Gavin O’Connell, Business Development and Sales Director at Chemring Technology Solutions – a global provider of advanced Electronic Warfare (EW), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), and Communication Information Systems (CIS) products, trusted by Armed Forces, Governments, and national security customers worldwide, including the UK MOD and NATO allies.
The Future of Land Electronic Warfare
Western allies are now turning their attention from counter-insurgency, which dealt with the demands in Iraq and Afghanistan, to advancing Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities, in order to deal with a near-peer and hybrid adversary where electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) dominance and the freedom to manoeuvre within it (EMS operations), will play an increasingly significant role.
Electronic Attack (EA) aims to degrade, neutralise, or destroy enemy equipment, facilities, or personnel. This can include jamming or spoofing the enemy’s own use of the EMS (such as C4ISTAR networks, or disrupting UAV activity), as well as directed energy systems, including lasers, radio frequency (RF) weapons and particle beams.
Though NATO is investing in EW in terms of adversary and training capability, there will always be a need for operational EW, including EA effects including denial and spoofing, along with the emergent techniques of tactical-cyber attack. Indeed, denying freedom of manoeuvre in the EMS remains the most effective method for an adversary in terms of effort against result.
A ‘raw power’ adversary can deny defined parts of the EMS by using high power equipment. This form of brute force attack makes it very difficult for sensitive EW systems to function, and could also target datalinks and bearers such as the Link 16 and VHF comms which NATO forces rely on. Denial systems like these give an adversary a great deal of capability, as they could easily be deployed at the battalion level to cause significant disruption to forces on a broad scale.
Actions by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine clearly shows that deployable EA capabilities exceeded NATO’s estimates. The invasion of Ukraine was preceded by extensive jamming activity to disrupt command and control operations. On a vast scale, this extended beyond military targets, to include commercial cyber and telecommunications attacks – delivering significant impact in coordination with traditional aggression.
A report for the International Centre for Defence & Security* states that: “Russia’s growing technological advances in EW will allow its forces to jam, disrupt and interfere with NATO communications, radar and other sensor systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other assets, thus negating advantages conferred on the Alliance by its technological edge…… Russia is actively developing a “total package” of EW systems to include a broad frequency range and other systems; these seem advanced and capable. In addition to such systems covering surveillance, protection and countermeasures (jamming), they cover measures to protect Russia’s own usage of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). These systems also offer countermeasures against “Western” civilian and military usage of the EMS. Many of these Russian EW systems are highly mobile, including small systems deployable by UAVs, making targeting and neutralising them more complex and challenging.”
Russian Electronic Warfare Forces commander Maj. Gen. Yury Lastochkin has stated that his country’s electronic warfare equipment surpasses the West’s. While Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army units in Europe (now retired), described Russian EW capabilities in the Ukraine as “eye-watering”.
An alternative to high power denial of the spectrum is to use local electronic devices to act as ‘EW landmines’, which transmit spurious data in order to deceive and swamp an enemy’s EW system with false signals. Such devices could be pre-deployed, vehicle (UAV) and backpack mounted then activated using mobile or Internet networks, or be timed to activate in support of kinetic operations. Such deployments would make an effective direction finding (DF) function far more complex.
Likewise, an adversary can simply re-transmit all of the EMS traffic from the last few days, adding to the EW processing burden and the load on the backhaul data network. Serious consideration needs to be given to collecting, processing and transmitting data to allow output that is useful in a military timescale – and not rendering EW collection irrelevant, allowing the adversary to dominate the EMS.
The regular-adversary has developed a comprehensive EW Attack toolkit and techniques to deploy it. The challenge has visibly ramped up, as seen in recent conflicts, with increasingly-capable EM, Cyber and Psychological approaches expected, against military and civilian systems and personnel.
Irregular adversary spectrum usage
Irregular, non-state/sub-state adversaries are well aware of the capabilities of NATO forces’ VHF DF and intercept systems, so they need an alternative means of communication.
The EMS is becoming increasingly congested by the day-to-day civilian connected world, especially in crowded cities. This will make the use of the Internet and mobile communications systems a very attractive choice for irregular adversaries, as they will be able to use modern cellular systems to hide their communications in plain sight amongst a large amount of innocent civilian interactions. Whilst mobile calls are relatively easy to locate and intercept in isolation, it becomes a complex challenge to tie an unknown mobile to a specific user and intercept when it’s camouflaged amongst the usual background mobile activity of a city.
Use of DF assets to locate a specific caller is therefore more difficult in an urban environment, with complex signal paths, where a force needs to identify a location precisely enough to target an individual. Targeting will be made even more challenging when an individual or group is deliberately using communications technology to disguise their identity electronically.
As the sophistication of the mobile and Internet infrastructure develops, it is increasingly easy to communicate in covert ways without technical skill. This offers adversaries a choice of resilient and robust means of communication. For example, encrypted peer-to-peer systems, such as WhatsApp, can use cellular infrastructure or IP networks/WiFi to communicate. This adds further levels of complexity to detect and decrypt adversary communications, unless the eavesdropper has access to the app itself.
These mobile and Internet infrastructure options are also being used to trigger improvised explosive devices (IED), which is also very difficult to detect. IEDs could have their own IP address, part of the Internet of Things, with their activation simply part of the network noise within a city’s communications infrastructure. One option would be for EW systems to monitor for IP addresses which receive but do not send. However, the digital control and IP can be set-up so that they electronically hide until activation. IEDs could also be hard wired into the Internet infrastructure, so that certain forms of electronic countermeasures would not function against them.
To provide a continuous capability advantage, the EW system of the future must therefore meet a number of broad ranging and fast evolving threats. This necessitates the ability to operate in a complex, multi-domain, cross-organisation and multi-national environment, which joins EW and cyber effects in a unified capability.
All of this must be achieved against a requirement for value for money, system scalability and continuity of user experience. Likewise, procurement cycles must be updated and become more agile to meet this immediate demand – as too often, once technologies are brought into service in the West, they have become irrelevant or less effective than those they must counter. This shows the need for a radical change, pointing towards open standards architectures, and away from monolithic purchases. Thus enabling rapid capability upgrades to new threats.
EW systems must therefore be easily modular and scalable, providing better coverage and reduced vulnerability to electronic and physical attack – to cover the full spectrum of regular and irregular adversaries. Nodes will be deployed across a variety of air and land platforms, in order to deliver improved coverage, and to reduce vulnerability to EA.
To combat the increasingly congested EMS, the EW system of the future will have to be more selective, in order to deliver precision DF in urban environments, whilst also being resilient to deception and flooding. To cope effectively with the network noise generated by both benign civilian and military tactical communications, it will also need to be capable of processing vast amounts of data for real time analysis. Future EW systems require an ability to network with and obtain data from other sources, such as UAVs, to optimise intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets – contributing more effectively to tactical and on the ground support.
The surge of smart phones and peer-to-peer technologies, demands a capability within the mobile spectrum to deal with current and emergent voice and data communication applications over Cellular and WiFi. This will mean that elements of the system may need to be Internet facing, with software and reach-back capabilities to achieve an effect in the part of the spectrum used by mobile and Internet devices.
Future EW systems may also need to act as a cell tower for NATO forces to use, substituting for local civilian networks, which could then be switched off. This would disrupt the adversary’s comms, whilst enabling continued mission success for Government agencies. And, perhaps most critically, it will need EM hardening in order to cope with a ‘raw power’ adversary, which will enable it to maintain access to the EMS and continue to have an effect within it.
Interoperability – the underlying lynchpin
To deliver an advanced and continuously evolving EW capability, which meets broad ranging and fast changing threats while providing continuous capability advantage, this technological advancement must be achieved with a focus on interoperability.
The Partnership Interoperability Initiative was launched at NATO’s Wales Summit in 2014 with the intention that partners can contribute and respond more effectively to any future crisis. Achieving true interoperability between NATO partner forces would see the adoption of harmonised standards, rules, procedures and equipment. This is seen as essential in supporting the achievement of NATO tactical, operational and strategic objectives. As NATO partners work to more closely align their C4ISTAR capabilities, EW will play an ever greater role in compromising enemy intelligence.
The NATO Electronic Warfare Working Group, which develops EW concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures, is working to meet this challenge by defining a future roadmap of its EW capability. This will require a more open approach by NATO to achieve a common understanding of the development of a new EW system of systems, a collection of separate task-orientated systems that can be integrated to create a more complex solution which offers greater functionality. It will also involve the adoption of system architectures that have open interfaces, are openly defined, are under shared ownership, and are capable of delivering an evolutionary extension.
Necessitating a culture shift amongst partners, close and open collaboration will be needed. This will harness each one’s respective expertise, with a joint focus upon a common architecture ecosystem. Alongside this, there must also be a change in the way that capability and systems are identified and procured to deliver agility to NATO operations. This must support both future anticipated need, as well as any Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR), whilst avoiding the past issues caused by legacy problems where equipment cannot be scaled to meet future requirements. A capability needs roadmap is therefore critical to decision making to enable the development of an EW solution that no single system or organisation could offer.
The EMS will become ever more congested by an increasingly connected world, and irregular adversaries will exploit and hide within the dense communications environment, while regular adversaries develop technologies to dominate the EMS. Future Land EW systems therefore face a much broader challenge and will require capabilities to match. Effective EW development will cover both traditional tactical military systems, as well as mobile and internet infrastructure, with a requirement for greater interoperability, precision, sensitivity, agility and processing capabilities, with a resilience to a ‘raw power’ disruption.
* Russia’s Electronic Warfare Capabilities to 2025 – Challenging NATO in the Electromagnetic Spectrum, September 2017, Roger N. McDermott
About Chemring Technology Solutions www.chemringts.com
Chemring Technology Solutions, part of Chemring Group PLC, is a global provider of advanced Electronic Warfare (EW), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), and Communication Information Systems (CIS). Trusted by governments, national security and commercial customers to provide military and commercial advantage, its products are relied upon by the best equipped armed forces in the world, including the UK MOD and NATO allies.