Moving into 2012, a number of important electronic warfare programs are moving forward,  an ITT Exelis [XLS] executive said.

“There’s no place I’d rather be in the defense world than in electronic warfare,” Bob Ferrante, vice president and general manager of Airborne Electronic Attack at ITT Exelis, told Defense Daily in an interview.

One focus area is in a replacement or enhancement to the existing ALQ-99 jammer that played an important part of U.S. and allied defenses on the EA-18G Growler aircraft, flying in the radio-frequency (RF)-rich environment over Libya, he said.

ITT Exelis is working on a follow-on technical maturation contract with partner Boeing [BA].

“It will be an important big new program that we intend to win, and we’re about mid-way through that, from the technical maturation standpoint,” he said.

The solicitation will be out in mid-year, with the technology demonstration phase awarded in early 2013, Ferrante said. The program is high profile for the Navy, the Air Force supports it as well, and the funding “appears to be very strong right now,” he said.

“Countering the RF threats…will continue to be a high priority for the U.S. services and our allies,” Ferrante said.

Right now, all the services are putting battlefield management plans together. One of the first steps is coordinating aircraft, such as the F-18, the coming F-35, F-16 and F-15 with counter IED systems on the ground. The next generation ALQ-99 will help “put the right energy on the right target at the right time with minimal communications disruption on our side,” he said.

ITT Exelis also is waiting to hear the outcome of its pursuit for Common InfraRed Countermeasures (CIRCM) program. “We anticipate a contract award in January,” he said. “We’re pretty bullish on that.”

Separately, the unit has a contract for associated work from the Army Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) to use some of its CIRCM design work and some advanced algorithms to go after some specific threats, he said. There’s the potential for live-fire tests against those threats next year.

Working with NovaSol, ITT Exelis is working on free space optical communications under contract with the Office of Naval Research and Navy Research Lab. It aims at ground-based ship-to-shore communications that would be predominantly used by Marines.

Interestingly, 10 years ago such a system would have been very expensive because of the cost of mini-lasers, mechanical issues and reliability. Today, Ferrante said, there are very high power lasers with very high reliability rates that are smaller and easier to cool.

ITT Exelis is just completing a major upgrade on the ALQ-214 countermeasures suite, the F-18 Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM), and has successfully passed production readiness tests for NAVAIR. The upgrade will populate the F-18 C and D carrier-based Hornets for a long time to come, he said. The updated version will also be backfitted on the E and F Hornets.

“It’s a very successful program,” he said, which can be updated to deal with changing threats.

Internationally, the ALQ-21 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite (AIDEWS) appears on the F-16, and has been sold to Oman, Chile, Pakistan, Poland and Turkey. Exelis recently won a new program for a pod-based version for the international market.

“We’re contracted for 200 systems or so, and have delivered 175 so far, and we expect to continue to expand that marketplace,” Ferrante said.

In 2012, also expect to see ITT Exelis actively pursuing the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft. As one of the company leads exploring the UAV marketplace, Ferrante said the company is looking at a multitude of subsystems to find solutions for what the Navy wants.

The Defense Department now is evaluating how it buys on multiple functionality, so “everything we build we try and place on an aircraft, ship or UAV, we have to be multifunctional or multipurpose,” Ferrante said. “We are clearly a systems engineering house with a long heritage of solving difficult problems.”