A South African Perspective on the Evolution of Electronic Warfare


2015-11-24 Our strategic partner, defenceWeb, which is based in South Africa, recently, published three very good articles on the evolution of electronic warfare.

We are reprinting them here with their permission to provide an overview of the dynamics of change associated with electronic or tron warfare.

Electronic Warfare Offers Advantages Over Irregular Opponents

By Chris Szabo, Monday, 23 November 2015

South Africa has promising electronic warfare (EW) capabilities, but must improve in the lower end of the scale, according to EW practitioners, and focus on irregular forces such as rebels, pirates and poachers.

While the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) militaries are using EW in effective ways for traditional military roles such as ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) and DF (Direction Finding) functions, they need to pay attention to using EW in small unit actions, both in counter-insurgency (COIN) warfare in peacekeeping and in operations against highly-funded insurgencies, such as Boko Haram, as well as piracy and poaching, according to experts.

Senior Staff Officer (SSO) for EW in the South African Air Force (SAAF) Colonel Padi Khoase pointed out that EW is important in international peacekeeping operations. It is clear that peacekeeping operations usually use small unit tactics, which means that patrols made up of platoon or company-sized units need to start using EW methods to DF guerrillas or poachers. The technology is now available that allows troops to carry high-capability sensors, which can pick up cell phones, satellite phones or military HF radios used by rebels or other irregulars.

Defence analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman pointed to recent Boko Haram attacks carried out by ‘technicals’ against a community in Chad. He explained the vehicles moved in columns, and then converged on the target. To do that, it was clear they had to communicate.

Heitman and Khoase were speaking at the recent EW Africa conference held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Other speakers also focused on the need for EW on the lower end of the scale. In other words, not large vehicles with vast antenna arrays operated by experts, but EW applications that can be used by a sub-unit as small as a company or platoon, which can be carried by a single soldier or carried by a vehicle.


Professor Warren du Plessis, Chair in Electronic Defence Research at the University of Pretoria, also stressed this point. He said SANDF casualties in the Seleka attack in Bangui, Central African Republic, in March 2013 could have been avoided had the soldiers been given an EW capability.

He said even if they had no intelligence on exactly who was coming from the north, the intensity of the signals traffic and the DF capability would have allowed them to prepare for an attack.

EW applications aimed at “irregulars” are becoming more common.

The Indian Army, as Brigadier Shubash Chandra Sharma (retd.) said, were using ECM against Maoist Naxalite terrorists as well as insurgents elsewhere in India by “sweeping” roads in areas where they operate to make sure Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) cannot be operated.

The US military is also using similar sweeping and jamming equipment that prevents a guerrilla from detonating an IED while the US patrol is in the area.

One of the man portable EW systems on display during the conference was the Chemring Solutions Resolve 3 which scans from 1MHz to 3GHz, covering HF, VHF and UHF ranges. Phil Ashworth, a former British Army EW specialist, said that poachers and smugglers and the like are low-tech opponents but they need to communicate.

“There are huge distances and we could apply the technology with the rangers, the police, the military. We wouldn’t necessarily change the technology; it’s how you use it. The agencies (SA National Parks, SAPS, SA Army, Special Forces) would understand how they work; how they operate; where they go, what methods of movement are. We would understand what their communications links are.

”If you can track the movement from his communications, from range, then obviously, you’re going to stay ahead, or be abreast of where (for example) that poaching team is.”

When asked what would he do if the opponent – as is often the case – was mixing cellphone, VHF and satellite phones, for example, he said: “If you didn’t know the communications equipment your adversary was using, you would conduct an Electromagnetic Survey, shall we say a scoping of the environment, [analyze] what’s being used, how it’s being used, and then identify who is using it.

You’d look for habits of behavior.

You’d relate them geographically on the map, because the system is specifically for intercept, direction finding and position fixing.

“You’re looking for pockets of radioactivity.

But you’re also looking for linkages in pockets of radioactivity.

You’re looking for network establishment, and network behaviors.

So you’re trying to build up those patterns.

“So if you’re seeing a cluster of very low-powered, unlicensed radio communications systems, and in that mix, you’re also seeing satellite communications with links elsewhere, or cellular communications or HF communications, then you can start to very quickly to build that pattern and you can analyze that network infrastructure so you can understand what’s being used and who it’s being used by.

“Once you’ve done that, you can begin to target and exploit the specific communications being used by that adversary. Then you start looking at the patterns of life within that organization: What is he saying, how he is operating. That’s the type of picture you’re building up. Nowadays that’s very often done on behalf of the operational and the tactical commander.

“You monitor communications in order to apply an effect. That could simply be that you get a lot of intelligence out of it, don’t do anything to him, just listen and take all that intelligence. But you might want to close that network down because what you might want to do is cause disruption.

The effect you might want to do is take out the command node.

“Alternatively, what you might want to do is interdict a particular operation.

You could be applying a jammer, so they can’t communicate, in which case you’re applying a non-lethal effect, and you’re not actually hurting anybody. Or you might want to insert an interdiction team; a police team or a Special Forces team to go in and snatch the individuals or you might ultimately, in a war fighting situation, apply a deliberate military effect.”


EW Role in Maritime Domain Will Increase

Chris Szabo, Tuesday, 17 November 2015

South Africa’s defense community has to accept that electronic warfare (EW) will play an ever-increasing role in its activities with the advent of high speed (up to Mach 10) weapons, rail guns, the next generation of hypersonic missiles and threats posed by irregular groups including terrorists.

This warning comes from SA Navy Captain André Katerinić who also points out South Africa has institutions with a high reputation for technology where threats such as these will have to be designed against. These include the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, (CSIR), headquartered in Pretoria, and the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) in Simon’s Town.

The use of EW in the maritime environment by the SA Navy is at present largely confined to electronic counter-measures (ECM) supported by ELINT (electronic intelligence), COMINT (communications intelligence), detection and direction finding (DF) analysis.

“A lot of effort goes into these aspects with jamming rather than deception the lead activity on the ECM side,” he said, adding the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) worked on signal jamming to “control the space we want to operate in”.

“It’s congested and busy out there. The Navy finds itself clashing with commercial interests, the emissions from merchant and other shipping, but the work has to be done to prevent the nefarious ones from coming in.”

As far as future threats are concerned and particularly ones where EW has a role to play in detection, Katerinić points out the joint Indo-Russian BrahMos missile, successfully test fired earlier this month, as one.

This hypersonic missile uses scramjet technology and can operate at between Mach one and five.

“South Africa must take cognizance of weapons of this type. They are coming, sooner rather than later,” he said.

Another high-tech weapon he sees providing a test for South African EW capacity in the future is the rail gun.

“A simple design where a pair of electrified parallel rails push a conductive projectile along their length by electro-magnetic force.

There are no explosives involved, only kinetic energy, which is good for ships.

This is because there is sufficient room for the generators needed to create the electro-magnetic field aboard ships.”


What is to be done when faced with a weapon of this nature is the question Katerinić answers with “you are back to long range interception, back to denying a firing solution, because once the weapon has targeted you, it’s over”.

He also sees room for laser weapons in the broader South African arsenal and mentions directed high-energy weapons as ones that can be used, particularly in the defensive mode, and cites the destruction of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) as an application with minimal collateral damage.

The Americans are, according to him, testing a system known as a laser weapon system (LaWS).

It is aimed at deterring asymmetric threats to the ship, from small boats up to UAVs.

“It is happening.

The Americans are leading and future warships will see these types of systems employed.

For South Africa it means ECM must deny the laser and the only way that can be done is by a multi-spectral charge. It’s a simple solution and I’d like to see our scientists working on it.”

Multispectral technology relies on infrared (IR) and other signals disruption, which can prevent a laser rangefinder from locking on to a target, and this is where he sees the South African Defence research and development community coming to the assistance of the military.

Another threat Katerinić sees in the future is armed UAVs.

He said the use of this type of equipment among armed forces was increasing and at the same time terrorist groups were adapting and weapon sing UAVs.

“Both commercial off-the shelf (COTS) and modified off-the shelf (MOTS) items can quickly be turned into weapons,” he said giving the example of a UAV packed with small explosive charges and flown into a ship.

“IS (Islamic State) recently attacked an Egyptian patrol vessel using a modified anti-tank missile. Naval EW would need to pick up threats such as these, including IR and laser guidance systems,” Katerinić said.

He maintains there are new conventional and asymmetric threats looming for the Navy and sees South African defense designers having to think ahead to overcome them.


Electronic Warfare Conference Report Shows New Threats and Opportunities

By Chris Szabo, Thursday, 05 November 2015

The Electronic Warfare Africa Conference, hosted by the CSIR, has revealed many possibilities and also vulnerabilities in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the realm of Electronic Warfare (EW) with increasing complexity of operations coupled with decreasing defense budgets.

The conference was hosted by the Association of Old Crows’ South African branch, Aardvark Roost.

These unusual names come from the history of the worldwide organization. In WW II, Allied Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) officers were given the code-name “Raven” and when during the Cold War, members of the American Strategic Air Command (SAC) established an ECM-related course in New Jersey, the students changed the name to “Crows”.

ECM operators came to be known as Old Crows. The present organization, which hosts international conferences and gives scholarships and teaches courses, is based on this name.

While “Electronic Warfare” might conjure up images of secret radio messages, radar jamming or Cold War submarine activity for many, the speakers at the conference this week made it clear EW has increased relevance to conflict in Africa today, with rebel groups using large parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, from cell phones to High Frequency (HF) radios, satellite phones as well as other electronic devices, such as gate remotes to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

What might come as a surprise is that EW is not considered any less important in the African context than in the Developed World or in Afghanistan; only the details are different.

Keynote speaker Major General Duma Mdutyana, Chief Director Operations at Joint Operations Division, pointed to a tragic episode in 2007 during an operation against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), when soldiers used cell phones to communicate.

Believing they had a technological advantage over the LRA, eight Special Forces soldiers from an unspecified military were ambushed and killed as a result of the LRA’s use of EW in tracking the cell phone signals. The Special Forces members were not South Africans.


The Senior Staff Officer, EW, of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Colonel Padi Khoase, said that since 1945, there had been 216 conflicts, of which 196 were “irregular” wars. He added that conflicts in Africa were mainly irregular and there had been a “surge of warlordism”.

Other speakers also pointed out that these irregular fighters, whether rebels, separatists, terrorists or even major criminal syndicates, were equipped with low-end EW equipment, from simple scanner systems (like those used to listen to police radios) to more advanced Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) equipment; as well as having unmanned aerial vehicles and even aircraft.

EW can also refer to simple but deadly use of devices that can trigger IEDs and these can be combined by “bad guys” to create havoc. For instance a cheap unmanned aerial vehicle can be rigged with a simple hand grenade and a cellphone to create a flying IED.

In the same way, Navy Captain André Kateriniċ pointed to the recent ISIS attack on an Egyptian Navy vessel using a guided anti-tank missile.

This precedent means more protection is needed for Navy vessels in port and part of the defense must include EW warning.

EW constitutes a threat on the African continent, but is also an opportunity for security forces to use countermeasures and EW of their own to more effectively combat the threats against peace and stability on the continent, the conference heard.