The commander of US Special Operations complained during a recent speech in Florida that electronic weapons are “disabling” US aircraft flying in Syrian airspace.
“Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive [electronic warfare] environment on the planet from our adversaries,” General Raymond Thomas said during a speaking engagement at the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation on Tuesday.
“They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etc.” the general said, referring to the US Air Force’s Compass Call electronic attack aircraft, Breaking Defense reported. Some reporters attending the event heard the general say AC-130. These gunships also used in US special ops and have at least one electronic warfare officer on their flight crew lists, according to a US Air Force fact sheet.
It’s not clear who exactly Thomas meant when he said “enemies,” but Russia is known to have developed advanced EW capabilities, according to EW specialist Lauri Buckhout, a retired US Army colonel. “The Russians have redone and reengineered their entire EW fleet in the last 20 years… The Russians put in millions on upgrades after Georgia,” the veteran told Breaking Defense, in reference to the 2008 conflict in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, which Georgia claims as part of its territory but whose self-determination Russia supports.
“They’ve ended up with killer capabilities, jamming in a multitude of frequencies for hundreds of kilometers,” Buckhout said, clarifying that there are other vulnerabilities in US systems that Russian electronic weapons could target, too.
Instead of jamming an EC-130 in a head-to-head fashion, there are easier ways to degrade US capabilities, according to Buckhout. The specialist explained, “The problem the EC-130s have is that, while they are jamming, the crews aren’t doing much else… they could have gone after the [position, navigation and timing equipment] or the comms.”
Russian forces “know all of our vulnerabilities,” the retired US colonel added.
Strategic analysts in the United States observe that one of the most remarkable aspects of Russia’s EW capability is how widely integrated it is across domains. “We can’t just strip out the EW capability and look at it separately (from) cyber, SIGINT (signals intelligence), air defense,” Roger McDermott, a fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said at an event in February.
“It’s found throughout every arm of service, every branch of service, it’s almost impossible to avoid EW capability, which very much contrasts with western militaries,” he said.
“Russia has integrated electronic warfare and offensive and defense electromagnetic spectrum capabilities into its operations and strategies, in a way not seen from NATO forces in Europe,” USNI News quoted McDermott as saying January 30.