By Mangesh Sawant
Estimated Time to Read: 8 Minutes
Electronic warfare (EW) was used for the first time in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese Navy cruisers Nisshin and Kasuga were coordinating the bombardment of the Russian fleet and Port Arthur, Manchuria. The Russians jammed the radio frequencies of the Japanese cruisers by using EW equipment from the Pobeda battleship and the coastal outpost at Zolotaya Gora. The effectiveness of this countermeasure has been described in a teletype text by Rear Admiral Pavel Petrovich Ukhtomsky to Admiral Yevgeni Ivanovich Alexieyev. Rear Admiral Ukhtomsky writes, “The enemy has fired more than 60 large caliber rounds. No hits on the ships have been recorded.” EW has not received its due importance as compared to fighter aircraft, tanks and warships. However, its importance in warfare is high and its utility, versatile.
On today’s battlefield, the military has to operate in a non-permissive electromagnetic environment. Contemporary weapons systems integrate radio, radar, infrared, optical, ultraviolet and laser technologies. By deploying EW systems, the military can achieve superiority over the adversary. EW capabilities bring numerous advantages to the battlefield like dominating the electromagnetic spectrum through detection, deception, targeting, exploiting, disrupting and destroying the adversary’s electronic systems. EW can interfere with and degrade the adversary’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, air defense networks and weapon systems.
EW systems are fielded on military vehicles, naval ships and military aircraft. Modern militaries can differentiate between the diverse electronic signals on various frequencies and have unconstrained access to selected portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The functional combination of EW and cyber warfare is crucial for battlefield management. Electronic warfare officers, electromagnetic spectrum managers and cyber operators must collaborate in a virtual computing environment to manage the congested spectrum.
Disabling the network
The James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies fascinatingly forecasted contemporary EW threats. In the movie, Elliot Carver spoofs Global Positioning System (GPS) signals, deceiving a United Kingdom (UK) naval warship to stray into the South China Sea with the aim of provoking a war between the UK and China.
Space operations are a part of modern warfare. In the 21st century space based assets providing support to military systems and critical infrastructure like electrical power, finance, transportation and communications are threatened by EW. In EW, jamming blocks the GPS signals and causes the receiver to die while spoofing provides false signals to GPS receivers and causes the receiver to lie to the user.
Jamming and spoofing are a part of sophisticated EW strategies with extensive attack capabilities. As a part of asymmetric warfare, weaker adversaries are investing in jamming and spoofing technologies to disrupt military operations and cause civilian disorder.
Navigation warfare degrades an adversary’s positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) and other electronic navigational systems that aid the weapon systems. EW uses a mix of jamming, wireless hacking, and deceptive signals to decoy precision guided weapons, drones, warships, aircraft, missiles, and artillery rounds many of which depend on satellites and radars for effectiveness. Russia has equipped 250,000 cell towers with PNT jamming devices as a defense against US missiles.
The Egyptian and Syrian air defenses during the Arab Israeli wars consisted of overlapping formidable surface to air missiles (SAM) like the SA-2, SA-3, SA-6, and anti-aircraft guns like the ZSU-23-4. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) tried to evade the SAMs by flying low under the radar coverage but its fighter aircraft were exposed to ZSU-23-4 guns leading to many losses. The IAF achieved superiority in subsequent wars through modification of their tactics and equipping fighter aircrafts with electronic countermeasure pods, stand-off jammers and chaff dispensers.
The Gulf War in 1990 remains the benchmark for EW in modern warfare. EW aircraft such as the F-4G Wild Weasel, EA-6B Prowlers, A-7Es, and A-6Es jammed Iraqi C4ISR systems, radar networks, and SAM sites while F-16Cs and F/A-18Cs attacked radar sites with high speed anti-radiation missiles. The Iraqi air defense network was debilitated and collapsed within 72 hours.
PNT spoofing is a growing threat as it slows down the adversary’s ability to maneuver and respond to new developments. It throws ships, aircraft and ground forces off course and creates confusion among adversaries. It may lead to serious accidents in commercial shipping. Spoofing cannot be immediately detected and is a part of navigation warfare. Satellite signals are weak at 20 watts from 20,000 miles away. A one watt transmitter on a hilltop, plane or drone is enough to spoof everything till the horizon.
Major ports have been experiencing spoofing attacks as mentioned by a report filed by the container ship M/V Manukai with the US Coast Guard. As the ship approached the Shanghai port in China, another ship disappeared and reappeared multiple times from its screens with its transponder alternating and showing its position in one of the traffic lanes and in its berth. The other ship was stationary and had never left the pier. Many ships have experienced spoofing in the port of Shanghai. In another instance in March 2018, according to the US Maritime Administration, commercial ships in and around the Egyptian Port of Said and the Suez Canal reported sudden and unexplainable outages in their PNT equipment some of which lasted for days. The PNT receiver of ships displayed incorrect position and speed. According to the maritime agencies, in both instances there were no authorized PNT tests in the specified areas. In August 2019, an Indian Air Force SU-30MKI crashed in the Indian state of Assam despite being an advanced fighter. The event could have been a result of PNT spoofing by China. The large-scale spoofing points towards the work of nation states. PNT spoofing attacks creates new challenges for military leaders.
In an era of hybrid warfare, commercial transportation is exposed to huge risks. The military is equipped with analogue methods and back-up systems to avoid PNT disruptions. But commercial shipping operates on digital systems and the larger risk goes beyond a one-off disaster. A spoofing attack in a congested shipping lane and in poor weather could cause a collision between very large crude carriers. Terrorists can buy hand held PNT jammers on the internet for as little as $25. A powerful jammer or a number of coordinated jammers could disrupt PNT signals over an airport or a sea port causing havoc and lead to major accidents.
Options for India
In view of the China threat, India is not well equipped with advanced EW systems. India can take steps to prevent jamming, cyber hacking and spoofing from compromising military operations. EW is a force multiplier which will degrade China’s ability to find, track, target and destroy weapon systems.
New kits on the block
India can equip its military with US EW systems like the AN/ALQ-17A(V)2 traffic communications jamming system, AN/APR-39 radar warning system, the AN/ALQ-249 and the AN/ALQ-151 Quick Fix systems. These EW systems are capable of jamming, intercepting hostile electronic emissions and providing direction finding information to locate the source.
Boeing may offer the F-18 Super Hornet Block III fighter aircraft to India. As a part of the package, Boeing could include a squadron of the EA-18G Growler EW aircraft. The Growler is equipped with ALQ-99 jamming pods and ALQ-218 Electronic Surveillance and Electronic Attack suite. With the EW systems on one platform, the Indian Air Force can simultaneously strike multiple targets and penetrate the adversary’s electronic defense systems. To sweeten the deal, the US could offer its Next Generation Jammer mid-band pod which can be attached to the Growler. At the tactical level, the Indian army could be equipped with the Stryker mounted Tactical Electronic Warfare System and the Flyer-72 mounted Tactical Electronic Warfare Light system.
India can also induct potent Russian EW systems. The Rychag-AB is attached to a MI-8MTPR-1 helicopter to provide protection to aircraft. The area covered by this system is up to several hundred miles. The Krasukha-4 system jams spy satellites, ground based radars and airborne early warning and control systems. The Zhitel system can shut out satellite communications equipment, navigation and cellular communications systems within a radius of 30 kilometers. These EW systems can be deployed on the India-China border. The Indian military requires an EW strategy, new tactics, training and technology. India can establish a separate joint command manned with EW specialists and cyber experts. Google and many other private companies are collaborating with the Pentagon. A close collaboration with private sector companies like Tata Consulting Services and Infosys would be beneficial for the Indian military.
US India Space Collaboration
China’s textbook for the study of space operations accentuates destroying and damaging enemy satellite infrastructure. An attack on satellites will cause widespread social, economic and military disruptions. US and India share concerns on China’s offensive space capabilities. But military space cooperation remains a neglected area in US-India defense cooperation.
The Defense Space Strategy of the US Department of Defense identifies space superiority and cooperation with allies as primary objectives. The US and India can elevate the present partnership to the next level of space cooperation on missile early warning systems, exchanging intelligence on China’s space capabilities and formulating counter EW strategies. A joint US-India Space Command can be established to jam Chinese satellites while a US-India Cyber Command targets land-based space infrastructure through a cyber-attack.
EW is an integral part of 21st century hybrid wars. Militaries around the world rely heavily on a variety of offensive and defensive capabilities. The synergy of numerous EW systems, strategies, and techniques significantly degrades the adversary’s capacity to wage a war. Control of the electromagnetic spectrum is a critical objective in the success of military operations at all levels of the conflict.
Mangesh Sawant is an alumnus of Columbia University’s (New York, US) masters program where he concentrated in international security policy and is a subject-matter expert on military studies, country, political and geopolitical risk analysis, homeland security, and defense. Mangesh has more than 18 years of experience in military strategy and tactics, weapons systems analysis, studying warfare, counter terrorism, conducting research, policy analysis and formulation and developing case studies and lessons learned. His articles have been published in The National Interest, Small Wars Journal, Modern Diplomacy, Eurasia Review, E-International Relations, Indian Defense Review, Security Management and Geopolitical Monitor.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government
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