Aardvark Roost delves deeper into electronic warfare


Passive radar, unmanned aerial vehicles and optical warfare were some of the topics under the spotlight on the second day of Aardvark Roost’s Electronic Warfare South Africa 2017 Conference and Exhibition.

The conference, hosted by the local chapter of the Association of Old Crows (AOC), began on Wednesday with a presentation by Armscor’s Sipho Mkwanazi on electronic warfare (EW) as an enabler for border safeguarding. It was followed by Bertus Theron, Optical Test & Evaluation Specialist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) discussing the history and future of optical warfare.

Warfare in the optical spectrum covers infrared sensors, thermal imagers, laser rangefinders/designators, laser weapons, electro-optical countermeasures and heat-seeking and imaging guidance for weapons. Theron looked at the history of optical warfare to future threats, such as laser weapons, and countermeasures, such as smoke, plasma shields, laser warning receivers and metamaterials.

On a different tack, Lelanie Smith, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria, gave a detailed look at the AREND unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), designed to track down wildlife poachers in the Kruger National Park. The fixed-wing AREND (Aircraft for Rhino and ENvironmental Defence) is being built by a team of students from the University of Colorado Boulder, University of Pretoria, University of Stuttgart and the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. The 18 kg UAV has a radius of 30 km and is expected to begin flight testing at the beginning of 2018.

A promising field of technology is passive radar, also known as piggyback radar, covert radar or passive coherent location (PCL) radar. This comprises a receiver only and uses the signals generated by things like television, FM radio and cellphone base stations as transmitters. The benefits are low costs as hardware is minimal, covert capabilities as there is no transmitter and no need for a radio frequency spectrum license.

Francois Maasdorp from the CSIR gave an update on the state of passive radar research and development in South Africa, explaining that the CSIR, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, Peralex and Lochtron are doing research and development on passive radar, while Armscor is providing funding. Testing conducted in South Africa from 2013 has shown that passive radar can successfully detect aircraft at hundreds of kilometres, such as a Cessna 172 light aircraft at nearly 170 km.

After Maasdorp’s presentation, Francois Schonken, Chief Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town, talked about how electronic countermeasures can be applied against passive radar. He concluded that noise jamming can impede the performance of a passive radar picking up FM radio signals, when the location of the receiver is known. Future endeavours may look at introducing false targets to confuse passive radar.

Next up, Darren Nicholls from Keysight Technologies looked at how modern test and measurement and simulation equipment can be used to recreate real world radar and communication signals within the laboratory, speeding up development times and reducing costs by catching problems in the development phase.

Arguably the most technical presentation of the day was by Abel van der Merwe, Managing Member at Sysdel, who spoke about advances in signal processing in his presentation entitled ‘The Demise and Restoration of the Delta Tau Histogram as a Tool for Multi-signal De-interleaving during ELINT Analysis’. He was followed by Wimpie van den Berg, Chief Engineer product development at GEW Technologies, who spoke about the makeup of a signal and how to obtain and use this metadata. For instance, by analysing cellular network metadata, it is possible to know which network, base station and phone a person is using and who they are.

The conference concluded with a presentation by Christo Cloete, RF EW Systems Engineer at the CSIR, who looked at electronic warfare and other trends, such as the growth in the unmanned market (land, sea and air); the increasing proliferation of stealth aircraft, ground vehicles and vessels; increasingly sophisticated guided weapons (such as guided 155 mm artillery shells, hypersonic missiles and suicide UAVs); improvements in radar technology, and GPS jamming and jamming mitigation/alternatives.

Cloete said that the battle of the future will not necessarily be fought on battlefields as we know them, but in cities, in ungoverned areas, in cyberspace and in the realm of the electromagnetic spectrum. “We are increasingly more dependent on information and the electromagnetic spectrum. Spectrum dominance is the new high ground,” he said.