DRDO’s proposed Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS) Airbus A320 NETRA
The Russian-Ukraine conflict unfolded the full spectrum of electronic warfare never seen before. Military technologies like satellites, UAVs, ISR equipment, Missiles, aircraft etc. rely on the wireless communication satellite broadband service which is connected to the Internet and involved the jamming of Navigation satellite signals on ground. You can imagine when your ability to fly and fire accurately are suddenly denied. The very foundation of precision strikes is made redundant though the jamming that takes place in the space and ground. Taking our lead in space tech, how far has Indian Armed Forces embraced such reality, writes Manish Kumar Jha and Ankit Bhateja.
When the fiction becomes science today it breaks down the norms at such a fast pace that it becomes difficult to absorb. The dimensions of warfare that we are talking about is not far across the enemy lines and out of sight but in the outer space. It unfolded in full spectrum last month in Russian- Ukraine conflict to jam satellite broadband service which is connected to the Internet and involved the jamming of Navigation satellite signals on ground. You can imagine when your ability to fly and fire accurately are suddenly denied. The very foundation of precision strikes is made redundant though the jamming that takes place in the space and ground.
The Power of Electronic Warfare Through Space Tech
Modern wars will increasingly involve electronic warfare, particularly to shape the battlefield when conflicts begin. The ability of a nation to win a war is generally defined by its capability to integrate new technologies in its military and intelligence collection operations. With the scale of conflict going on between Russia & Ukraine, this modern-day battlefield has opened a new frontier for advanced intelligence & electronics warfare technologies.
In simple terms, electronic warfare (EW) consists of three major components and concepts: electronic attack (EA), electronic warfare support (ES), and electronic protection (EP). In the conflict, the electronic attack is all about the use of electromagnetic (EM) energy, directed energy (DE), or anti-radiation weapons to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment.
With the increase in the Radiofrequency footprint and the spectrum utilisation, most of the modern military technologies like satellites, UAVs, ISR equipment, Missiles, aircraft etc. rely on the wireless communication means for the effective operations, and this has also enabled the high throughput information transfer leading to a wide scale penetration of the internet across the globe.
On one hand, these technologies have helped the world’s leading militaries to advance their attacking capabilities and use it as deterrence, on the other hand, it has become a new spy craft and technology warfare tool enabling the militaries to take on the enemy with greater efficiency and efficacy at the same time.
Russia being one of the most technologically advanced militaries across the globe, is leveraging its advanced electronic warfare capabilities to degrade the self-defence capabilities of Ukraine by jamming the GPS signals leading to wide-scale disruptions in the UAV flights and also to protect its own troops from GPS-guided missiles.
This portable jammer equipment installed on military trucks works by throwing out the overpowered electronic disturbance or Noise in the same frequency range of the target receiver, making reception impossible. While these jammers prove not to be effective in mountain regions, could play a huge role in causing mass scale signal disruptions in a flat urban landscape.
Russia has significantly increased its electronic warfare capabilities in the recent years, as per one of the reports by the Organization for Security and Cooperation, in April 2021 Ukraine SMM’s long-range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight had experienced dual GPS signal interference, assessed as caused by jamming, which continued uninterrupted for the remainder of the flight. The aircraft completed an emergency landing in its 3rd landing attempt in a field about 600m north of its designated landing spot.
In another incident, after SpaceX shipped thousands of Starlink terminals to Ukraine in February this year to provide alternate internet infrastructure to Ukraine, Russia utilised its capabilities to jam SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellite signals that are beamed down to Ukraine as per the company’s founder Elon Musk, making SpaceX to release a software patch for its Starlink kits in order to bypass the jamming.
The other aspect of the electronic warfare is the defensive capability which includes employing self-protection and force protection measures such as flares, chaff, low-observable technologies, towed decoys, protection jammers, and DE infrared (IR) countermeasures.
While this technology has its significance on the battlefield, it can also cause a large scale impact outside the battlefield leading to disruptions in logistics, crisis response, air travel and many other services relying on navigation satellites.
Around 2 weeks after Russia began its attack, on March 9 Finnish national airline Finnair reported GPS issues in the flights passing close to the Baltic exclave of Kalinigrad, leading to the cancellation of flights between the capital Helsinki and the city of Savonlinna for almost a week.
India’s Military Capabilities
In a first, Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), came up with the Tranquil RWR and later Tarang for the MiGs and Su-30 MKI to intercept signals. While there were limitations as these were basically worked around the noise, the work really began in this direction. So that the Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ) pods became the standard equipment for the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Jaguar, MiG-21, MiG-27 and even the TEJAS.
Now the need of the hours is to bring more depth to the jamming and Signal Intelligence technologies to counter a wider variety of radio frequency threats. This includes incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into next-generation systems to be able to respond faster.
Increased use of digital engineering can also help the military model new equipment with a computer and work out the kinks before going through the time-consuming typical acquisition and testing process.
Space Technology can also come in as an affordable alternative and can provide an edge over the current surveillance platforms like Phalcon AWACS & NETRA AEW&C aircrafts with 24×7 global coverage. The advancement in EW must be measured on the Electronic Warfare Support (EMS) as Military forces depend on the EMS for the intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) and the absolute control of the EMS is critical to the success of military operations.
What is important here is the indigenisation of the critical data relay and storage infrastructure for defence applications as it plays a critical role in the national security and in the times of modern wars. With the increased reports of the utilisation of electronic warfare capabilities on the battlefield and the potential threats possessed by these modern technologies, Geospatial & Signal Intelligence technologies possess a huge potential to counter these modern-day threats. With India being surrounded by unfriendly nations with a history of border conflicts, capacity building in this critical area can play a huge role in strengthening the attack and defence capabilities of the nation. Time has come to leverage and synchronize our space tech to breakthrough into EW in building new systems that allow for much greater resilience and speed.