When the company you run has become a reference point in its sector, predicting the future might come a little easier, especially when you have been in the business since the mid-1960s. Still, the words of Elettronica’s President and Chief Executive Enzo Benigni in 2019 have proved prophetic.

At the Berlin Security Conference of that year, he said that “in the multi-domain scenario of the future, sectors such as cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum will be fundamental.”

Fast forward to 2023 and – as the world debates whether Russia’s invasion is an example of conventional war fare or a ‘technology conflict’ – Benigni’s words ring true. Whether it be Russian countermeasures to jam the signals of Ukrainian drones or Ukraine’s success in damaging the electronic warfare systems of the Russian army, an unseen battle rages daily across computer networks and the electromagnetic spectrum.

“We should recognise the peculiar aspects of the war in Ukraine,” Benigni says. “We see an ‘old fashioned’ war, with tanks, mortars and ground operations, mixed with aspects of a hybrid, unconventional war.” He adds: “Cyber attacks are applied to any sensible potential target, not only military ones but communication systems and infrastructure as well. For electronic warfare... we have seen the serious consequences of such technologies, such as the disruption of sensor-communication networks, as well as passive localisation and targeting.”

If electronic warfare describes efforts to use the electromagnetic spectrum to deny, degrade or misdirect enemy signals such as radio, infrared or radar, then cyber warfare is largely concerned with infiltrating computer systems. Protection against being jammed or deceived is an important part of Elettronica’s business, as well as support measures to provide targeting for electronic or destructive attacks or to produce intelligence. Signals intelligence also operates in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Elettronica Group, which comprises four separate businesses, is involved in all those niches, partly through its CY4Gate subsidiary that specialises in cyber security software. Both France’s Thales Group and Italy’s Leonardo also hold minority stakes in Elettronica Group, with the remainder owned by Benigni family’s private company.

Does that mean Elettronica might be swallowed up? Benigni says that Le onardo’s involvement came from the need to channel Italian industry in electronic warfare around Elettronica’s Centre of Excellence, while Thales brought export opportunities and Franco-Italian electronic warfare naval programmes.

“The presence of these important partners has contributed to stability and cooperation,” he says. “Due to this stability and to the level of business cooperation in place, we do not have the worry of being ‘bought out’,” Benigni adds, asserting that Elettronica’s survival is of broader importance. “Its capabilities... are considered a national strategic asset.”

  • Elettronica HQ

Sensitive sector

The war in Ukraine also underscores another of Benigni’s predictions harking back to the 1990s: that protection against electronic and cyber warfare in Europe can only be fully achieved with cooperation. “A further lesson is the need for cooperation and the sharing of information among allied forces and organisations to increase the effectiveness of both active and passive approaches,” Benigni says.

He recalls how, over two decades ago, Elettronica first promoted the idea of permanent defence cooperation in Europe in its field, launching with European partners the idea of a European electronic warfare company. “The times were not yet mature enough for that, but the concept is still there,” he says. “We have seen significant initiatives in this way, for missiles, space; and industries are making strong efforts to cooperate in a structured way.” He asserts: “That European defence cooperation is a must is beyond debate.”

Benigni adds: “Electronic warfare is a sensitive sector. In the electronic defence field, geopolitical issues, the willingness of ‘emerging’ countries to grow competences in the field, and competition from new players have created a new landscape for the business and in the approach to the market.”

Elettronica’s pedigree in the European field is undisputed, going back decades, including its involvement in the 1970s Tornado fighter jet programme. Today, Benigni highlights the Eurofighter where the company is responsible for the design and manufacturing of the system to protect the fighter jet from radar-guided and infrared-guided weapons, via sensors and jamming equipment.

EDA? It’s in our DNA

When it comes to European Union initiatives, the support of the European Defence Agency (EDA) has long been evident. In 2017, military helicopter pilots and intelligence officers from Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden took part in EDA’s first-ever helicopter electronic warfare course.

More recently, the EU’s Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR), involving EDA, includes the CROWN project for electromagnetic spectrum dominance. The consortium comprises 11 participants from seven countries – including Elettronica – as a first step towards an EU programme for a multifunction radar, electronic warfare and communication system that uses technology without end-user restrictions for a single aerial platform by 2027.

Elettronica is also developing its technology in the area of electronic attack in European projects. “We consider as strategic that Europe will develop indigenous solutions and capabilities for airborne electronic attack,” he asserts. “It is part of the recently defined concepts of strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty that are to be extended to other key capabilities in electronic defence.”

Launched under the European Defence Industrial Development (EDIDP) programme, the projects REACT and CARMENTA involve Elettronica. With CARMENTA, where Elettronica is coordinating the 14 companies from eight countries, the aim is a European self-protection system for fixed and rotary wing airborne platforms. In REACT, the goal is to provide a design for an air electronic attack capability in a contested anti-access and area denial environment best known by its shorthand A2/AD.

Sixth-generation convergence?

If there is a wrinkle in Europe’s commitment to defence integration, might it be in the two competing future air programmes?

Britain, Japan and Italy are teaming up to build a sixth-generation fighter jet, in a project involving Elettronica, known as the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP). Meanwhile, France, Germany and Spain are building the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), also known as SCAF in French.

Benigni is upfront about the issue in terms of European defence integration. He says it is not only a financial question and mulls whether it will be possible to achieve two demanding programmes by two groups of countries. He also asks if the alignment of requirements of future interoperability among European air forces, of industrial competition instead of cooperation, can work.

“We still believe that, despite the growing difficulties, somewhere along the life of the programmes, some sort of alignment, of convergence, should be implemented,” he says.

  • Elettronica HQ

Elettronica Group at a glance

    Established in 1951, specialising in electronic warfare technology
    Founded in 1978 to support Elettronica in key European programmes
    Established in 2014, CY4GATE is a joint venture between Elettronica and Expert 
    System in cyber.
  • CY4GATE (ITALY) Established in 2014, CY4GATE is a joint venture between Elettronica and Expert System in cyber.