Old Crows meet at the Aardvark Roost electronic warfare conference


They operate in the shadows, hidden in research and development laboratories, but the Old Crows are at the forefront of electronic warfare (EW) and other operations in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Aardvark Roost, the South African Chapter of the Association of Old Crows (AOC), is an organisation for individuals who have a common interest in electronic warfare and activities such as cyber electromagnetic activities, electromagnetic spectrum management operations, information operations and other information related capabilities.

The names of the organisations may sound peculiar, but their members are technically talented and the results of their endeavours are a vital component of modern warfare.

They held their 17th Little Crow Conference in Simon’s Town on 23 May. Held at the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT), the importance of the event was highlighted by Ryno van Staaden, Chairman of the Aardvark Roost, who noted that this year’s event had the highest attendance of all mini-conferences held to date.

AOC Aardvark Roost members who attended the conference represented industry, the South African National Defence Force, research and educational institutions. The opportunity to network was not lost on the attendees.

Prof Michael Inggs of UCT spoke of the coming threat of sensor networks. Sensors are any device that gather environmental information, with radar, lidar and optical sensors being particularly important. A sensor network is geographically dispersed, but coordinated sensors with various constructs of data fusion. The importance of position, navigation and timing, together with matters related thereto, was stressed. Various options to counter and defend against a hostile sensor network was also discussed. In conclusion, Inggs observed that sensor networks were a threat to homeland security and were difficult to jam.

The Prediction of Radar NCTR (Non-Cooperative Target Recognition) performance using Mutual Information was the title of the presentation by Dr Jacques Cilliers of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Non-Cooperative Target Recognition is the ability to automatically and reliably distinguish between different radar targets. In a highly technical discussion, Cilliers discussed the need to design hardware in order to gain a certain degree of performance from the radar, with the standard approach having flaws, particularly with the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR). With reference to the target and Electromagnetic Wave performance, Cilliers explained of the need to ‘design’ a completely new NCTR recognition function as introducing noise can affect the classification of a target. Information is not created by the radar transmitter, but by the interaction of the electromagnetic wave with the target. A method has been developed to apply mutual information to predict NCTR performance. This brings new insight to allow system level decisions, especially during the design phase of a radar.

Lance Clayton of the IMT attended the European Microwave Week held in Madrid in September 2018. His presentation on advances in microwave technology and its application in the EW industry, provided feedback on the Microwave Conference, Microwave Integrated Circuits Conference and the Radar Conference that ran concurrently as well as the various workshops he attended. The balance of Claytons’ presentation provided background on general RF (Radio Frequency) and microwave components and technologies used in electronic warfare. These started with technologies for Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and receiver systems and carried on with transmitter components for use in ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) and simulator systems. New trends in EW hardware technology was also discussed, with Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuits (MMIC) getting cheaper and more integrated transmitter/receiver devices becoming available. Whilst large developments were taking place in solid state microwave power amplifier technology, Traveling Wave Tubes are still a major player.

Integrated Solutions for Spectrum Management and Monitoring was the topic of Henco Visser of GEW Technologies. The efficient and economical management and monitoring of the radio frequency spectrum requires a combination of advanced RF receiver and direction finder networks, coupled with sophisticated measurement techniques and innovative software systems. Spectrum monitoring and management principles are important in the EW environment. Visser also demonstrated spectrum management software developed by GEW Technologies.

5G is the fifth generation of mobile network technology, offering very high bandwidth and data transfer rates. Pieter Warrington of Saab Grintek Defence spoke on the topic of 5G: EW Challenge or Technology Driver? 5G and its importance and place in the limited electromagnetic spectrum was explained, as was its possible interference on EW due to a shared electromagnetic spectrum. It is a “messy” frequency to home in on in the EW environment, he said. The effects of 5G on traditional radar surveillance systems was discussed, as was techniques to overcome the 5G problem. To deal with the highly advanced 5G spectrum, a highly capable and advanced system is required, featuring improved processing with wider instantaneous bandwidths. 5G can even be used to advance passive radar (where the sensor and transmitter do not cooperate), leading to cooperative passive radar.

The Aardvark Roost, the only AOC chapter on the African continent, is hosting a three day international Electronic Warfare conference at the CSIR International Convention Centre from 4 to 6 November 2019 with a supporting exhibition of South African and international EW companies.