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Representatives from the company speaking during the Electronic Warfare Europe conference being held in the city of Lausanne in Western Switzerland between 5 and 7 June told delegates that several factors are driving the adoption of comparatively new mechanisms for gathering and exploiting COMINT. Principally, these include the Software Defined Radios (SDRs) which are now ubiquitous among so-called ‘near peer’ adversaries; MONch has chronicled in detail the Russian Army’s plans to extensively overhaul is communications architecture, notably through widespread SDR acquisitions, over the past year. These SDRs typically employ frequency-hopping waveforms designed to reduce the chances of detection and also the efficacy of jamming.

One side effect of SDR proliferation is that battlefield communications networks are now more efficient, compared to the legacy transceivers and networks that these SDRs replaced, using less power which poses further COMINT/ELINT capture challenges to EW practitioners. Eyal Danan, the Managing Director of IAI’s European subsidiary, added that he expects these challenges to grow in the future, particularly with the advent of cognitive radio. Broadly speaking, the cognitive approach will see the adoption of waveforms and transceivers over the coming decade which can sense and learn from their electromagnetic environment, adjusting their transmission characteristics if the ether is thick with jamming for example, so as to either burn through, or electronically outflank, the jamming. Such systems will be “very, very challenging” for EW professionals Mr. Danan expanded. As such, he believes that armies in general will no longer be able to depend on just one COMINT sensor or deployment to capture COMINT at the brigade, battalion or company level as they have perhaps in the past. “We should have an array of sensors,” he suggested. Moreover, Mr. Danan recommended the close networking of both the electronic support (COMINT) gathering elements of a deployed force with the means of electronic attack, principally deployed jamming equipment. This is to ensure that jamming can be performed in an accurate and timely fashion against the correct target thus reducing the risk of electronic fratricide when one’s own communications are jammed. By networking a large number of COMINT/ELINT gathering systems and jammers one gets an ever-more detailed electromagnetic picture of the battlefield, and an ever-more responsive and accurate jamming capability, Mr. Danan expanded.

One platform that offers particular promise in this regard, Mr. Danan argued, is the tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Notably, such aircraft can achieve this desired level of connectivity by carrying the COMINT gathering system and jamming capability onboard a single platform. These should ideally cover a wide waveband, as should all COMINT sensors Mr. Danan recommended, typically across the zero gigahertz to six gigahertz range so as to encompass as many hostile communications systems as possible, including some SATCOM (Satellite Communications) systems. By teaming these systems onboard a UAV with a phased array antenna, highly directional jamming can be accomplished across far longer line-of-sight ranges compared to that achievable with ground-based jammers, while at the same time reducing the risk of electronic fratricide thanks to the high degrees of accuracy achievable by these antennae. Mr. Danan sees such a system as complementing a wider, deployed network of COMINT gathering and jamming equipment. Speaking later in the conference, Dr. Hubert Piontsk, Hensoldt’s Director of Hensoldt’s strategic EW business, told delegates that one example such COMINT networking could be to include vehicle-born IED (Improvised Explosive Device) jammers into the mix, as these are also tasked with collecting COMINT, albeit regarding the cellphones or radios which could be used to activate explosive devices. Ultimately, UAVs will form an important component of the future battlefield for COMINT gathering and communications jamming, Mr. Danan predicted.

Thomas Withington

IAI expects tactical UAVs to play an increasingly important role in the gathering of battlefield COMINT. (Photo: IAI)

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