Electronic Warfare – Denying Electromagnetic Advantage to Enemy

Electronic Warfare (EW) represents the ability to use the electromagnetic spectrum to sense, protect, and communicate. At the same time, it can be used to deny enemy the ability to either disrupt or use these signals.

Issue: 2-3 / 2020 By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd)Photo(s): By PIB
Electronic Warfare Jammer passes through the Rajpath during the Republic Day Parade

The importance of Electronic Warfare (EW) has gained momentum with rapid advances in technologies in the modern era – both in warfare and the civil arena. EW exploits the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) to control it for offensive and defensive actions. This ability to collect and make sense of signals in an environment when combined with radar provides capabilities to detect threats, take evasive action and also launch countermeasures against any attack and its source. Complexities of EW have increased with the telecommunications boom including networks of signals for billions of mobile phones and computers, creating massive congestion in the radiofrequency spectrum; it is more difficult to find ‘signals of interest’ in military terms especially with arrival of 5G telecommunications and the Internet of Things (IoT). Technology is driving nation states toward achieving political objectives by other means; such means also include technology in general and the role of EW in particular.

EW can be applied from air, sea, land or space by manned and unmanned systems; targeting humans, communications, radar or other assets, both military and civil. In present day security scenario, it is imperative that forces spread over vast areas remain connected with one another in every possible way. The integration and conduct of EW to support military missions across all services is therefore critical. EW follows the basic step of signal processing from analogue to digital allowing sampling the signal environment digitally; the signals are analysed utilising Artificial Intelligence (AI) to ascertain their identity and the result is the separation of what is valuable from the worthless. The process undergoes three stages:

  • first, EW provided Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) – providing details of emitters of interest in the EW Spectrum to create their electronic signatures for later processing by AI algorithms to identify them;
  • second, electronic support through provision of situational emitters of all emitters that are tracking you or having the ability to strike you with a weapon system, and,
  • third, electronic protection by detecting incoming weapon, setting the stage for defensive measures.

For EW, the Indian Army has the ‘Samyukta’ EW System developed jointly by DRDO, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Corps of Signals of the Indian Army and private companies like CMC and Tata Power SED. Some 40 companies also contributed by producing various components indigenously, challenge being to tackle US sanctions post the Pokhran nuclear test banning import of advanced electronic components. CMC and Tata power SED jointly developed the Command and Control Software having 10 million lines of codes even though the project was not commercially attractive.

Complexities of EW have increased with the telecom boom including billions of mobile phones and computers, creating massive congestion in the radio frequency spectrum

The Samyukta EW System is fully mobile and is meant for tactical battlefield use. It covers wide range of frequencies and coverage of EMS is handled by the communication segment and the non-communication segment. Its multiple functions include ELINT, Communications intelligence (COMINT) and electronic countermeasures (ECM) including electronic attack. Each Samyukta EW System operates on 145 ground mobile vehicles which has three communication and two non-communication segments and can cover an area of 150 km by 70 km. The system has the capability for surveillance, analysis, interception, direction finding, and position fixing, listing, prioritising and jamming of all communication and radar signals from high frequency (HF) to millimeter wave (MMW) communications.

Samyukta also gives useful inputs to the IAF. DRDO has become a ‘single window’ supplier of EW systems for the Army, Navy and Air Force. ‘Sangraha’ is a joint EW programme between DRDO and Indian Navy for provision of EW suites for use on different naval platforms capable of detecting, intercepting, and classifying pulsed, carrier wave, pulse repetition frequency agile, frequency agile and chirp radars. These systems can be deployed on multiple platforms like helicopters, vehicles, and ships. Certain platforms, along with electronic support measures (ESM) capabilities have ECM capabilities. DRDO has also developed a static as well as mobile ESM system ‘Divya Drishti’ capable of ‘fingerprinting’ sensors. It has also upgraded ESM capability of the ground based as well as airborne platforms of the IAF. The airborne early-warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft have such capability.

In the South Asian context, it is quite clear that India’s main rival is China, not Pakistan. Information warfare (IW) capabilities of China are an integration of cyber warfare (CW) and EW; recognising complementarities between the EW and CW and the role that EMS plays for both. In context of land warfare, EW and CW support army operations and missions. Most immediately relevant to land operations are groundbased EW systems and aerial EW systems. For China, both these kinds of warfare are linked, which China calls integrated network electronic warfare (INEW) and its relationship with ground warfare. According to PLA, EW and CW are not mutually exclusive; it is necessary to recognise their convergence and integration to dominate information operations during wartime – hence the term INEW. China does not have a formal doctrine for INEW that is available in the public domain. PLA’s Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) integrates the functions of intelligence, technical reconnaissance, EW and CW. This synergy has tremendous advantage both during periods of war and non-war.

Pakistan Air Force has EW aircraft for airborne warning and control. Its Navy’s ‘RIBAT’ EW system supports command and control platforms and keeps commanders aware of the battlefield. RIBAT has a variety of ground, surface, and airborne applications, especially in maritime scenario. Pakistan is also using Software Defined Radio (SDR) that provide automatic integration with tactical and strategic networks to provide “cellular phone” services to tactical users. Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works have developed ELINT Threat Perception and Identification System for all kinds of emitters offering broadband coverage, high accuracy and sensitivity, automatic and manual operating modes, classifier for automatic emitter recognition and GUI based electronic order of battle. In recent months, Chinese-origin JY-27A counter-very-low-observable radar has been sighted at Mianwali Air Base in Pakistan.

In India, the tri-service Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) was established last year and tasked with handling cyber security threats. Going by media reports, DCA would have capability to hack networks, mount surveillance operations, lay honey-pots, recover deleted data from hard drives and cell phones, break into encrypted communication channels, and perform other complex operations in addition to framing a long-term policy for the security of military networks and preparing a CW doctrine. It is doubtful whether DCA will incorporate EW functions on lines of PLA’s INEW strategy. This may be due to lack of synergy (and focus?) between Army Training Command (ARTRAC) responsible for formulating doctrines, and other agencies like Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with DG DIA directly under Ministry of Defence (MoD), Defence Information Assurance and Research Agency (DIARA) under HQ IDS, Corps of Signals and National Technical Reconnaissance Organisation (NTRO), with DCA added now.

Indian Army’s quest for acquiring network centric warfare (NCW) capabilities too have been killed because of multiple reasons: inability of hierarchy to understand technology and long-term plans sacrificed with changes in senior hierarchy; DRDO causing inordinate delay due inadequate capability causing time delays and high costs, and; poor defence budget allocations forcing closure of projects disregarding operational disadvantage when fighting NCW-capable enemy. Military Survey developing the GIS was moved out from Directorate General of Information System (DGIS). Battlefield Management System (BMS) was shut despite two prototypes ready because of poor overall defence budget allocations. The CIDSS too has been closed, which was the nerve centre of Army’s Tac C3I programme. BMS was one of the Operational Information System (OIS) of Army’s Tactical Command, Control, Communications and Information (Tac C3I), which was to be the mainstay of NCW capability of the Army. The Command Information Decision Support System (CIDSS) which was to integrate all the OIS including BMS, Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS), Air Defence Control & Reporting System (ADC&RS) and the Artillery Command Control and Communication System (ACCCS), as well as the ‘Samyukta’ EW System and military intelligence systems. To-date only the ACCCS has been fielded in the Army and ADC&RS is partially functional. The officer strength of DGIS has been cut down by more than half under the plan to reduce the Army’s manpower by 100,000 to 150,000 in absence of a national security strategy. Army’s Tac C3I appears dead, and so does its pursuit for NCW capabilities.