Electronic warfare unpacked on day one of AOC EW conference

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Electronic and cyber warfare are rapidly evolving and many of their diverse facets were explored during the first conference day of the Aardvark Roost’s Electronic Warfare South Africa 2017 Conference and Exhibition.

The conference, hosted by the Association of Old Crows (AOC) Aardvark Roost Chapter at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on 7 November, began with a keynote address by Rear Admiral Guy Jamieson, Deputy Chief of the SA Navy, who spoke on surface warfare and electronic warfare (EW) in the missile age, examining lessons learned from a South African perspective.

Jamieson urged for increased interoperability between arms of service and other navies, improved communications and awareness of new threats such as remotely controlled boat bombs. As navies are expected to operate more in the littoral environment, they need to learn to operate in cluttered areas and evolve new tactics and adapt to new technologies such as robotics.

Looking towards the future, Jamieson outlined a number of platforms and capabilities to consider, including maritime domain awareness; maritime command posts; offshore and inshore patrol vessels; maritime surveillance/patrol aircraft/unmanned aerial vehicles; frigate and submarine upgrades and a possible expeditionary capability. This would be in line with the 2015 Defence Review which envisions protecting South Africa and its interests and possible expeditionary operations.

Defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman then provided an informative overview of electronic and cyber warfare and a number of trends, such as GPS spoofing, electromagnetic pulse weapons, state-sanctioned cyber warfare, and examples of recent attacks. He said communications and signals intelligence (COMINT and SIGINT) systems will assume ever-greater importance for operations against both regular and irregular forces and against criminal groups. These capabilities will also be needed to combat the growing threat of unmanned sea, ground and aerial vehicles.

Linking to Heitman’s presentation, Jabu Mtsweni, Research Group Leader: Cyber Defence at the CSIR, examined the way cyber and electronic warfare interact and gave examples of cyber attacks against people and infrastructure. He told delegates how easy it was to buy cyber warfare tools on the Dark Web to, for instance, create ransomware, intercept keystrokes and capture screenshots and phonecalls. Things such as cars, aircraft, home alarm systems, pacemakers and critical infrastructure have been successfully hacked. A modern thief can steal more with a computer than a gun, Mtsweni pointed out, and said that preparation, training and organisation are needed to deal with cyber and EW threats.



Going into the technical side of the industry, Armscor’s Molahlegi Molope unpacked pulsed noise radar. This is a form of random signal radar whose transmitting signal is a microwave noise source or is modulated by a lower frequency white noise source in contrast to conventional radars. The benefits are low probability of interception, resistance to jamming and good resolution. Although most current applications are for short range, efforts are being made to use noise radar for long range air defence.

Aircraft countermeasures were under the spotlight, with Rudolf Staedelin, Sales Manager at RUAG Schweiz AG examining the effectiveness and importance of chaff. He noted that the radar threat has increased in recent years, especially from non-state actors with access to radar-guided weapons. Consequently RUAG is looking at how to make chaff more effective by, for example, studying how helicopter rotor wash can better disperse chaff.

Similarly, Saab’s Linda Klevard and Knut Jonsson looked at airborne countermeasures, and how they are being updated to meet modern equipment and threats. For instance Saab has developed its new Arexis electronic countermeasures system that incorporates electronic attack and defence capabilities.

From the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant Colonel Quinton Dickson examined the importance of electronic warfare in operations. He noted that the SAAF operates in a diverse environment with many potential threats, from surface-to-air missiles to fighter aircraft – in Central Africa, for instance, there are surface-to-air missiles in the possession of countries like South Sudan and this is a concern because South Sudan borders on the Democratic Republic of Congo where South Africa has peacekeepers.

Dickson noted the SAAF maintains an EW capability, through a ground based mobile signals intelligence system and C-47TP and Oryx aircraft equipped with jammers and other equipment, but this capability remains constrained and limited by budget. “Nonetheless, it can still be valuable in the field of operations, especially on the tactical level, making a valuable contribution towards early warning, situation awareness and even on a more strategic level,” Dickson said. This is important especially in light of increased South African involvement in African Union and Southern African Development Community missions.

On a more general note, Sarel Roets, System Engineer, Ahrlac Holdings, gave an overview of the systems integration and development of the Ahrlac (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft). He described the various ‘border camp’ deployments since 2015 and the integration of equipment including the Avni infrared linescanner, Argos sensor turret, direction finder and AIS tracker. The company will be installing a synthetic aperture radar in the nose and is looking at a communications jammer.

Other presentations were by Warren du Plessis, Associate Professor at the University of Pretoria, who gave a talk on artificial intelligence and machine learning applications in electronic warfare, and by Sue Robertson from the UK AOC Chapter. She explored the role of the Global Association of Old Crows in EW.

Robertson also outlined some key EW developments, such as Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and their importance on military aircraft; airborne jamming and electronic attack aircraft like the EA-18G Growler; different airborne jammers; EW systems on fifth generation aircraft like the F-35 Lightning II and directed energy weapons such as the Lockheed Martin ATHENA, which recently successfully shot down several UAVs with a laser.

Concurrently with conference, academic presentations took place to make the EW community aware of relevant research at universities and to encourage interaction between the EW community and students. The universities of Stellenbosch, Pretoria, and North-West gave a number of presentations on EW-related topics.