Electronic Warfare: the new generation of combat

As we enter the third year of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’re seeing an increased and inherent use of cyber and electromagnetic technology in the conflict. Reports suggest that Russia has deployed approximately one significant piece of electronic warfare equipment for every 10km of its 1,000km frontline, a substantial figure with the ability to vacuum up the electromagnetic spectrum and potentially direction-find and intercept signals of interest. In December 2023, the largest air attack on Ukraine was reported, comprised of missiles and an unprecedented number of drones.

The rise of electronic warfare

Electronic warfare (EW) is taking the forefront over more traditional methods, and as such, it is vital that nations and defence organisations adapt and invest in this area to protect their forces on the ground.

Ukraine has suffered monumental blows to its number of soldiers; more remote EW tactics on their side are proving both a necessity and a solution – albeit potentially short-term. Rather than relying on large numbers of ‘boots on the ground’, Ukraine is utilising drone technology to fight its adversary; now a fundamental part of a military order of battle. Their ongoing challenge is how to achieve low probability of detection (LPD) or avoid jamming of their drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The troop shortage Ukraine is facing is a global problem, with former top NATO commander Sir Richard Sherriff suggesting that if Russia broadened its target, the UK and US might need to consider conscription as a way to bolster its numbers.

Modern methods of combat

Over the past 20 years, much of the western world’s conflicts have been fought in the Middle East, with focus largely on large platforms – planes, weapons, and tanks – rather than technology and cyber avenues. Arguably, this has left the west at a disadvantage.

Coupled with the lowest numbers of military personnel in the past 200 years – with the UK having just under 75,000 soldiers – it’s important that EW is considered not only as the modern method of warfare, but also as a potential solution to dwindling troop numbers.

However, integrating drone attacks into modern warfare is proving challenging as the shortage of personnel is not just within military forces, but also a lack of ‘digital talent’. The recruitment of cyber personnel proves not only a budgetary problem, but also a resource one. Finding experienced tech specialists would likely mean looking at those outside of the military and into civilian industries.

The importance of EW capabilities

The rise of Electronic Warfare as a tactic is undisputed, and EW capabilities are crucial in preventing the destruction of unmanned systems. For example, utilising drones is effective, but not if they are not protected or operating under stealth.

Understanding an adversary’s EW tactics and then being able to outsmart them is critically important. With improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq, for example, western forces quickly obtained jammers to be fitted to military vehicles, jamming the mobile phone signals that would set off the IEDs as convoys were passing. It’s the techniques that tactical forces are using that need to fully understand. With EW, if you know the spectrum frequency of the opposition’s drone networks, you will be better equipped to defend yourself, and project force.

The rise of the V-band

IEEE 5G mmWave-based systems are emerging as the secure and stealthy solution to address tactical connectivity needs. They utilise distributed mesh networks rather than a centralised core network, meaning there is no single point of failure and no core infrastructure (e.g. mobile towers) required.

Importantly, mmWave technology exploits license-exempt, non-commercial spectrum frequency bands, such as the V-Band at 57-71 GHz, which is 14 GHz of continuous radio spectrum. As the unlicensed mmWave radio frequency band, the V-band has the unique capability of delivering Low Probability of Detection (LPD) by its very nature.

V-band is unique because it causes radio signals to resonate almost perfectly with oxygen molecules in the air – a phenomenon called oxygen absorption. The oxygen creates an incredible spike in attenuation that appears like a brick wall at a distance and creates a curtain of invisibility between a tactical team and its adversary. Within portions of the V-band, connectivity truly has an LPD quality.

New dimensions of tactical warfare

Wars are no longer fought and won just on the physical battleground with troop and weapon numbers indicating the strongest side. EW capabilities and stealthy communications networks are now just as important as platforms such as vehicle fleets, weapons, and aircraft.

With drones and unmanned systems synonymous with a new era of tactical warfare, it is crucial to implement LPD communications systems to support unmanned devices. Utilising V-band technology to avoid detection and interception could provide the advantage needed; impervious to a lot of tactics utilised by adversaries.