Electronic Warfare and the maritime domain


South African Electronic Warfare (EW) researchers and local technology industry participants have been requested to develop “the right toolsets” to allow the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to be in the best possible position when called upon.

Speaking to members of the South African Chapter of the Association of Old Crows (AOC), known as the Aardvark Roost, at their 15th Little Crow Conference in Simon’s Town on 18 May, Captain (SAN) Andre Katerinic provided a glimpse into what naval warfare would look like in the future.

In his opening address, Katerinic noted that whilst the old world used large numbers of dated weapons to deter aggression, the new world uses extreme firepower, including weapons and tactics that were network connected, lasers as standard and technologically advanced missiles.

Katerinic asked “How can South Africa position itself so that it can have a credible deterrent on the one side and (extreme firepower) on the other side?”

At present, South Africa straddles the two worlds. In order to respond to the new technologies, the SANDF will have to undergo some organisational adaption. “There is definitely an attempt in the SANDF to reposition ourselves again and EW plays that role,” Katerinic said.
“In today’s world, it is all about posturing and pulling out the big stick when you need it. It will be incumbent on the industry in South Africa to develop the right toolsets. We must apply the best possible technology.”

As befits a conference held at the Institute for Maritime Technology, the maritime domain and naval activities took centre stage.

Feedback on the first measurements provided by the NeXtRAD multistatic radar testbed was presented by Dane du Plessis, a PhD student at the University of Cape Town. Aimed to be a fully polarimetric X/L-band sensor network, the testbed is initially looking at sea clutter and targets in a GPS denied environment. The dual-band, dual-polarization NeXtRAD is now entering its advanced development testing phase.

Missiles incorporating Millimeter Wave (MMW) radars, such as the Chinese C-704 anti-ship missile, are becoming an increasing threat in areas such as the Middle-East and the Horn of Africa, with many navies caught by surprise by the increasing sophistication of weapons deployed in the region by rebel groups. Pat Clarke of SAAB Grintek Defence spoke of SAAB’s pioneering work on their MMW sensor which can be integrated to a countermeasures system as well as providing an analysis capability.

The SAAB solution provides an instant surface MMW radar picture with instantaneous direction-finding and can be integrated with an existing electronic support measures (ESM) system. SAAB is working closely with the German Navy and recently successfully completed a trial aboard a German naval vessel, working alongside a competing product. SAAB have also partnered with fellow South African company Rheinmetall Denel Munition, which has developed MMW decoys to provide an autonomous self-protection capability.

With the proliferation of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) presenting an ever increasing threat to privacy, safety and security, Adrian Stevens of IMT provided an interesting overview of detection and countermeasures for COTS mini-UAVs. Providing an overview of the problem, particularly when it comes to surveillance of the nearby naval base, Stevens demonstrated how they had managed to intercept and spoof a UAV’s Wi-Fi signal, thus breaking the drone operator’s control of the drone. Via the experiment, Stevens was able implement simple detection and countermeasures for a particular brand of Wi-Fi based UAVs with no impact on other Wi-Fi users. A short overview of the use of thermal cameras to detect drones was provided by Dr Willie Gunther.

A very interesting overview of future naval Electronic Support (ES) was provided by IMT’s Lance Clayton. An example of the threats faced by navies is that of the former US Navy HSV-2 Swift operated by the United Arab Emirates which was hit by a Chinese C-802 anti-ship missile fired by Houthi rebel fighters off Yemen on 1 October 2016. The missile was fired from a land-based truck using commercial maritime radar for target detection.

With the advent of many new advanced commercial radars, there is an increased requirement to differentiate between an innocent commercial radar and one that is mounted on the back of an improvised missile launcher. IMT is presently experimenting in distinguishing between various radars operating simultaneously.

The final speaker was Johan Smit of the CSIR who developed a novel means of measuring the radar cross-section (RCS) of naval vessels. Because commercial RCS modelling software is not suitable for electromagnetically large targets and South Africa does not have access to appropriate (export-controlled) software, the CSIR developed its own RCS characterization capability, known as SigmaHat, which is suitable for aircraft, ships and land vehicles. Laser scanners are used to develop accurate CAD models. SigmaHat is also capable of incorporating dynamic sea models (including reflections) and dynamic targets.

A major benefit of the software is that it is dramatically faster in providing results than competing products, even when run from a laptop computer. Whilst modelling complex materials and non-magnetic materials still presents a challenge, SigmaHat has grown from an in-house tool to a product that is being marketed internationally.

The 15th Little Crow Conference was preceded by an Electronic Warfare (EW) industry visit to the Reutech Radar Systems facility in Stellenbosch.

The AOC Aardvark Roost is hosting their Electronic Warfare South Africa International Conference and Exhibition in November this year at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.