Illustration: US Air Force/John McRell
In May 2023, the US Air Force successfully tested the Angry Kitten ALQ-167 Electronic Countermeasures Pod on an MQ-9 Reaper uncrewed aerial system.
Angry Kitten was developed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and utilizes “commercial electronics, custom hardware development, novel machine-learning software and a unique test bed to evaluate unprecedented levels of adaptability in [Electronic Warfare] technology,” By incorporating a machine-learning enabled software defined radio it can dynamically switch signal and frequencies, making it more adaptive to identifying and countering a wide range of threats. According to Breaking Defense, this “cognitive EW approach” uses machine learning to choose a jamming technique, assess whether it was effective, and respond to an adversary’s own use of electronic attack techniques.
The system has largely been used by aggressor squadrons to simulate adversary electronic warfare capabilities. In August 2022, though, the US Air Force recommended using Angry Kitten on US systems in combat. The unique name appears to be in reference to the pod’s appearance, though Roger Dickerson, a senior research engineer with GTRI, cautions that the “silly name” should not obscure the fact that it constitutes “very serious technology.”
By pairing the Angry Kitten pod with the Reaper, the Air Force hopes to expand the range of missions the MQ-9 carries out beyond its typical mission of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to include EW. According to Major Aaron Aguilar, the Air Force’s 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron assistant director of operations, “the proliferation and persistence of MQ-9s in theater allows us to fill traditional platform capability gaps [in EW] that may be present.” He also observed that the Predator’s ability to persist in an environment was crucial, saying that “fifteen hours of persistent noise integrated with a large force package will affect an adversary . . . and gets at the heart of strategic deterrence.”
EW has become a more significant priority for the US Air Force and across many militaries throughout the world. Indeed, in September 2022, the Air Force announced a “sprint” to locate and counter capability gaps in EW.