Old Crows meet at Aardvark Roost


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.

The Aardvark Roost, the South African Chapter of the Association of Old Crows (AOC), is an organisation for individuals with a common interest in Electronic Warfare (EW) and the electromagnetic spectrum. They held their 12th Little Crow mini-conference in Simon’s Town this week. Held at the Institute for Maritime Studies (IMT) building, the event was preceded by an EW industry visit to Peralex Electronics and GEW Technology.

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. The importance of South African EW expertise in the defence industry is demonstrated in the way that Denel recently joined forces with GEW Technologies, a South African company in the Airbus Defence and Space stable, to collaborate on electronic warfare (EW) programmes.

Another example is Saab’s South African facilities forming a critical part of the Group’s microwave production capability and Saab Grintek Defence produces some microwave components for the antennas and electronic warfare components of the Gripen fighter for the international market. Saab Grintek Defence is also successfully exporting the LEDS self-protection system for land vehicles.

AOC Aardvark Roost members who attended the conference represented industry, the Army, Navy and Air Force, research and educational institutions.

A common thread among speakers was that having a main battle tank, a Gripen fighter and frigate all data linked together will have no bearing when fighting an asymmetric force such as ISIS or Boko Haram. Using local knowledge and thick jungle, rebel forces can move a hundred vehicles through three countries in one night, undetected. It is thus vital that defence forces invest in research and updated EW and reconnaissance equipment to match the evolving threat or the country may find itself 100% ready to fight the previous war.

Colonel Anton Gundling and Captain Joe Sinovich (SAN) (Joint Operations, SANDF) provided feedback on the Maritime Domain Awareness Experiment that took place at Saldanha Bay over the period 28 October to 7 November 2014. Assets from the Navy, Air Force and Special Forces were utilised, in conjunction with various data sources, to obtain data, analyse information and disseminate the resulting intelligence.

Three-dimensional Radar Cross Section (RCS) was the topic of Christoph Bormann (Naval Projects, Germany). The challenges and methodologies for obtaining digital RCS data for a specific ship at various frequencies, polarisations, elevations and ranges and storing these in a database for use in real-time RF signature simulations were discussed. In this way, a ship commander is able to view the optimal path to present the smallest possible RCS when manoeuvring.

An interesting overview of the systems engineering for MeerKAT and SKA projects was provided by Thomas Küsel, the Systems Engineering Manager for the SKA project. Technical detail was provided that highlighted the similarities and differences to EW systems.

Lleon Downes (IMT) was to provide feedback on the Active Off-Board Decoy sea trials, but as the trial had to be postponed, he complemented the feedback on the Maritime Domain Awareness Experiment by providing an overview of the various optical, IR and radar systems used from an IMT perspective.

Proving technical boffins can also have a sense of humour, Jason de Villiers (CSIR) provided an interesting overview of the Optical Wide Area Surveillance system the Optronics Sensor Systems group has been working on to provide real-time wide area surveillance with specific focus on the maritime domain. The development history from the first 60 degree field of view prototype to the current omnidirectional versions and modular fused visual/thermal systems were discussed.

The final speaker was Trevor Bartlett (Peralex Electronics) who provided an introduction to HF surface wave radar and presented on the practical studies the Rutgers University Coastal Ocean Observation Lab have done using an HF radar network deployed on the US East Coast.

The Aardvark Roost, the only AOC chapter on the African continent, is hosting a three day international Electronic Warfare conference in November 2015 with a supporting exhibition of South African and International EW companies.