UAVs are used by both regular army forces and non-state formations. The presence of UAVs can often affect the outcome of a conflict, and only a complex system can counter them, one of the most important elements of this system being electronic countermeasure (ECM) equipment.
They are not as well-known as EW means, but they help to solve some important tasks. The ECM means are especially effective for countering simple, widespread, and barely visible unmanned and remotely-piloted aircraft. The Russian defense industry is one of the world leaders in the development of ECM equipment.
Countering UAVs poses a serious challenge to the air defense (AD) sector, the basic part of which consists of air defense missile systems (ADMS). Large reconnaissance and combat vehicles are a standard target for air defense missile systems, but the large-scale use of small and relatively cheap “kamikaze” drones cannot be controlled by the equipment of preceding models. Small targets are difficult to detect, ADMS faces an overwhelming number of tasks, and the system runs out of ammunition very quickly. Additionally, the cost of air defense missiles can be several times, or even by an order, higher than the cost of simple UAVs.
The problem can be partially solved by modernizing air defense artillery, however, even in this case, these means might not be sufficient. But any technology has its weak points. For example, UAVs depend on the operation of data collection systems, communication channels, and navigation systems. This makes them visible for electronic reconnaissance systems and vulnerable to electronic countermeasures equipment.
Unlike air defense, missile, and artillery systems, ECMs do not require any ammunition, but only electric power. Many electronic countermeasure means operate in a barrage mode over the area, and if the jamming mode is chosen correctly, they are able to neutralize entire groups of similar UAVs without even detecting each unit separately. Since means of ECMs do not destroy UAVs, such measures can be used in populated areas, and under certain conditions, it is even possible to capture enemy UAVs. Most ECM systems can detect targets using passive means of electronic reconnaissance, and the systems themselves do not attract attention of the enemy until the electronic jamming mode is switched on.
ECM systems have their own drawbacks. An increase in the range requires a rapid increase in the power rate of the equipment and electric power consumption, and the performance capability depends on the terrain type – electromagnetic waves can not overcome obstacles well. Therefore, ECM systems operate best at a short distance, in line-of-sight conditions. There is another problem, the reverse side of the ECM advantage. Operating across areas, such a system can affect friendly UAVs and communication systems. Therefore, the use of ECM systems requires detailed coordination with other systems and equipment.
But the main feature of ECM systems is that they mostly affect not the aircraft itself, but its external communication, control and navigation channels. At the same time, a significant part of UAVs, especially ones used for military purposes, have well-protected anti-jamming channels that cannot be easily jammed, and it is extremely difficult or impossible to break into or take control over them. Moreover, such equipment can perform tasks in the radio-silence mode, along a predetermined route, guided by an autonomous navigation and guidance system, which minimizes the ECM systems’ capabilities. The silent groups of UAVs remain invisible for such systems. However, the use of UAVs in a completely autonomous mode significantly reduces their own performance rate as well.
All these patterns add up to a simple formula: the more difficult it is for the ECM system to deal with large reconnaissance and combat UAVs, the easier it is for them to counter small-sized cheap vehicles. This is because the advanced protection rate and jamming capabilities of communication channels, and the availability of reliable autonomous navigation and guidance systems require an increase in the size of UAVs.
Portable Counter-UAV Systems
Electronic countermeasure systems are widely used when it is necessary to deal with commercial quadrocopters and multicopters, the simplest drones. For this task, it is enough to have a compact-design ECM system, which provides directional suppression of satellite signals, control and communication channels in the line-of-sight area.
After a successful jamming attempt, a common-type commercial quadrocopter may perform an emergency landing, hover in place, or try to return to its initial position. In any case, its mission will be interrupted. To provide comfortable operation, ECM systems look like small guns, therefore they are often called “anti-drone guns” or “rifles”. Obviously, these ECM systems have nothing to do with real small weapons.
The capabilities of “anti-drone guns” are limited regarding many parameters: both in their ability to detect targets and in the range and their impact force. But their small size, ease of operation, and low cost make portable ECM systems essential for law enforcement activities. Therefore, “anti-drone rifles” are being developed and produced in many countries.
In Russia, portable directional UAV ECM systems are produced by different manufacturers. For example, “Pishchal-PRO”, manufactured by Concern Avtomatika (part of the Rostec State Corporation), has a declared suppression range of up to 2 km; “REX-1” and “REX-2”, manufactured by ZALA AERO GROUP (part of the Kalashnikov Concern), are capable of suppressing control and data transmission signals at a distance of up to 0.5 km, and signals of satellite navigation systems at a distance of up to 2 km. Other companies conduct similar development work.
UNDER A DOME
Portable/Stationary and Light Mobile Counter-UAV Systems
Russian manufacturers also offer medium-power systems that provide detection and electronic countermeasures to control and navigation channels of small-size UAVs. Such systems are portable/stationary or mobile; they can be directional (like “anti-drone guns”, but larger and more powerful than them) or can be designed to create a dome protecting against UAVs.
These systems are used in the law enforcement and civil segments, as well as in security: they are designed to protect against photo and video imaging, to prevent terrorist attacks. Such ECM systems often consist of modules that can operate separately or can be combined into greater systems to protect a larger area.
There is a lot of these systems in the Russian Federation. To name only a few: The development of the Vega Concern (Ruselectronics Holding, part of the Rostec State Corporation) named “Zaschita” provides suppression within a radius of 2 km. The “Ataka-DBS” complex produced by the Almaz Research and Production Enterprise (part of Ruselectronics) provides suppression within a radius of 1.5 km with the possibility of combining cell modules into a larger system. Another modular system for UAV countering, “Solaris-N”, was designed by the Sozvezdie Concern (also part of the Ruselectronics Holding).
The portable complex “Kupol-PRO” of the Avtomatika Concern provides suppression of control and navigation channels of UAVs with a declared operating range of at least 2 km, and the larger stationary complex “Rubezh-Avtomatika” guarantees efficiency at a distance of up to 4 km.
Avtomatika Concern also produces the “Sapsan-Bekas” mobile complex, which can be installed in a minibus or a large off-road vehicle. Its range of suppression of radio communication channels, control, and satellite navigation channels is up to 4 km; furthermore, unlike most similar complexes, “Sapsan-Bekas” has an advanced UAV detection system. Detection is performed not only directly by the operator, including the use of electronic reconnaissance means, it is also performed with the help of a small radar station and an optoelectronic system.
Military Oriented Systems
An increase in the size, power, and complexity of ECM systems leads to the improvement of their capabilities, cost growth, and also imposes some restrictions on their operation in populated areas during a peacetime period. Therefore, powerful ECM complexes are used mainly by military forces; heavy chassis of trucks and tractors are required to move such systems.
Among the special-purpose ECM systems designed in the Russian Federation and intended for participation in combat operations, we can name “Repellent-1” developed by the Scientific and Technical Center for Electronic Warfare (part of the Defense Systems Group) and the “Shipovnik-AERO” complex developed by Vega Concern.
The developer of the “Repellent-1” system installed on a truck declares the range of electronic reconnaissance of telemetry and data transmission channels of small-sized UAVs to be up to 30 km within the line-of-sight area. After detecting the enemy, the complex can suppress signals from channels at the same distance: up to 30 km. At the same time, the “Repellent-1” complex is able to operate continuously for at least 24 hours. The “Shipovnik-AERO” complex, also installed on a truck, can detect and identify control signals of enemy UAVs at a distance of up to 10 km, after which a suitable jamming type is selected to suppress the signals.
In addition to special-purpose systems designed specifically to counter UAVs, many other military systems can affect the activities of drones one way or another. For example, we can take electronic countermeasure systems widely used in the Russian troops, such as the “Borisoglebsk-2” complex produced by the Sozvezdie Concern, automatic jamming stations R-330Zh “Zhitel” of the PROTEC Research and Innovation Company (part of EGO-Holding), and “Pole-21M” of the Scientific and Technical Center for Electronic Warfare.
The “Borisoglebsk-2” complex is designed to detect enemy radio communication channels, signals from satellite navigation systems, and mobile satellite communication systems. The “Borisoglebsk” stations are installed on the base of multi-purpose light-armored towing vehicles. Powerful jamming generators, the extended frequency range of radio reconnaissance and electronic suppression equipment allow the complex to successfully identify and jam communication channels of unmanned aerial vehicles.
The exact technical parameters of the “Borisoglebsk-2” complex are unknown, but according to available data, it can counter UAVs located within a radius of up to 30 km.
The jamming station R-330Zh “Zhitel” installed on the base of a truck with a mobile container-trailer was originally designed to detect, analyze, and generate radio interference signals to subscriber terminals of INMARSAT and Iridium satellite communication systems, base stations, and devices of cellular communication of the GSM standard, as well as the equipment of users of the GPS satellite navigation system. The jamming range for ground-based consumers’ equipment is 20–25 km, for aircraft equipment, at least 50 km. Nowadays, according to available official information, this station is also successfully used during training operations to suppress satellite navigation and control channels of UAVs. However, it is not known exactly at what range the “Zhitel” complex can effectively counter UAV activities.
Another system – the “Pole-21” manufactured by the Scientific and Technical Center for Electronic Warfare – was designed for protection against targeted use of high-precision weapons, performance of which depends on satellite navigation systems. It is evident that the “Pole-21” complex can also interfere with UAV operation as much as this operation depends on satellite signals. The “Pole” complex is especially dangerous for small “kamikaze” drones, which are one of the types of modern high-precision weapons. The suppression range of the “Pole-21E” modification is at least 25 km from each jamming module. The exact technical parameters of the new “Pole-21M” system, which enters service with the Russian forces, remain a secret, but the system is declared to be capable of monitoring airspace within a radius of more than 50 km.
Electronic countermeasure means for radar stations of enemy aircraft, such as systems of the “Krasukha” family of the Radio-electronic Technologies Concern (KRET, part of the Rostec State Corporation), can also successfully suppress radars installed on UAVs by reducing their performance parameters or interfering with the performance of their tasks.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
Talking about ECM equipment, it is important to remember that the decisive role is played not by the performance parameters of individual systems, but by the operation of the entire system consisting of several parts. It is useless to rely on electronic countermeasure equipment as a “magic weapon”, and it would be extremely wrong to think that individual systems can reliably and securely protect against all UAVs. The real task for specialists is to patiently design a system, inside of which different electronic warfare means operate in interaction with each other and with air defense systems, thereby creating multi-layer protection against UAVs. This is exactly a kind of cooperation, in which each system fully reveals its potential capabilities. Long, medium, and short-range air defense systems destroy large reconnaissance and combat drones, ECM equipment blocks out some small-sized vehicles, and those UAVs that still manage to break through are eventually destroyed by air defense artillery and short-range air defense missile systems.
Nowadays, the Russian Federation and other countries are developing special-purpose systems that combine electronic countermeasure equipment and means for the physical destruction of UAVs. A laser can become one of the destruction means in such a system. But as of now, no army in the world possesses such systems put in the military service.
Author: Yury Lyamin
©New Defence Order. Strategy №4 (69) 2021