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Modern Ground Electronic Warfare

In any modern conflict, the use of the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) is ubiquitous.  All maneuver, fires and logistics elements in every modern force use RF-enabled capabilities in order to command and control their assets and to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities against enemy forces.  Electronic Warfare (EW) is the use of EMS, that mostly invisible world around us, to conduct military action.

The RF technology to which these combatants have access, from sophisticated systems such as unmanned aerial system-enabled Electronic Attack capabilities, to commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products such as cellular phones, has improved both communications reach and the ability for enemy signals to “hide in plain sight” and control access to the EMS use on the battlefield. 

All of these complexities and increasing EMS congestion make it more difficult for commanders to find and target specific enemy users of the EMS. The need for the right EW equipment on the ground, to sort through the clutter, is essential.

Just as enemy forces consider our C2 and ISR capabilities to be important targets, so must our forces be able to target the source of enemy signals and emissions - so that we can attack, exploit or deceive them. 

"Today's enemy is as sophisticated as we are - and in many cases, less tied to conventional means of warfare," said Aaron Hankins, Vice President of DRS Technologies EW Programs. "This means we must poise ourselves to both defend our use of the spectrum and also to be prepared to take the fight to the enemy,” he said.

sky and field

Lightweight, man-portable EW equipment is one tool that gets troops closer to their target and can hone in on these radio signals, identifying where they are being generated and allowing troops to take immediate action on that target.

Larger EW stand-off equipment that can constantly scan a broader radio spectrum with multiple channels is ideal for longer term electronic surveillance and offers commanders a bigger picture of what their adversaries are doing over a longer period of time.

DRS Technologies EW systems have been playing a significant role for the U.S. military and with governments around the world. The systems range from lightweight man-portable products for the Marine Corps as well as U.S. Special Forces that allow for fast signal collection in denied access areas at close range, to larger ground-based, stand-off systems that can capture multiple signals for analysis and offer a bigger picture of enemy operations over a longer period of time.

For more than three years, the U.S. Marines and Army Special Forces in Afghanistan have relied on the DRS Blackstone system to get intelligence that they can act on for protecting operations or targeting insurgents.

soldier looking over cliff view

This man-portable system is operated easily using an application on a ruggedized smartphone for control. Blackstone’s lightweight, low-visibility attributes allow operators to get close to target areas and gather mission-critical intelligence with its rapid-detection and ability to locate a wide range of threat signals.  Blackstone also monitors signals of interest, and supports real-time analysis of the signal environment.

The feedback from troops in the field using the system has underscored the effectiveness of the Blackstone system.  Users have noted that Blackstone provides improved situational awareness as well as better intelligence to locate and act on targets, which helps ensure the safety of convoys and ground patrols.

The system’s light weight, low power consumption, field programmability, and multiple deployment configurations make it well suited for a wide range of operational scenarios. 

Blackstone’s direction finding (DF) mode operates either individually or networked with two or more systems. While a single unit can track a signal and give a line of bearing on a desired signal, three Blackstone systems can be linked – allowing them to lock on to the same signal produced by a target and triangulate that signal, producing a much more precise geo-location on the target signal for the ability to act quickly.

An additional tool available to the U.S. military is the DRS Technologies Phoenix EW system.  While Blackstone is oriented for situation awareness, Phoenix is a complete stand-off man-portable SIGINT system to provide added electronic signal processing at the same time and more precise geolocation direction to a target.

soldier in desert

The system can be used in either a standalone mode or as part of a larger network of similar systems to build a strong picture for longer-term electronic communications collection missions, assisting commanders in maintaining a systematic operating picture of the enemy, its order of battle and help understand where a target has gone over time, as well and providing actionable intelligence.

Phoenix operates with a collapsible DF antenna and rucksack-portable operating system.  While on-the-move, the system is controlled with a hand-held tablet PC unit. The system can also be mounted on a vehicle for mobile use and can be coupled with a portable electronic signal jamming system.

Making the Most of the Intel

While these available tools are improving the way our forces can conduct EW targeting by clearing through the electronic clutter and isolating the key signals, managing multiple collection capabilities and mapping those signals is just as important.

These portable systems can also play a larger and more significant role as an integrated sub-system within an Electronic Battle Management (EMBM) system.  The system draws on the specific attributes of these portable systems that also includes the company’s PitBull EW system, which exploits cell and other advanced electronic signals.  This EMBM system is a turnkey solution integrating the sensors in support of a complete, larger EW mission to build a broader operation picture for commanders.

All of these tools have certainly improved the situational awareness on the ground as well as providing valuable actionable intelligence and the ability to attack those signals if desired.  DRS Technologies continues to improve on its technology by broadening channel numbers for more collection and improved DF.  

Other Articles In this Issue

Short History of US Army Electronic Warfare by contributing editor COL (Ret) Laurie Moe Buckhout

Short History of US Army Electronic Warfare by contributing editor COL (Ret) Laurie Moe Buckhout

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Modern Russian Electronic Warfare  by contributing editor COL (Ret) Laurie Moe Buckhout

Modern Russian Electronic Warfare by contributing editor COL (Ret) Laurie Moe Buckhout

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