Electronic warfare (EW) interest group Aardvark Roost held its 16th Mini Aardvark Roost Conference in Simons Town in the Western Cape, where electronic warfare and other electromagnetic spectrum topics came under the spotlight.
The organisers said the event was hosted by the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT) on 31 May, with the IMT having a long standing relationship with the Aardvark Roost.
South Africa has a long history of research in the electromagnetic spectrum, including work on radar in 1940 to the current world-leading Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and MeerKAT projects. Various topics will be examined at the next mini conference in Pretoria on 24 October this year.
The first speaker at the mini conference in May was Dr Francois Maasdorp from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). He spoke about the initial investigation into a seaborne passive radar focusing on FM broadcasting – passive radar uses emissions from other sources to identify and track targets rather than its own transmitter and as a result is hard to detect.
The organisers said an interest arose from static tracking measurements conducted in 2014 at Langebaan on air traffic (C47-TP) with a phase interferometer to determine range and angle of the target. In Cape Town multi-static tracking was done successfully on Boeing type air traffic in 2014 with four receiver sites.
“During the Maritime Domain Awareness exercise later in 2014 in Saldanha, maritime target detections (Harbour Patrol Boats and buoys) were done through the increase of instantaneous bandwidth with the same passive radar principles. Further development required a long term passive radar test bed – this was done in Gauteng with five receiver nodes and one central node at the CSIR to enable target tracking that is connected with high bandwidth capacity links. Due to the predominant air traffic target tracking, research continued in passive radar on-board a maritime platform that could be used in covert type operations,” the organisers said.
The conference heard that FM based passive radar was tested on a seaborne platform (Namacurra) in False Bay and compared to a static land based experiment (conducted at Air Force Base Waterkloof) which provided best detection results with a 135 km detection range. The research team aims to carry out sea and drone detection tests with digital video broadcasting transmissions for better range and resolution.
The next speaker was Lance Clayton from the IMT, who looked at the evolution of naval radars from an Electronic Support (ES) perspective.
Travis Milewski then presented a new digital analysis receiver, developed by SAAB Grintek Defence. This includes direction finding, electronic support measures and electronic intelligence capabilities and covers the 2-18 GHz range.
Benita Maritz from the IMT provided insight into experiments looking at the atmospheric influence on electro-optical systems performance across False Bay. These were compared to results obtained during the First European South African Transmission ExpeRiment (FESTER) that took place in 2015 across False Bay. In FESTER, several permanent stations for monitoring electro-optical propagation and atmospheric parameters were set up around the Bay. Additional intensive observation periods (IOPs) allowed for boat runs to assess the inhomogeneous atmospheric propagation conditions over water. It was found that water masses originating from the Indian Ocean and the Benguela current affected the development of optical turbulence.
Next up, Molahelgi Molope from Armscor gave feedback on the Aardvark Roost parent Association of Old Crows (AOC) Conference in Singapore in January 2018 and provided some insights on developments in electronic warfare further afield. A total of 24 presentations were delivered at the conference of which 19 were made available. 890 people representing 40 countries attended the conference.
The Little Crow organisers said that from the presentations it was clear that Russia and China poses a threat in EW technology employment. It was stated that nations should be encouraged to have their own sovereign capabilities. Another presentation referred to the Chinese Project 2049 that aims to provide China with complete dominance in the electromagnetic spectrum. Confirmation was given of Chinese satellite interception stations in South America and Cuba and that they are aiming for deployments in Africa. It was presented that China has eleven aircraft with electronic intelligence capabilities that are flying in civilian colours.
Cyber was a predominant subject at the conference and a presentation by a US representative eluded that cyber intelligence operatives are using malware and enticing emails to collect intelligence. The establishment of regional cyber centres and cyber protection teams were confirmed. A presentation was done on a Virtual Electronic Combat Training System which provided for a more cost effective training solution.
Other speakers looked at the need for more EW engineers, the challenges of prolonged acquisition cycles and outdated technologies, machine learning in the EW field and radar fingerprinting, amongst others.
The Little Crow organisers said the good relations between industry, academia, government and other relevant entities, especially at events like the Little Crow conference, enhances and promotes electronic warfare in South Africa.