General reveals that US aircraft are being ‘disabled’ in Syria

Ben Brimelow — Business Insider April 26, 2018

  • The commander of US Special Operations Command said that Syria has become “the most aggressive electronic warfare environment on the planet from our adversaries.”
  • General Raymond Thomas stated that US communications are brought down and that aircraft, specifically the EC-130, have been disabled.
  • The revelations come after a report from NBC News showed that Russian military jamming is affecting smaller US drones operating in Syria.

General Raymond Thomas, the commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), revealed that Syria has become the frontline of electronic warfare and US planes are being disabled.

“Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries,” Thomas told a crowd of some 2,000 “intelligence professionals” at the GEOINT Symposium on Tuesday, according to Breaking Defense.

EC130

EC-130. Click to enlarge

“They are testing us every day, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera,” he added.

While Thomas did not say which country is responsible for the attacks, Russian jamming and electronic warfare capabilities in Syria have long been noticed. Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Russian jamming was affecting small US surveillance drones.

Those efforts were, according to NBC News, not affecting larger armed drones like the MQ-1 Predator or the MQ-9 Reaper. A Defense Department official told NBC News that the jamming was having an operational impact on operations in Syria.

It’s not clear what exactly Thomas meant by “disabling,” but Lori Moe Buckhout, a former Army colonel and expert on electronic warfare, told Breaking Defense that the attacks could possibly have targeted an EC-130’s Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) or communications.

That would force the pilots to use traditional methods of navigation like maps and line of sight, which could make flying the aircraft more difficult.

Iran, Russia’s ally in Syria, claimed that it hacked into a US RQ-170 Sentinel and forced it to land after it gained access to its GPS in 2011.

The EC-130 is designed for electronic warfare and is intended to disrupt enemy communications, radars, and command and control communications, as well as suppress air defenses.

Buckhout said that Russia invested heavily in electronic warfare capabilities after its five-day long war with Georgia in 200.

“The Russians put in millions on upgrades after Georgia. They’ve ended up with killer capabilities, jamming in a multitude of frequencies for hundreds of kilometers,” she said, adding that the Russians “know all of our vulnerabilities.”

He statements echo similar ones made by other military officials. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, then the commanding general for US Army Europe, said in 2016 that he has seen Russian “electronic warfare capability at a tactical level that we absolutely don’t have.”

Syria has proven to become, as STRATFOR notes, “the ultimate testing ground” for the Russian military.

“Moscow’s forces employed new sea- and air-launched land-attack cruise missiles, deployed new types of air defense systems and battlefield drones, and extensively relied on next-generation electronic warfare systems,” a report from the geopolitical intelligence platform said.

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