeing a pivot away from [single] sensors and using many small and smart and connected sensors,” he said. “The electromagnetic spectrum has very exquisite waveforms that are difficult to detect, and they tie all these systems together to give an integrated view of the battlespace for the warfighter to be effective. It’s a transition from traditional electronic warfare to electromagnetic spectrum operations, which cuts across all domains and looks at things at various tiers and how they can work together.”
Engineering innovations drive the search for the ‘holy grail’
Rounding out the presentations was Drew Trainor, L3Harris senior director engineering, electronic warfare, who focused on innovations in software, mechanical, electrical and system engineering.
For example, in addition to highlighting the agility required in today’s dynamic and changing environment, Trainor cited artificial intelligence and machine learning as a “holy grail” of electronic warfare. L3Harris is sponsoring a Stevens senior design project in this area.
“Folks spend a lot of time trying to figure out what signals are out there… and how to jam them or detect them,” Trainor said. “The goal is to get artificial intelligence and machine learning… to go into an electromagnetic environment and adapt to whatever changes are going on… to declassify or to counter those signals in real time.”
The L3Harris team closed out the program by fielding questions from the enthusiastic audience. In response to one student’s question about the best way to succeed in these areas, Lewis emphasized the importance of being inquisitive.
“Be curious,” she counseled. “The real learning comes in learning to understand how your piece fits into the overall objective of what the team is doing. And as you become curious, you build that systems engineering mindset, no matter what your specialty is. That is valuable as you're making your way in your early career. It does help you learn more, and you might find out you're more interested in this thing over here than the thing that you're working on… There are lots of options if you're curious and try to learn more about what you're doing and around it, and you can home in on where you want to be.”
Trainor and DeLia also shared how their passion for their work has led them to extraordinary experiences.
“From a mission side of things, you get to see a lot of cool stuff,” Trainor said. “You get to go to customer facilities and see how platforms are used… Pilots will tell you stories about how it works and what they need to make it even more effective. You'll hear directly from the folks who help keep all of us safe. On the technology side, there's a lot of cutting-edge stuff… When we come up with a cool idea and the government gets behind it, when you can get funded, then it can become something real.”
“Everybody's pulling toward the same goal, which is to protect the humans that are in that airplane and make sure they can they can execute their vision,” DeLia added. “There's a natural curiosity to understand… Working with the soldiers, the airmen, the sailors, getting their feedback, it all helps your unit. If you're really lucky like I was, you get thrown in the backseat of one of these things and you get to fly around. It's a fulfilling part of your career.”