Defeating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) with active countermeasures involves two distinct approaches: attacking the Radio Frequency (RF) detonation signals and mitigating the explosion with an energetic response. Both are very demanding technologies.
Disrupting the RF detonation signal without harming friendly and neutral communications presents a challenge as does the energetic response which requires extremely rapid and precise kinetic effects. According to Thales, which offers a portfolio of Counter-IED (CIED) technology for convoy projection and dismounted use, lessons learned from recent deployments, such as the US-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, stress the need for equipment that can be upgraded easily to keep pace with continuously-evolving threats, that preserve friendly communications and that are smaller, lighter and more energy efficient than legacy systems to enable integration into all types of vehicles.
Many of the latest RF jammers now combine active and reactive modes to improve both power efficiency and operational security. As Elbit explains, active systems spread RF jamming energy across their coverage frequency band without regard to threat activity, making them less effective on any individual frequency and increasing the electro-magnetic signature that might enable hostile forces to detect them more easily. Purely reactive jammers, in contrast, only jam when they have detected a signal that they recognise as a threat, which requires an up-to-date threat database and very rapid reactions. The risk is that they may not react to a signal they do not recognise as a threat. Therefore, a carefully selected and configurable combination of active and reactive operation is increasingly seen as the way to go.
Under the auspices of the French Direction Générale de l’Armement (General Armament Directorate) defence procurement and technology agency’s BARAGE C-IED programme, Thales’ new Eclipse jammer has successfully completed qualification testing, the company announced on 16 May. This qualification clears the way for entry into service with the French Armed Forces, with deliveries commencing and concluding this year. Thales says that the Eclipse is a compact device designed to be integrated with light armoured vehicles of all kinds. Designed to improve protection against Remote-Controlled (RC) IEDs, the Eclipse covers a wide range of frequencies used by potential RF detonator threats without interfering with friendly radio communications, specifically operating between 20 megahertz (MHz) and 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) as standard, with an optional extension up to six gigahertz. Thales specialists told AMR that Eclipse is the smallest smart, vehicle-mounted solution available offering full band coverage and high power while preserving the vehicle’s radio communications. With four independent channels it produces 50 Watts of jamming power per channel and makes use of active, reactive and hybrid countermeasures techniques, says the company, needing just two antennae where comparable systems might use four, with this reduced number of antennae easing integration onto a wide range of vehicles. “The hardware and software architecture of Eclipse is scalable and modular allowing easy upgrade with new inhibition capabilities or technology insertion,” the company told AMR. “The Personal Computer-based mission preparation unit is simple to use in order to allow it to be easily configured for its mission.”
The Eclipse uses Software Defined Radio (SDR) technology and with a modular open architecture, this enables it to accept new jamming waveforms to extend its functionality and to provide protection from new threats as they emerge. An embedded integrity check function gives operators information on the system’s health and operational readiness. Thales points out that Eclipse jammers are currently in service with the armed forces of several other undisclosed nations, including NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) members and other allies, and are set to equip a number of vehicle types to be used by the French Army including the force’s forthcoming Renault/Nexter/Thales Griffon and Jaguar armoured vehicles expected to enter service towards the end of this decade.
Eclipse’s handheld and wearable counterpart is the Storm-H which can generate more than one watt of jamming power and can operate for more than four hours continuously on a single battery charge. The Storm-H system provides wide continuous coverage of the Very High Frequency (30 to 300MHz) band, and the upper and lower GSM (Global System for Mobile) communications bands. GSM frequency bands, mandated by the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations organisation which supervises the radio spectrum, typically cover an Ultra High Frequency range of 300MHz to three gigahertz. Civilian cellphones use GSM bands, and such devices have been used as RF detonators for IEDs. The frequency coverage provided by the Storm-H also includes those used by Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) systems, in laymen’s terms, civilian cordless telephones, wi-fi networks typically using frequencies of 2.4GHz to five gigahertz, and the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands. ISM bands are used for non-telecommunications applications such as medical diathermy machines. The wideband Storm-H covers the 20MHz to 470MHz band; meanwhile the Storm-H (2G/DECT) inhibits second generation mobile and cordless phones being used as RF detonators, while Storm 3G covers third generation mobile phones. There is no specific mention made by Thales of the capacity to jam fourth-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellphone standards, but these are not technologically distinct from 3G as they use the same GSM frequency spread; they just defined improvements to its data rates. In terms of frequency bands, the Storm-H version covers short-range, low-power RF devices operating in 200-470MHz, the Storm-H 2G/DETC covering DETC and second-generation cellphones with the Storm-3G covering third-generation cellphones. All Storm-H family members can be handheld or worn. The company added that it sees “counter RCIED electronic protection vehicle-mounted solutions evolving to cope with a wider range of threats such as direct fire weapons or mini-UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles through the integration of new technologies for) gunshot detection, spectrum sensing or direct energy weapons, to ultimately become a land platform self-protection suite with enhanced electronic protection and attack.”
With its ‘smart’ Multi-Role Jammer (MRJ), Airbus is developing a system that can take on the RCIED threat in addition to more general tactical communications jamming roles and even counter-UAV missions, potentially replacing several separate pieces of equipment. Revealed one year ago, the system is under contract with an unnamed customer and is being integrated to this end in its VPJ-R6 vehicle protection jammer variant, in a package compact enough for installation on a civilian four-wheel drive. In this form, the MRJ was at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Eight in late 2015 according to Airbus specialists who responded to the author’s questions. TRL levels are used by the United States Department of Defence to measure technological maturity. TRL-8 means that the system’s development is complete and it has been qualified. Large-scale shelter-based and compact airborne variants are also in the pipeline. At heart, the MRJ is an SDR. This means the system is able to grow in capability as new jamming waveforms are developed as software applications. For example, the ability for MRJs to communicate between themselves to coordinate their responses to threats is already in preparation, Airbus specialists told AMR, with the next step being communication between the jammers and other sophisticated SDRs. This may enable the jammers to communicate between themselves and with SDRs to show threat information on a vehicle battle management system. According to sources at Airbus, this capability is likely to be available in perhaps three to five years. “However, the dynamics of threat and countermeasure are particularly speedy in this area, so armed forces and industry need to be particularly agile,” the sources said.
The MRJ is considered a smart reactive jammer, with reaction times to threat signals of significantly less than a millisecond and the ability to focus its jamming energy on the specific threat frequency rather than spreading it over a broader frequency range. A key enabler here is its spectrum sensing, where the equipment can listen for threats and also for friendly users of the spectrum, which puts it on the road that leads towards the artificially intelligent realm of cognitive radio. “A full-blown cognitive jammer would be able to autonomously adapt to any threat environment,” the company told AMR. A cognitive jammer would apply artificial intelligence techniques to detect, analyse and counter in real time threats that it had not encountered before. “Such a system is currently under development as an extension to our multirole jammers.” Asked when a truly cognitive system might be ready, a company said that it envisages such a capability in five to eight years.
Preventing jammers from interfering with friendly radio communications is an important task. At one end of the scale, simple fixed-frequency filters applied to broadband jammers leave a selected narrow frequency range unjammed. “The problem with those is that they are very bulky and they also only work on a fixed frequency band,” said Chris Reith, managing director of the Harris facility in Basingstoke, England in a recent interview. “So you are limiting your radio’s capabilities by only operating on a very narrow band. Also it opens the communications up to certain techniques that could be used to jam it, intercept it or geolocate it (as the radio’s frequency-hopping capabilities by nature cannot continue).” Harris has developed an alternative approach embodied in its Integrated Protection and Transmission System (IPROTXS) which, said Mr. Reith, allows the operator to use all the ECCM (Electronic Counter-Counter Measures) capabilities inherent in their radio while still using their jammer. The IPROTXS approach “works between the radio and the jammer to allow communications to go out in very small bits and pieces that are undetectable and do not impact the jammer.”
With an IPROTXS module connected to the jammer and a smaller IPROTXS Lite module connected to each radio comprising the friendly radio network, the system enables the jammer and the radios to talk to each other to negotiate slots in which the radios can operate freely through the jamming. Dismounted soldiers, for example, would have IPROTXS Lite module, which are about the size of a cigarette packet, connected to their radios. A vehicle IPROTXS installation is about the same size as the vehicle’s radio and would typically fit above it in the radio rack. With four different settings it allows the operator to run multiple radios including VHF, UHF and both civilian and military TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) communications. “You can set (IPROTXS) up to run across all four of those setting, so you would switch between them and allow your radios to operate in those environments (where jamming is being performed).” The jamming systems IRPOTXS would work with include Exelis’ own EGON active/reactive CIED jammer that draws on the firm’s proven MMBJ-2.1 CIED system. It is unknown if this latter system is in service.
L-3 TRL Technology’s director of business development and strategy Mark Minall argues that it is not always possible to provide direct links between jammers and radios. He told the author that operators need to understand the frequencies they need to communicate on and those used by adversaries that are targets for electronic attack or defensive jamming for force protection. This requires pre-planned communications arbitration. “When you look at your battle plan for communications … ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) and electronic warfare … have to be a consideration right at the beginning of the communications planning,” he said. “If you don’t get that right you are in trouble.”
The company’s family of Broadshield jammers can take on both CIED and electronic attack role, the latter being directed against tactical radios, and are designed with communications arbitration in mind. They are also designed to pack in more capability while minimising their size, weight and power consumption in both vehicle-mounted and man-pack variants. The Broadshield Modular Countermeasures Suite (MCS) man-pack, for example, can operate in either active or reactive modes in both low band (20-520 MHz) and high band (420MHz to six gigahertz) ranges and can be quickly reprogrammed in the field to optimise its jamming capability, target frequencies and operating parameters, says the company.
The Broadshield Lightweight Countermeasures Suite (LCS) provides a subset of the Broadshield MCS capabilities over the same frequency ranges in the form of a more compact active jammer weighing less than two kilograms (4.4 pounds), excluding battery and antennae. For vehicles that need a lot of RF jamming power but with limited space, the company offers the Broadshield High-power Compact System (HCS), another active/reactive jammer that can be configured into a stack of up to three interoperable units, according to the company, each providing 50 Watts of reactive or active jamming and an additional ten watts of active capability. Each module can be re-roled for dismounted use, adding flexibility to the overall solution. All the Broadshield family use common laptop-based programming. “(The company) has recognised that its force protection expertise and its electronic attack expertise hitherto have been on separate Broadshield ranges,” said Mark Minall: “We have now brought both of those together into one platform with a firmware change.”
Looking towards Israel, Elbit is well known for its Electronic Jammers Against Bombs (EJAB) family, which is available in vehicle-mounted, portable and man-pack forms. Elbit launched the new Miniature Reactive Jammer (MRJ) family in 2013 and this June announced its intention to highlight the man-pack variant at the Eurosatory Exhibition in Paris the same month. This active/reactive system has been developed for the kinds of missions usually given to special forces or other types of penetration forces, says the company, and features a set frequency range that covers low-band, cellular and high-band threats and enables multiple jammers to operate simultaneously without mutual interference. In service with Israeli forces, the MRJ man-pack will operate for 3.5 hours on a single battery charge, the company states.
Recognising that so single sensor or countermeasure can defeat all types of IED and mine threat, IAI Elta offers the ELI-3375 Counter-IED and Counter Mine Suite (CIMS), whose mission management system integrates multiple sensors grouped into above-surface and below-ground subsystems to detect surface and underground IEDs. The Above-surface Detection System (ADS) includes the Surface IED Detection Radar (SIDER), the GigaPix Optical Detection System (GPODS) and the infrared IED investigator with overlapping coverage to detect threats in front or to the sides of the vehicle. Underground threats are addressed by the Mine and IED Detection System (MIDS), which combines a metal detector and a Ground Penetrating Radar. The company shows the ADS mounted on the roof of a four-wheel drive vehicle, with the MIDS carried low to the ground on a frame in front of it, although the company emphasises that it can also be deployed on unmanned ground vehicles. The CIMS is being marketed to the Indian armed forces and is to be evaluated by the US Army, the service’s Contracting Command announced on 13 April.
Once detected, IEDs can be neutralised remotely with weapons such as Rafael’s Thor, which adds a two kilowatt laser to a Mini-Samson Remote Control Weapon System (RCWS) already armed with a heavy machine gun. Using optics to acquire or re-acquire the suspected IED, the laser can then burn off camouflage material to confirm operator’s suspicions and then destroy the explosive charge through deflagration (rapid, non-explosive burning) or low-order detonation. Alternatively, Thor can also neutralise the device by cutting the command wire or detonating cord. Needing no downtime for cooling or recharging, the water-cooled laser can be fired continuously, says the company. The gun can also be used as a disruptor as well as to defend the vehicle carrying the Thor.
Together, using smart and, in the future cognitive, jammers and kinetic sensor-controlled weapons to neutralise IEDs, such capabilities promise to provide greater survivability for vehicles than ever before. IED attack is unlikely to disappear from the battlefield, but protective technologies are here to stay.