Soveronty

Sources close to the Heer (German Army) have confirmed to chainhomehigh that the force’s Soveron-D radio is in service.

Rohde and Schwarz’ Soveron-D tactical radio is one part of the German Army’s Streitkräftegemeinsame verbundfähige Funkgeräteausstattung (SVFUA/Joint Armed Forces Radio Equipment) programme. This vehicle and fixed-site radio carries voice and data traffic across Very/Ultra High Frequency wavebands of 30 megahertz/MHz to 600MHz.

Soveron-D equips German Army command and control vehicles and field headquarters . The radio has two modules, each of which can use different networks with different security classifications. (Rohde and Schwarz)

Waveforms

The Soveron-D uses several waveforms. These include the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and allied SATURN (Second Generation Anti-Jam Tactical UHF Radio for NATO) air-to-air and air-to-ground/ground-to-air (225MHz to 400MHz) waveforms. Proprietary German Army waveforms carried by Soveron-D include Rohde and Schwarz’ High Data Rate (HDR) waveform suite.

Joining SATURN and the HDR suite is the ESSOR (European Secure Software Defined Radio) high data rate waveform. This should be added to the Sovieron-D from 2023. ESSOR is designed to ease coalition communications.

The waveform is being developed by the A4ESSOR consortium comprising Finland (Bittium), France (Thales), Italy (Leonardo), Poland (Radmor), Spain (Indra) and Germany. The country joined ESSOR in 2019 with Rohde and Schwarz leading her industrial effort. ESSOR will be used by the land forces of the partner nations, and possibly other European nations to aid operational and tactical command and control during coalition operations.

Role

Soveron-D equips field headquarters, and command and control vehicles. The transceiver has two radio modules, one for each channel. Each of these can use different levels of classification. For example, one module might use a net with a restricted level of classification. The other could use a secret net for connection to higher echelons.

Rohde and Schwarz sources have told the author in the past that the German Army will use the Soveron-D to help manage communication networks from brigade to platoon Ievel during both unilateral and multilateral operations.

Growler Grumblings

No sooner were diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates concluded, than a stramash on arms sales developed.

On 3rd September the New York Times reported that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had privately agreed with US plans to sell the United Arab Emirates (UAE) advanced materiel. One day later news emerged that Bibi was publicly opposing the deal. One sticking point appeared to be the possible sale to the UAE of Boeing’s EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets.

An article in The Economist conveyed concerns from some experts in Israel that furnishing the Emirates with a platform like the EA-18G risked the techno-military advantage Israel enjoys over its Arab neighbours. The US began supplying equipment en masse to Israel in the wake of the 1968 Six Day War.

The UAE Air Force is interested in acquiring the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare plane. The US could offer a ‘downtuned’ version of the jet to the UAE to ally Israeli concerns. (RAAF)

That a potential EA-18G sale might raise eyebrows in Israel is not surprising. The jet is the most sophisticated air defence suppression platform out there. It can carry sophisticated electronic warfare payloads to jam the ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars air defences rely on. The Growler can also launch Raytheon/Northrop Grumman AGM-88E/F High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles.

Subsystems

The UAE and Israel maybe able to compromise. The US could offer the UAE a ‘down-tuned’ version of the Growler. This could omit the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) suite of systems the US Navy and Royal Australian Air Force’s EA-18Gs are receiving. Instead the US could offer the legacy L3Harris AN/ALQ-99 electronic attack system that the NGJ replaces. The AN/ALQ-99 is thought to be capable of attacking radars transmitting on frequencies between 30 megahertz to ten gigahertz at ranges of up to 216 nautical miles/nm (400 kilometres) from 30,000 feet/ft (9,144 metres/m) altitude. It may even be possible to cascade AN/ALQ-99s to the UAE Air Force (UAEAF) as they are withdrawn from US Navy service to make way for the NGJ.

Likewise, the UAEAF already uses Raytheon’s AGM-88C HARMs deployed onboard its General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16E Fighting Falcon jets. The air force acquired 159 examples between 2006 and 2007. The US could offer to continue supplying legacy AGM-88B/C rounds but demur from providing the more advanced AGM-88E/F variants.

Folding the AN/ALQ-99 and AGM-88B/C into an EA-18G purchase would offer the UAEAF an advanced defence suppression platform, but with a specification which might ally Israeli concerns.

SIGINT Up North

Why was a Norwegian signals intelligence aircraft snooping around the Barents Sea this week?

On 9th September Russia’s official TASS news agency reported that Luftforsvaret (Royal Norwegian Air Force/RNOAF) Dassault Falcon-20 signals intelligence and Boeing P-8S Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft had been detected and intercepted over the Barents Sea. Two MiG-29 (NATO reporting name Fulcrum) series combat aircraft were scrambled to escort both aircraft away from Russian airspace.

What was the Falcon-20 looking for? Russia’s northwest Arctic region has recently received new radars. In 2018 a single Rezonans-NE Very High Frequency (133 megahertz/MHz to 144MHz/216MHz to 225MHz) ground-based air surveillance radar was deployed to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. With a reported range of 594 nautical miles (1,100 kilometres) it provides coverage over air approaches into northwest Russia. These are likely ingress roots for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) aircraft during any future war with Russia.

29B6 Container Radar
The Russian Ministry of Defence has plans to deploy 29B6 Container high frequency radars to the Arctic regions. (Russian MOD)

The region has also received NIIDAR Podsolnukh-E High Frequency (HF: three megahertz to 30MHz) coastal/ground-based air surveillance which have an instrumented range of 243nm (450km) providing low altitude coverage. Plans are afoot to deploy NIIDAR 29B6 Container HF ground-based air surveillance radars to the Arctic. The radar has an instrumented range of 1,619nm (3000km).

Russia has a penchant for HF and VHF radars as they may be able to detect aircraft with low Radar Cross Sections (RCS). While the radars do not provide the necessary precision for surface-to-air missile engagements, they can be used for vectoring fighters towards hostile aircraft.

ELINT

These radars will be of interest to the RNOAF. The country is buying 45 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft. It would be prudent for the RNOAF to gather as much Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) on these radars as possible given their potential to detect low RCS targets like the F-35A.

TASS reported that the RNOAF jets were initially detected by Russian radar. This may have handed the Norwegians valuable ELINT when the radars were activated and revealed the strength of radar coverage. Russian air defenders may be confident that their HF/VHF radars can reduce the low-RCS threat. This does not mean the country’s rivals will not try to collect ELINT on these systems to understand how they could be outfoxed in the future.

Until the Next Time?

Ireland could spend up to $60 million on new radars and air defence systems to deter Russian Air Force activity near her airspace.

Irish neutrality has not stopped Russian Air Force (RUAF) aircraft from skirting Irish airspace during the first half of this year. In March Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers skirted the west coast of Ireland, allegedly entering Irish controlled airspace.

The RUAF flights were detected by the Royal Air Force’s UKADGE (UK Air Defence Ground Environment). The UKADGE is the command and control, and surveillance element of the UK’s Integrated Air Defence System (IADS). The Russian aircraft were most likely detected by RAF Lockheed Martin AN/TPS-77 L-band (1.215 gigahertz/GHz to 1.4GHz) ground-based air surveillance radars. One AN/TPS-77 is based at the Saxa Vord Remote Radar Head (RRH) island of Urst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. A Lockheed Martin AN/FPS-117/Type-92 L-band radar at RRH Benbecula on the eponymous Outer Hebrides island off the northwest coast of Scotland may have also detected the aircraft. Both these radars have an instrumented range of 250 nautical mile/nm (470 kilometres).

The Russian aircraft may have skirted the northern coasts of Scandinavia and headed southwest into the Atlantic towards the British Isles. Radar pictures would have been sent by the RRHs to the UKADGE headquarters at RAF Boulmer, northeast England. RAF commanders would then have scrambled Eurofighter Typhoon F/GR4A combat aircraft on Quick Reaction Alert to ensure the bombers did not violate UK airspace.

Russian Air Force Tu-95MS strategic bombers allegedly entered Irish airspace in March, prompting questions about Ireland’s air defence posture. (UK MOD)

Flight Information Regions

Did the RAF also perform this action on behalf of Ireland? The British Isles are surrounded by two FIRS. Along with Shanwick Oceanic Control Area (OCA) covering the approaches to the western coast of Ireland parts of the western coast of the United Kingdom. Shanwick OCA is managed bilaterally by the UK’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS) and the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). London FIR covers approaches to the southern coast of Ireland, the southwest and southern coasts of England and Wales’ Irish Sea coast. Finally, Scottish IFR covers Scotland and Northern Ireland. In March, the UK Defence Journal reported that a bilateral agreement involving Ireland and the UK allows RAF aircraft to intercept suspicious aircraft flying in the Shanwick OCA. It was this region through which Russian aircraft allegedly flew in March.

Shanwick OCA covers the outer western air approaches to the British Isles. It is managed bilaterally by the British and Irish air traffic control authorities. (NATS)

An RAF spokesperson told chainhomehigh that the air force is only responsible for providing air defence coverage over the UK FIRs and “a portion of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Air Policing Area (APA).” This encompasses RAF support of NATO’s Baltic and Icelandic APAs. The RAF said cryptically that UK air defence coverage “does not include the Irish Flight Information Region.” As shown by the maps accompanying this article, the Irish FIR is distinct from the Shanwick OCA. The spokesperson continued that the RAF does perform Air Traffic Control (ATC) coordination with the Irish ATC authority, and will “respond to any instance of an unidentified aircraft entering or approaching the UK FIR to ensure the integrity of UK airspace.” Does the bilateral agreement referred to above have a provision for the RAF to intercept suspicious aircraft in the Shanwick OCA for the mutual benefit of Ireland and the UK? 

This map illustrates the coverage provided across the British Isles by the RAF’s ground-based air surveillance radars.

Ireland’s Air Defence

This would make sense for both countries. Ireland lacks the fast jets needed to intercept RUAF aircraft and the IADS needed to manage these interceptions. Another problem is that RUAF aircraft routinely fly in the vicinity of Ireland without having filed flight plans with their transponders switched off. This means the unidentified aircraft appear without warning to Irish ATC.

As the UK’s IADS can detect and track uncooperative targets it makes sense to have an agreement by which the RAF can handle such situations even if this is restricted to Shanwick OCA. The RAF must be able to detect RUAF aircraft potentially threatening UK airspace approaching from the West. Intercepting RUAF aircraft flying in, or near the Shanwick OCA provides defence in depth. It allows the RAF to shadow the offending planes ensuring that they do not become a threat to the UK. Having the RAF respond to these Russian challenges also helps to protect Irish airspace. In short this benefits both countries.

From an operational perspective, the An tAerchór (Irish Air Corps/IAC) does not perform air policing of Irish airspace per se. A statement supplied to chainhomehigh by the Ireland’s Department of Defence (DOD) said that the IAC is “not tasked or equipped to monitor and communicate with aircraft (military or otherwise) overflying Irish airspace.” The exception to this being the IAC’s provision of ATC services to aircraft overflying Casement Aerodrome southwest of Dublin, the sole airfield and headquarters of the IAC. 

Integrated Air Defence System

Over the long term, the IAC may invest in an IADS. The Republic of Ireland’s 2015 Defence White Paper stated that “should additional funding, beyond that required to maintain existing capabilities become available, the development of a radar surveillance capability is a priority for the Air Corps.”

Big money could be needed for such a purchase. Sufficient ground-based air surveillance radars would be required to provide coverage over all 70,273 square kilometres (27,133 square miles) of Irish territory. Using the AN/TPS-77 as a yardstick, a single radar would be sufficient as one can monitor 693,977 square kilometres (267,946 square miles). This would require at outlay of $19.7 million for a single radar based on average AN/TPS-77 prices.

It may be prudent to procure two systems to provide redundancy. One could be positioned on the west coast and one on the east coast. This would provide coverage of eastern and western air approaches, along with Irish airspace. Alongside the radar the IAC would need the required command, control and communications equipment to connect these radars to an Air Operations Centre, and to fuse the radar pictures into a single Recognised Air Picture (RAP) of Irish airspace and air approaches. Additional links from the IAC’s ATC system may be required to ensure that any future Irish IADS has the most detailed RAP possible.

The DOD statement added that while the department demurs from commenting on operational and security matters strict conditions must be met before a military aircraft can overfly Irish territory. Any future RUAF violations of Irish airspace, deliberate or otherwise, could trigger a diplomatic crisis between Dublin and Moscow. Although expensive to procure a robust IADS might help to deter any future violations.

Growlers for Growlers

The suggestion that the US could acquire two S-400 systems from Turkey has been unsurprisingly opposed by Russia. Such an acquisition could yield the US and her allies a treasure trove of intelligence.

A mooted plan for the US to buy S-400 SAM systems from Turkey could prompt a ELINT bonanza.

Senator John Thune, a Republican Senator from South Dakota has proposed that the US purchase the Almaz-Antey S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) long-range/high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems that Turkey procured from Russia.

In 2017 Turkey procured two S-400 systems, a total of four battalions, for $2.4 billion with deliveries commencing in 2019. This threw a spanner in the works of plans by the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK/Turkish Air Force) to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft.

A total of 120 aircraft were expected to be acquired before the acquisition was cancelled by the administration of President Donald Trump in July 2019. The administration was concerned that the S-400’s sensors, principally its ground-based air defence and fire control radars, could collect sensitive information regarding the F-35A’s radar cross section and electromagnetic emissions.

The cancellation of the acquisition resulted in the four THK F-35As delivered to Luke airbase, Arizona, being rerolled to furnish the US Air Force.

Nyet from Moscow

Mr. Thune suggested that the US acquisition of both S-400 systems would remove them from Turkey and hence THK control allowing F-35A deliveries to continue. Russian lawmakers protested the proposal with Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Russian Duma (parliament) committee on international affairs, condemning Mr. Thune’s proposal as “unprincipled and cynical.”

It seems unlikely that such a purchase will occur in the near term. Such a move by Ankara would make Moscow hopping mad. Yet such a purchase by the US would offer serious benefits.

Intelligent Decision

Aside from resuming F-35A deliveries to Turkey, it would give the United States Air Force, and US armed forces in general, once of the world’s most advanced air defence systems to pour over at their leisure.

The US Department of Defence already possesses a smorgasbord of Soviet-era SAMs and ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars. These have been sourced from a myriad of ex-Warsaw Pact countries. They are routinely used to provide realistic threats during US-based international air exercises like Red Flag.

The US Navy and USAF are both overhauling their Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (S/DEAD) postures. The US Navy is deploying the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare and S/DEAD aircraft, along with Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radar Guided Missile, a  variant of the venerable AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radar Missile) family. The US Air Force is optimising the F-35A to perform S/DEAD using Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88F HCS (HARM Control System) AGM-88 variant.

US and allied aircraft operating over Syria have flown in airspace thought to be protected by the S-400. Russia has deployed two systems to the northwest of the country since 2015.

However, there is doubt in some quarters of the NATO electronic warfare community as to whether either system has been activated in full for fear that Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) regarding their 91N6 (NATO reporting name Big Bird) S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) and 96L6E (NATO reporting name Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) early warning and target acquisition radar could be hoovered up by US and NATO ELINT aircraft.

For all intents and purposes much of the S-400’s design and capabilities remain a mystery. No wonder Moscow is nervous about NATO getting its hands on a couple.

New Signals Intelligence Platforms for Republic of Korea Air Force

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) could spend up to $725 million on new SIGINT aircraft between now and 2026.

Plans were approved by Republic of Korea’s Defence Project Promotion Committee (DPPC) on 26th June to acquire new Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) platforms for the ROKAF with a budget of $725 million.

The ROKAF uses two Dassault Falcon-2000S and four BAE Systems Hawker RC-800 SIGINT gathering aircraft. The Falcon-2000S jets were delivered in 2017. The RC-800 aircraft are slightly older, entering service in the early 2000s. DPPC plans call for four of the RC-800s to be replaced with the new SIGINT acquisition.

Wavebands

Both the Falcon-2000S and RC-800s are believed to gather Communications Intelligence (COMINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) at the operational, and possibly strategic, levels. To this end, they are thought to collect COMINT/ELINT across 500 megahertz to 40 gigahertz wavebands. This intelligence maybe analysed onboard by electronic warfare specialists and/or transmitted across air-to-ground datalinks.

It is reasonable to assume that the ROKAF may choose to procure at least four new aircraft to replace the same number of RC-800s. The force could spend up to $175 million on each aircraft with a residual $25 million covering training and other ancillary costs. Local reports state that the first new SIGINT aircraft could enter service in 2026.

The Republic of Korea Air Force is looking for new signals intelligence aircraft to replace its existing RC-800 jets. (L3Harris)

King SINCGARS

The SINCGARS tactical communications waveform is in rude health despite its age. Is this thanks to its robust performance in Ukraine?

A recent article published by Forecast International touted the enduring appeal of the SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) tactical communications waveform.

The piece notes that the past three years has seen orders for radios using the SINCGARS waveform from Kuwait, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, to name just three countries. Meanwhile L3Harris, SINGARS’ prime contractor, continues to support the waveform in US Army and US armed forces service, avid SINCGARS users, along with a plethora of other NATO members.

Life in the old hertz yet

SINCGARS entered US Army service in the early 1990s, the force’s 1st Division being the first unit to get SINCGARS-compatible radios. Sales have been following ever since.

Using frequencies of 30 megahertz/MHz to 80MHz, SINCGARS was revolutionary. It can handle digital and analogue traffic, move data at rates of 16 kilobits-per-second and be used for clear and frequency-hopping communications.

The US government supplied an undisclosed number of L3Harris radios using the SINCGARS waveform to Ukraine since the latter’s decent into civil war in 2014.

Anecdotal evidence shared with the author by members of the Ukrainian tactical communications and electronic warfare communities notes that SINCGARS has remained largely unaffected by significant Russian jamming. This alone is a good advertisement for SINCGARS. Furthermore, as of 2018 the US Army is enhancing the waveform using lessons learned from Ukraine. Despite hitting its third decade, SINCGARS stills has some miles left to run.

The SINCGARS waveform is in high demand thanks in part to its robust performance in Ukraine in the face of Russian jamming. (Photo: US DOD)

Analysis: Wishful Thinking

Forthcoming USAF platforms such as the B-21 Raider strategic bomber maybe yet more resistant to radar detection than present day low-RCS platforms (USAF)

The People’s Republic of China has made grandiose claims for the performance of its JY-27A ground-based air surveillance radar. They should be treated with caution.

An article published in the Global Times, an offshoot of the People’s Daily, itself a mouthpiece for the People’s Republic of China’s ruling Communist Party, claimed on 28 May that the country’s new CETC JY-27A Very High Frequency (VHF: 30 megahertz/MHz to 300MHz) can detect aircraft with a low Radar Cross Section (RCS). The article said that, not only can the radar detect such aircraft, but can “guide missiles to destroy them.”

Low frequency radars detecting low RCS aircraft is not a new claim. This principle has been known for decades and has already been exploited in radars like Russia’s NNIIRT 1L119 Nebo-SVU VHF system. The long wavelength signals transmitted by VHF radars have meant that while low-RCS aircraft maybe detectable, they may not be detectable with the sharp precision required to guide an Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) or Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) to its target. Put simply, this is why many fighter radars, ground- and ship-based fire control radars and missile radar seekers transmit in frequencies from X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz) and above. What these radars lose in detection range, compared to lower frequency radars, they make up for in precision. The Global Times article claimed that Chinese radar engineers have solved this precision deficit by networking together several radars positioned a known distance from one another, looking at the same patch of sky in different directions to determine an aircraft’s location. Once detected it could be possible to guide “long-range anti-aircraft missiles” to perform precision strikes on these targets.

Networked Radars

Distributed, networked radars to counter stealth is an established concept. The electronic warfare and radar expert Dr. Carlo Kopp discussed this approach in his seminal 2012 article in Defence Today entitled ‘Advancing Counter-Stealth Radar Technology’. He asserted that “Defeating stealth targets using networking and data fusion presupposes that some radars can see the target some of the time, also that the target’s stealth is considerably poorer in some directions compared to others, and finally that the target is visible to radars from varying aspects.” Basically, a low RCS aircraft may have a low radar signature when viewed from head on, of from a particular angle but not an equally low signature in all directions. By scattering and networking several antennas across a wide area, one of the antennas may get a lucky glimpse of part of the aircraft which is not so stealthy and thus detect it. Dr. Kopp adds that for this to be effective, the non-stealthy part of the aircraft needs to be visible to that particular radar for some time. An aircraft flying into hostile airspace is unlikely to hang around and may be travelling at very high speeds, thus only exposing itself to the radar for a very short time. To further complicate matters, aircraft such as the US Air Force’s Northrop Grumman B-2A Spirit strategic bomber and Lockheed Martin F/A-22A Raptor air superiority fighter use ‘all-aspect’ RCS reduction techniques. This means that they are stealthy regardless of the angle from which they are viewed by radar. Future US aircraft, such as the forthcoming Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider strategic bomber are likely to have even better RCS reduction design configurations.

Dr. Kopp concedes that “a networked data fusion system (fusing data from several distributed radars) is thus not a panacea, but is potentially quite effective against stealth designs that do not have genuine ‘all aspect’ stealth capability.” There is an additional problem. Airframe limitations mean that low-RCS aircraft cannot be designed to defeat all radar transmission wavelengths. Instead, airframes are optimised to defeat the radar systems most likely to be used for the precision detection of such a target and for fire control. This typically includes radars transmitting in S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) and above. To summarise, a network of VHF radars maybe capable of detecting an aircraft with a low RCS but lacking all-aspect stealth, yet weapons still have to be guided with precision to the target. This is where a fighter aircraft’s X-band radar would come into play, or the guidance radars and radar seekers used by AAMs or SAMs transmitting in X-band and above. These are precisely the frequencies that low-RCS aircraft are designed to defeat. Networked VHF radars may give you a good fix on where the aircraft is in the sky, but the missile’s end game still depends on higher frequency radars which stealth aircraft are designed to outfox.

Arguably this could be overcome by a salvo launch of SAMs and AAMs into the area of sky where the aircraft is thought to be. This might not be done with too much precision, but a load of missiles could be launched ballistically with the hope of scoring a lucky hit. It could prove an expensive tactic as it would potentially waste missiles at an early stage of a conflict, the moment when low-RCS aircraft are most likely to be used.

Jamming

Moreover, these VHF radars, and fire control radars operating in higher wavebands would almost certainly be subjected to heavy electronic attack at the outset of a conflict. Aircraft such as the F/A-22A, B-2A, B-21 or Lockheed Martin’s F-35A/B/C Lightning-II fighters would be accompanied by jamming platforms like the US Navy’s E/A-18G Growler aircraft as they fly into contested airspace. The Block-2 Low Band Jammer (LBJ) segment of the latter aircraft’s Next Generation Jammer, which replaces its current Harris AN/ALQ-99 tactical jamming system, is thought to cover a waveband of 100 megahertz to two gigahertz. The US Navy is currently selecting a vendor for the Block-2 LBJ with a team comprising Northrop Grumman and Harris, and L3 vying for selection. While VHF radars like the JY-27A maybe trying to detect low RCS aircraft, they will be a prime target for both escort and stand-off jamming for aircraft like the E/A-18G. They will also be high priority targets for kinetic weapons. Given the frequencies they use, VHF radars tend to be big. In the case of the JY-27A PRC officials have hinted that several radars are required to detect low RCS aircraft. Such targets could show up well on aerial reconnaissance imagery. They also need to transmit, and once transmitting, will reveal their position to ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) gathering assets such as the US Air Force’s Boeing RC-135U Combat Sent aircraft. Once their position is betrayed, electronic and kinetic attack can be brought to bear.

Conclusions

The PRC maybe feeling emboldened by the development of the JY-27A and its touted capabilities. The death of low RCS airframe design has been predicted umpteen times since the B-2A and Lockheed Martin F-117A Nighthawk ground attack aircraft debuted in service in 1997 and 1983 respectively. The possible shortcomings of such radars are no excuse to be complacent, and such systems should be high priority electronic and kinetic targets at the start of any conflict. The JY-27A’s attributes may be accompanied with a healthy serving of hyperbole, but that is no excuse for complacency.

HARM-ful

An AGM-88F zooms off the hardpoint of a US Air Force General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16CJ Viper Weasel during a test launch. (Raytheon)

Up to 260 AGM-88B anti-radar missiles owned and ordered by Bahrain, Qatar and Taiwan could be converted to the modernised AGM-88F configuration following a contract award on 23 May.

Bahrain, Taiwan and Qatar will receive Raytheon’s AGM-88F HCSM (HARM Control Section Modification) variants of the legacy AGM-88B HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) as a result of a $355.5 million contract awarded to the company by the US Department of Defence.

The AGM-88F HCSM configuration of the AGM-88B is achieved through the retrofit of existing rounds with, as its name suggests, a new missile central section which includes a GPS/IMU (Global Positioning System/Inertial Measurement Unit). Although the AGM-88 series of missiles can home in on radio frequency emissions from radars transmitting across a two gigahertz/GHz to 20GHz waveband, legacy versions of the weapon have shown their vulnerability to the so-called ‘switch off’ tactic. This is used by ground-based air surveillance radar and fire control/ground controlled interception radar operators who, believing or confirming that their systems are under attack, deactivate their equipment in the hope of breaking the missile’s lock.

The GPS/INS addition enables the missile to be pre-programmed either in flight, or pre-mission with the missile’s geographical coordinates potentially rendering the switch-off tactic null and void. Similarly, the GPS/INS lets the missile to be programmed with a specific area in which it is permitted to fly. This is intended to reduce the risks of collateral damage from such weapons. During the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s Operation Allied Force over Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 an AGM-88B fired at a Serbian ground-based air surveillance radar ended up hitting a street on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, causing damage to houses and cars, but mercifully no casualties. According to the author’s records in 1996 Qatar purchased 100 AGM-88B/C rounds, Taiwan acquired 50 AGM-88B examples with 10 training rounds in 2017 with Bahrain being cleared in early May for the acquisition of the same number of AGM-88Bs and four training rounds. These will supplement the 60 AGM-88Bs the country ordered in 2017. In total this could mean up to 260 AGM-BBB examples will be upgraded to the AGM-88F configuration. In addition, several AGM-88B missiles owned by these customers maybe converted into CATM-88B Captive Air Training Missiles. The contract is expected to be completed by 2027.

All At Sea

A variant of the FlyingFish SIGINT system will equip the UK’s forthcoming IOD-3 AMBER satellite. (Horizon Technologies)

The growing provision of private-sector signals intelligence gathering will take an important step forward with the launch of the UK’s IOD-3 AMBER CubeSat in 2020.

The IOD-3 AMBER will be the first of a constellation of satellites providing a global Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) footprint to enhance maritime security for the British government. While the exact number of satellites that will eventually be launched has not been revealed, it is expected to include less than ten spacecraft.

The satellites will possess both an L-band (1.3 gigahertz/GHz to 1.7GHz) and Automatic Identification System (AIS: 161.975 megahertz/MHz to 162.025MHz) SIGINT packages. This is derived from Horizon Technologies’ FlyingFish COMINT-gathering system. FlyingFish routinely equips aircraft particularly maritime surveillance, maritime patrol and signals intelligence-gathering platforms. These furnish several NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) navies, coastguards and border protection agencies. The L-band equipment will detect Satellite Communications (COMINT) from vessels across a waveband of one gigahertz to two gigahertz. AIS is mandated by the International Maritime Organisation for all vessels displacing in excess of 300 tonnes.

AIS transponders equipping vessels transmit an array of regarding a vessel’s voyage, identity and location. By correlating the AIS and the source of the L-band SATCOM it becomes possible to cross reference both sets of transmissions and match them to a vessel’s location. X-band (7.9-8.4GHz to 7.25GHz/7.75GHz) downlink and S-band (two to four gigahertz) SATCOM COMINT receivers will also be carried. Interestingly the concept of operations used for the constellation does not require a number of satellites to receive transmissions and then triangulate the position of a vessel, based upon signal’s time difference of arrival at each satellite. Instead, the IOD-3 uses “a new proprietary geolocation technology which does not include groups of satellites ‘flying in formation’” to perform direction-finding, notes John Beckner, chief executive officer of Horizon Technologies.

Why is such technology needed? The high seas are home to criminal activities whether that be narcotics or people smuggling, illegal fishing or environmental damage. Sometimes such activities are betrayed by a vessel switching off its AIS transponder, or altering its transmissions. This can have the effect of making the vessel appear in a different location, or to be moving at speeds not routinely associated with marine traffic. Should AIS transmissions be spotted from a vessel that seems to be in two locations, the simultaneous collection of SATCOM COMINT will indicate the likely real location of the ship: SATCOM transmissions will not, for example, also be coming from the false position. The version of the Flying Fish COMINT system equipping the satellite can also demodulate L-band SATCOM transmissions. This means that users can directly listen to these communications. This is important for gathering intelligence on what the targeted vessel maybe doing. Secondly, AIS can be switched off by a vessel. Should this happen and then SATCOM be initiated, this could reveal that the vessel is engaged in suspect, or illegal activity. From a humanitarian perspective monitoring L-band SATCOM can enable the user to instantly receive distress calls and to immediately organise assistance given that the vessel’s location can be determined through its SATCOM and AIS transmissions. For example, satellite phones using the Thuraya (1.525GHz to 1.661GHz) network are routinely used by people smugglers in the Mediterranean. The phones are often the only means of communications with the outside world that boats carrying refugees have. In this context, aircraft equipped with the Flying Fish payload have helped saved numerous lives by intercepting distress calls from these craft when they run into trouble.

The IOD-3 Amber satellite will transmit its SIGINT to the Goonhilly teleport in southwest England. There, the data will be analysed using Horizon Technologies’ AMBER Ground Exploitation System. The IOD-3 will be launched from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020. The satellite bus has been developed by AAC Clyde Space. Several undisclosed UK government agencies will receive the SIGINT collected by the satellites. The capability is being procured via a public-private partnership: Horizon Technologies and AAC Clyde has joined forces with the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult technology incubator and Nanoracks which is organising the launch from the ISS. Meanwhile, the British government is funding the initiative and will be the customer for the intelligence.

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