New US Electronic Warfare Platform

The Army is developing a new electronic warfare pod capable of being put on drones and on trucks.

…the Silent Crow pod is now the leading contender for the flying flagship of the Army’s rebuilt electronic warfare force. Army EW was largely disbanded after the Cold War, except for short-range jammers to shut down remote-controlled roadside bombs. Now it’s being urgently rebuilt to counter Russia and China, whose high-tech forces — unlike Afghan guerrillas — rely heavily on radio and radar systems, whose transmissions US forces must be able to detect, analyze and disrupt.

It’s hard to tell what this thing can do. Possibly a lot, but it’s all still in prototype stage.

Historically, cyber operations occurred over landline networks and electronic warfare over radio-frequency (RF) airwaves. The rise of wireless networks has caused the two to blur. The military wants to move away from traditional high-powered jamming, which filled the frequencies the enemy used with blasts of static, to precisely targeted techniques, designed to subtly disrupt the enemy’s communications and radar networks without their realizing they’re being deceived. There are even reports that “RF-enabled cyber” can transmit computer viruses wirelessly into an enemy network, although Wojnar declined to confirm or deny such sensitive details.

[…]

The pod’s digital brain also uses machine-learning algorithms to analyze enemy signals it detects and compute effective countermeasures on the fly, instead of having to return to base and download new data to human analysts. (Insiders call this cognitive electronic warfare). Lockheed also offers larger artificial intelligences to assist post-mission analysis on the ground, Wojnar said. But while an AI small enough to fit inside the pod is necessarily less powerful, it can respond immediately in a way a traditional system never could.

EDITED TO ADD (5/14): Here are two reports on Russian electronic warfare capabilities.

Posted on May 13, 2020 at 8:49 AM12 Comments

Comments

Bob Paddock May 13, 2020 12:44 PM

DOD Energy and Power Summit coming up in July:

July 28-29, 2020 | American Institute of Architects | Washington, DC

In the evolving threat landscape, the United States military has recognized a need to reduce its dependence on established logistical networks for power generation and refueling. The current system leaves warfighters vulnerable to attack and is financially and environmentally unsustainable. In an effort to effectively compete against great power competitors, the United States military is shifting towards a more resilient energy strategy that will increase operational flexibility and success. DSI’s DoD Energy and Power Summit will focus on the current and future policies, programs, and R&D aimed at creating a more energy-resilient force both overseas and at home.

http://power.dsigroup.org/

The 4th annual Directed Energy Symposium should be this fall if no C19-virus issues.

Clive Robinson May 13, 2020 2:03 PM

@ Bruce,

It’s hard to tell what this thing can do. Possibly a lot, but it’s all still in prototype stage.

Actually probably a lot less than you might think…

The front end of EW systems be they receivers or transmitters have conceptually not realy changed over the past 30-60years years.

In essence you use one or more “channel bank” recievers or transmitters with IQ signals at baseband. In essence these go on to highspeed A-D or D-A converters respectively.

What then happens is in the digital domain. Thus EW systems are glorified “Software Defined Radios.

The more modern twists are in the antennas, these use phase array techniques to create stearable beams and nulls along with space diversity antennas to enable the likes of MIMO.

As for computers being susceptible, it’s fairly safe to assume with the recent track record by Intel on hardware security vulnerabilities that all commercial computers and even smart devices are vulnerable to those with the required knowledge.

Whilst there are ways to harden systems and mitigate both passive (TEMPEST) and active EmSec attacks there are limits to what can be done with equipment designed for fast moving theatres of action.

As always what the laws of physics alows puts a fairly hard boundry on what is actually possible, then the laws of thernodynamics and the power required not just for active components but the cooling systems to keep them in acceptable operating ranges.

The other thing to remember is that “information requires bandwidth” and that communications requires a certain degree of power per unit of bandwidth. Thus information downlinks are limited by both power and bandwidth.

After all the device is going to be of litle use if it glows as much as a jet engine, thus can become an easy hotspot for a heatseaking device or puts out enough RF energy that an anti radar missile can fly up the beam.

Thus the “big secret” trick of many modern systems is actually sorting out what is and is not interesting information as close to the EW front end package as possible such that power and bandwidth on any downlink is minimized.

XYZZY May 13, 2020 7:04 PM

Early Electronic mischief. Back in ’63 I help my classmate build a Tesla coil, 6ft high with a neon sign transformer, spark gap, capacitor constructed of tin foil and glass plates. The primary was 20 rounds of scrap wire and the secondary of fine wire wound around the 6 foot shipping tube which was carefully coated with some clear lacquer. The first test resulted in a 3ft spark to the garage overhead lights. Eventually we were able to pull big lighting sparks of 5 feet to a hand-held screwdriver with a ground wire attached. Occasional shocks were quite painful. My mom made us stop and he took the contraption home and later she was complaining to her friend about her soap being interrupted. She did not corelate this with goings on in the garage. That evening I observed a truck with a directional antenna driving the neighborhood. Not exactly warfare.

Eldoran May 13, 2020 11:25 PM

@XYZZYY: Well it doesn’t take much to interfere with analog tv/radio signals. At home there is a tram-train station right in front of the apartment house. Every time a train accelerates in front of the house, the (analog) tv and the (analog) radio was scrambled for a few seconds.
Even with DVB-T the train causes some stuttering…

But just the same – this is mostly caused by relatively close proximity. Unless it is a focused beam, physics dictate, the the intensity significantly reduced by distance (by the square of distance).
So assuming it does something significant, it is probably more restricted by the computing power and software. And more in the line of faked signals than ham fisted jammers (those need really huge amounts of energy).

The Red Squid of Passion May 15, 2020 3:32 AM

The AI is of course a vulnerability. Anyone who’s been following aiweirdness.com knows that. But on the other hand, the military are the same people who spent up large during the Vietnam War on (essentially) quack solutions to the guerilla tunnels the Viet Cong were using, so I expect they will follow the same path here.

It depends I suppose on the data they use to train the AI on. Or in other words, this is going to be fun, watching pratfall after pratfall after pratfall after … you’d never think a military mouth could fit so many feet in all at once!

Ismar May 15, 2020 6:29 AM

I find the most interesting bit of information towards the end of the article
“ There are even reports that “RF-enabled cyber” can transmit computer viruses wirelessly into an enemy network, although Wojnar declined to confirm or deny such sensitive details.”

Clive Robinson May 15, 2020 9:15 AM

@ Ismar,

With regards,

    “There are even reports that “RF-enabled cyber” can transmit computer viruses wirelessly into an enemy network, although Wojnar declined to confirm or deny such sensitive details.”

I don’t know why Wojnar is being so coy about what is a well known attack method.

1, Nearly all non phishing attacks arrive via a communications link of some kind, ie a network connection.

Again it’s no real secret that most defence is,

2, Effectively perimeter defence onlt marginally more sophisticated than a firewall at the gateway of wired networks that was standard getting on for between a quater and a third of a century ago.

And it should be obvious to all that,

3, PC’s and their big brother Servers are riddled with hardware faults and more software faults than anyone can realistically imagine.

What may not be so obvious is that,

4, Wireless Network Security is basically pretty awful and such networks tend to be inside the perimeter defence systems…

When you add that lot up as an attacker you can see why remotely accessing systems via internal wireless networks is so desirable to attackers.

If you are still not convinced go back and look at what equipment the happless “KGB spys” were caught with when trying to get at World Anti-dopping information to try ans stoo Russia being band from the Olympics and such sporting events.

It’s also why I’ve had a little fun developing a cross band “repeater” that you can attach to a drone and effectively “fly in a rougue AP” to a target site…

When you get down to it, it’s realy quite simple to do when using a Linux based Single Board Computer as the AP and two WiFi dongles that work in different frequency bands… It’s kind of at “undergraduate project level” if you can be bothered to do a little reading and a little configuring. And yes there are people who will pay good money for such things, especially if you can make them “as turnkey as possible”…

Anders May 16, 2020 8:52 AM

@Clive

“And yes there are people who will pay good money for such things, especially if you can make them “as turnkey as possible”…”

To whom you are referring to?

Clive Robinson May 16, 2020 11:38 AM

@ Anders,

To whom you are referring to?

The clues are,

1, A supply of money
2, Lack of technical skills.

Which covers many “taxpayer” funded entities such as law enforcment and the myriad of other investigatory bodies (see UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act).

The problems are not finding such customers, the problems tend to be,

1, Vetting the customer.
2, Keeping the paperwork in order.

For instance in the UK a certain police force was supplied with a prototype commercial forensics system that they then took appart supposedly as part of their “review process”. Then went on and not just used the information to build their own system but also divulged the information to other police forces, thus killing the market for the company (so it’s not just thieves where there is no honour, it’s the police and other investigatory bodies as well).

Thus you have to go to some lengths to make “reverse engineering” by tax payer funded entities not just difficult but beyond their abilities.

As a design engineer only part of the problem falls on my shoulders. As was once noted “Locks are only to keep honest people honest”… It’s the same with anti-reverse engineering technology which can be as simple as quartz dust loaded epoxy with fine loops of wire feeding battery / super cap backup power to RAM holding software, likewise machining off of part numbers and component values and not having silk screens on PCB’s. More expensive is “multilayer PCBs with all the signal traces on the inner traces and the outer layers being “flood fill” grounds.

History tells us that Tax payer funded entities have near zero respect for orher peoples intellectual property. Simillarly large corporates in the technology and entertainment sector rip peoples ideas off as a matter of course and when chalanged go “sue us and we will bankrupt you”…

Anders May 16, 2020 2:33 PM

@ALL

If anyone is interested, here is an interview with Ukrainian EW
team member. It covers what they do everyday, taking down the
Russian origin drones and even destoying their EW jammer “Zhitel”.

petrimazepa.com/nevidimaya_voyna_okhota_za_zhitelyami

It’s in Russian, but you can use Google translate.

Regarding “Zhitel” there’s lot of information on the web in English.

For example:

http://www.armyrecognition.com/russia_russian_missile_system_vehicle_uk/r-330zh_zhitel_jamming_cellular_satellite_communication_station_technical_data_sheet_pictures_video.html

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