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Latest developments in electron beam jamming warfare | World News

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When Ukrainian gunners started firing Excalibur precision-guided shells early in the war, they were excited. Regular shells take many rounds to hit the target, even if you know exactly what you’re aiming for. The GPS-guided Excalibur seemed like a panacea: one shot, one hit. But come March 2023, things have changed. Excalibur shells start falling from the sky, or fail to destroy the target. And more than once: weeks passed without success. It’s a disturbing reminder of how Ukraine’s electronic warfare has profoundly shaped visible warfare.

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If modern warfare rests on three pillars — ever more powerful sensors to detect targets, ever more accurate munitions to strike them, and networks to connect the two — then electronic warfare can weaken each of them.

If modern warfare rests on three pillars — ever more powerful sensors to detect targets, ever more accurate munitions to strike them, and a network to connect the two —electronic warfare Can be cut one by one. The Excaliburs dropped like flies because Russia switched on powerful jammers, disrupting the GPS signals that guide them to their targets, or, more likely, the radar fuzes that tell them when to explode. They’re not the only weapons to be broken in this way.

Leaked Pentagon documents this spring showed that four of nine Ukrainian airstrikes using U.S.-supplied JDAM-ER bombs likely missed targets due to Russian GPS jamming. “[Russian] Jammers are a top priority,” read one slide, “We will continue to… recommend disrupting/destroying these jammers as much as possible. GMLRS precision-guided rockets launched by US HIMARS launchers have also increasingly missed targets or failed to achieve desired results. Airwaves in Kiev and Moscow were severely jammed, and both sides tried to divert drones and missiles.

This kind of electronic warfare (EW in the jargon) is not new. Things probably started in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War. For all the dumb shells of that era—radar proximity fuzes are 40 years old, and GPS satellites number more than 70—the radio age has arrived. An enterprising Russian radio operator in Port Arthur drowns out the signal of a Japanese warship who is helping to correct naval gunfire. During World War II, in the so-called “Battle of the Beams,” the British jammed and spoofed the radio signals used by German bombers to navigate to their targets. As air power became more important during the Cold War, it became critical to detect and jam air defense radar emissions.

Ukraine sometimes loses up to 2,000 drones in a week

Russia has long been thought to excel in this regard. It invested heavily in new electronic warfare vehicles a decade ago and combat-tested many of them in Ukraine in 2014 and Syria in 2015, often causing disruption to civilian airliners. But the recent invasion of Ukraine presents a more complicated picture. The RUSI think tank concluded that Russian electronic warfare is “very effective” in some areas. The Ukrainian warplanes initially found their communications, navigation and radars all disrupted, and some even destroyed. The Excalibur disruption has unnerved some Western officials. But analyst Thomas Weisingon, an expert in electronic warfare, believes that Russia’s land and sea capabilities have been “lack of progress”. “our [pre-war] “Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities are assessed at the pessimistic extreme,” said retired Air Marshal Edward Stringer of the RAF. “Russia’s electronic warfare is very easy to defeat.”

For drone operators, it may not always feel that way.Ukraine has lost as many as 10,000 at times drone within a month. Andrey (pseudonym), a senior official of the Ukrainian General Staff, said about half of the losses were a direct result of electronic attacks. Jamming typically blocks the control signals used to fly drones remotely or the communication links needed to send data. Operators can work around this by telling the drone to fly a preset route and download the data when it returns, but this delays targeting by several hours. And it doesn’t solve the core problem: most drones get lost when their GPS signal is lost.

This presents an obvious trade-off for defenders. Military drones (and missiles) can be fitted with special receivers that read the “M Code” signals from US GPS satellites. Dana Goward, president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, a Virginia-based nonprofit, said the signals are more powerful than civilian GPS and encrypted, so they are easier to receive and harder to jam. The degree is about eight times that of civilian GPS. But M-code receivers are export-controlled and more expensive. Electronic shielding costs money and adds weight. Much of Ukraine’s drone fleet is cheap and easily discarded.

This is changing, albeit slowly. Ukrainian officials want to phase out the ubiquitous Chinese DJI consumer-grade drones on both sides of the frontline in favor of more professional platforms. “One of the takeaways for Ukraine is that having any unencrypted radio link is no longer an option,” Mr Withington said. “If you’re NATO, you need to encrypt everything.” Even so, Mr Goward warns, M-Code offers only “marginal” benefits because the technology is nearly two decades old and GPS signals are inherently weak .

Weak doesn’t mean useless. Western militaries have long feared that Russian electronic blitzkrieg could negate their technological advantage. “Electronic warfare is the great equalizer,” Major General Charles Collins, the British Army’s assistant chief of staff, wrote in a recent paper. “By depriving troops of connectivity, it takes the military back to the 20th century.” But The situation in Ukraine has not been confirmed.

In reality, interference is imperfect and intermittent. One reason is the scarcity of electronic warfare systems. Russia was forced to keep some people inside to protect cities and bases. Another is that using them comes at a price. Large jammers send out a powerful signal, making them compelling targets. One official said Russia had to pull many of its best troops to the rear. This leaves gaps that can be exploited. TJ Holland of the U.S. Eighteenth Army stated that the U.S. provides Ukraine with cutouts or maps of electromagnetic activity 32 times a day, mainly the location of interference and the frequencies used. This has been a boon for Ukrainian drone operators.

jamming jammer

Electronic warfare did not cut off all communications, either. Russia has failed to destroy the Starlink terminals that enable the Ukrainian military to gain near-universal internet access via communications satellites. One reason, Andriy said, is that the Starlink beam is so narrow that you have to be within 100 to 200 meters to spot it. Withington said Russian electronic warfare vehicles also do not appear to be able to jam Starlink radio frequencies or the SINCGARS tactical radios that the U.S. provides to Ukraine.

If Russian electronic warfare is often underperforming, it is sometimes too powerful for its own good. A paper by Justin Bronk and his colleagues at RUSI describes “serious electronic cannibalism.” Two days after the invasion, Russia had to reduce ground interference, which was hampering the Russian military’s own communications. This is one of the reasons why Ukrainian air defense radars may be turned back on, leading to the downing of a large number of Russian warplanes by March 2022. Additionally, Russian jets flying in pairs found that one’s electronic warfare pod was jamming the other’s radar. In effect, they can choose between jamming incoming missiles or having a functioning radar.

There are other ways to defeat electronic warfare. Drones with jammed GPS can resort to terrain matching: comparing images of the ground below to stored maps. The technology dates back to the 1950s and is used in many cruise missiles, such as the US Tomahawk. But modern algorithms and computing power allow it to be done with extreme precision, at lower cost and on tiny chips.

GPS could also be supplemented by signals from low-orbit communications satellites such as Starlink, ground transmission sites such as Russia’s Loran system, or even magnetic field navigation, Goldward said. As weapons increasingly evolve into explosive computers, the lines between electronic warfare and cyberattacks are blurring. Ukrainian official Andrey said that Ukraine often inserts malicious codes into Russian drones in flight.

EW comes down to a game of cat and mouse. Withington said both Russia and Ukraine were seeking “electromagnetic supremacy,” but neither could achieve it forever. “Control will ebb and flow throughout the fight.” Disruptors will find a way out; defenders will eventually fill the gap. According to leaked documents, the U.S. helped fix JDAM-ER’s problems by making sure the bomb got a good GPS signal before it left the plane. Excalibur has now hit its mark again, a Western official said. “In electronic warfare, things change very quickly,” Andre said. But the fight must be fought. “In this war, we’ve seen that if you don’t dominate this domain, you can’t be effective in other domains.”

© 2023, The Economist Limited. all rights reserved. From The Economist, published with permission.Original content available at www.economist.com

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