“Any U.S. military surge in Iraq will be far more than a troop increase,” Aviation Week says, in a fascinating new article. “A key element in the deployment will be an accelerated effort to bring more and newer technologies to bear on the foe, in part by targeting insurgent commanders, often through their communication networks.”
A third squadron of Prowler electronic attack planes is being equipped with a new, Northrop system “designed to identify and locate enemy emitters and jam signals that can be used to remotely detonate explosive devices. The U.S. Air Force’s EC-130 Compass Call electronic attack aircraft are [also] being used in Iraq to detonate explosive devices along convoy routes.”
But perhaps the most intriguing family of systems being “readied for operations” is BAE Systems’ Suter network exploitation programs, designed to “break into enemy networks to hear communications, see what enemy sensors are seeing and, in some circumstances, become the systems manager with the ability to manipulate enemy sensors.”
“Suter finds the doors that have to be opened,” an Air Force official tells Aviation Week.
L-3 Communications’ Network-Centric Collaborative Targeting tool is considered Suter’s “eyes and ears.” With the system, three planes can pick up, within seconds, “the location (within a few hundred feet) and identity of enemy emitters — radios, low-power cell phones and satellite phones, as well as other devices used for command and control and detonation of explosives… Plans are to have UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] or manned aircraft nearby that can deliver weapons or guide ground teams to the emitter’s location within minutes.”
A series of Suter programs explored the ability to pipe data streams — embedded with specialized algorithms — into enemy communications networks without being detected. The portals into the network are found by precisely locating antennas (as aiming points for the data streams) whether they are part of an air defense system or a hand-held communications device linked to others in an ad hoc tactical network for a small insurgent team.
However, there’s the possibility that [the new gear] could interfere with [existing] U.S. [military] technology. Baghdad, where the force buildup is expected, is electronically polluted. For example, one smart system that jammed improvised explosive devices locked onto another smart system because of a lack of coordination between electronic warfare systems operated by different services and agencies. Jammers also can conflict with surveillance and communication systems… The problem is so pervasive that antennas have been put on 110-ft.-high poles to get them out of the worst interference.