Tactical Electronic Warfare and Counter-UAS technologies combine to meet the emerging threats on today's battlefield

Soldier Modernisation talks to David Beckett, Business Development Director at ECS & TCI Spectrum Battlespace, on the evolution and innovations in tactical electronic warfare and Counter-UAS technology

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David Beckett, Business Development Director at ECS & TCI Spectrum Battlespace

David Beckett, Business Development Director at ECS & TCI Spectrum Battlespace

Q: How has defence Counter-UAS technology evolved in recent times?

A: In recent years there has been a significant increase in drones and drone technology, with a continuous global rise in their varied applications. Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) undoubtedly provide military and defence organisations with a valuable aerial view – on demand. However, UAS have inevitably opened up the possibility of malicious applications among criminals, hostile military forces and other state actors. The probability and frequency of drone attacks is increasing and their impact is beginning to have devastating effects. For example, the long-range UAS built in Iran and used by the Houthis in Yemen as loitering munitions to target Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates facilities (oil refineries, airports and military installations), as well as most recent use of the ZALA-KYB UAS used by the Russian against civilian and military targets in Ukraine. In this context, there’s an urgent and essential need for detect, protect and prevent measures.

To confront this increasingly hostile reality Counter-UAS solutions have incorporated Detect, Track, Identify and Effect (DTIE) technology. This provides military and defence personnel with the timely and accurate information they require to enable a proportionate and effective technical response – or kinetic effect against the UAS or the controller itself to prevent the enemy from completing its intended mission.

Q: What's the most significant challenge for today's defence teams when it comes to tactical electronic warfare?

A: Defence organisations are adopting the ever-evolving UAS technology to deliver operational or strategic advantage in the activity they are engaged in. However, traditional military and aviation radar systems, which are designed to detect large aircraft, often struggle to pick up smaller drones, or to distinguish them from other objects such as birds. Teams may also find it difficult to deal with UAVs that move slowly or hover.

However, modern anti-drone radar systems use a variety of radar technologies and are selected depending on the requirements for range, area of the protection zone, number of simultaneous targets to track, and ability to deal with environmental clutter whilst maintaining sensitivity. They provide 3D airspace tracking and use sophisticated signal processing techniques to accurately detect and identify UAVs and help contribute to the creation of a ‘no-drone zone’ around facilities.
As each detection method has its advantages and drawbacks, multi-sensor anti-UAS systems are combining different and new sensor types. They are also adopting sensor fusion algorithms to provide a complete integrated detection solution.

Q: How is tactical Counter-UAS and drone technology keeping ahead of evolving threats?

A: Passive radio frequency (RF) detection is very effective for long-range Counter-UAS detection since RF signals can be detected from a longer distance than many other sensors – between 200 metres and over 10 kilometres allowing the defender more time to decide how to respond and increasing the probability of success. In addition RF detect will allow you to detect and locate the Ground Control Stations (GCS) RF signal allowing you more options in regard to your tactical response. Passive RF detection ensures that tactical assets can remain undetected within the RF battle space and therefore avoid being geolocated and then targeted by guided weapons themselves.

During RF inhibiting, communication between the UAS control link, navigation link (GNSS) or ISR link is disrupted or completely jammed. RF Inhibiting systems range in size and portability, from rifle-size inhibitors to those ground mounted on tripods or buildings, or on vehicles. Ensuring the RF defeat response is proportional to the type of UAS that is being used is key, for example long-range, high-altitude UAS will not be defeated by low power, omni directional RF Inhibitors. RF Defeat systems transmit a radio signal that overwhelms the GNSS signal or the on-board control receiver. Interrupting these signals causes many drones to behave with a lost signal response and either land, or, if enabled, return to a preprogrammed location. RF inhibiting systems also vary significantly in range and effectiveness, this is dependent on not just the power but the waveform generation technology – for example Software Defined Radio (SDR) waveforms. Most small form factor electronic systems require line of sight; they also require the operator to keep the “inhibitor” aimed at the drone while disrupting the signal which is effective at short ranges where it can be seen with the naked eye. In military scenarios this is a good last line of defence against weaponized UAVs, but not against reconnaissance UAVs that must be engaged at much longer ranges to prevent their mission being completed.

At ECS and TCI, under the SPX Corporation’s Communications Technology (CommTech) group, we are maturing capabilities to address evolving threats in the RF spectrum battlespace. Together we design and manufacture highly engineered Tactical Data Links (TDL), RF detection and location systems and RF inhibitors, including counter-UAS and counter Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device (RC-IED) jammers. ECS and TCI provides the customer with holistic and customer-tailored solutions for their theatre of use and the skills and capabilities of the operators to optimise the effectiveness within their Concept of Operations (CONOPS).

ECS and TCI BLACKTALON counter-drone system.

Q: What are the latest developments in RF detect and defeat and how are these being deployed by the military and defence?

A: The ability to detect, track, identify, effect (DTIE) UAS as a standalone or as an integrated multi-sensor solution gives defence teams the ability to effectively counter threats across the battlefield or area of operations. DTIE ultimately enables a proportionate and effective response which includes using a technical effect to prevent the UAS from completing its intended activity whether reconnaissance, or weaponised.

In order to react quickly and effectively to the threat of UAS incursions, a modular and scalable multi-sensor security solution, capable of addressing both current and evolving threats, is required. The solution must be adaptable to protect vulnerable and sensitive sites from UAS threats combining several sensors for detection, with command and control, and effectors for drone defeat. Depending on the tactical scenario and whether you are permanently static, temporarily static, mobile or wishing to maintain high levels of stealth, the system needs to combine radars, RF detection, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red imagery and jammers in a multi-sensory approach to meet their mission.

A good example of this technology is the scalable and modular architecture of BLACKTALON, a recently launched Counter-UAS solution combining decades of experience in the defence and security technology sector across ECS and TCI. BLACKTALON ensures mission success today with early entry capabilities and can be scaled and field upgraded in line with developing doctrine, and tactics in response to the threat evolutionary cycle, ensuring total lifecycle costs are minimised and the flexible Counter-UAS solution remains fit for purpose in the future.

Using BLACKTALON, the operator can effectively disrupt the function of a drone enforcing an invisible impenetrable barrier. The BLACKTALON system is designed and built to the highest military standards and has been extensively field proven in harsh operational environments. Working in all weather and day or night, the defeat response is at all times flexible, proportional and operator controlled.

ECS and TCI BLACKTALON counter-drone system.

Q: Looking ahead, how can defence teams ensure they have the right, proven, technology solutions?

A: Counter-measure technology requirements should ultimately continue to reflect the security risks that the battlespace faces, whilst being proportionate to the UAS threat and the risks presented, whilst maintaining safety and supporting the security measures that are present to protect military and defence teams. That’s why it’s crucial to consider the progressive and rapid developments that are continuing every day to alter the UAS and the Counter-UAS technology space.

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