Unmanned aerial vehicles could be used to jam enemy air defence systems in future conflicts, following flight tests held in Germany.
European aerospace specialist EADS has revealed it has flown a UAV to test the use of such drones in tackling enemy electronic systems. The vehicles would be fitted with the technology to detect, intercept and jam the various electronic signals found on the battlefield.
Electronic warfare is a new role for robotic aircraft which have previously only undertaken photographic surveillance and reconnaissance missions. In the past such electronic warfare missions have been carried out by manned aircraft.
Speaking at a technology conference held by the firm defence electronics arm in Ulm, Germany, Dr Colin Hamilton, EADS’ chief engineer of sensors and electronic warfare, said the military is interested in the technology, and work is continuing to develop this role.
UAVs capable of carrying out electronic warfare missions are seen as a more cost-effective solution for future battlefields in the developing world where air defence threats such as ground-to-air missiles are few, but present. These threats could include rebel fighters with portable ground-to-air anti-aircraft missile systems, or the larger air defence batteries more often used by governments.
In a country such as Iraq, with little in the way of air defence technologies, a UAV could be assigned to a position where there is a known threat and incapacitate it rather than using expensive manned bombers.
‘We have carried out internal studies and made one device that has flown. We decided it would be a good [military] asset and have had a positive response from the military. You can use UAVs for supporting jamming. We put a jammer on to a UAV and you can dedicate one [UAV] jammer to one threat,’ he said.
Hamilton would not disclose what type of UAV had carried the electronic warfare payload or any more specific details of when or where it flew. In theory a UAV would fly close to its target air defence station and interfere with its signals. The drone could then loiter in the area and maintain its attack until a manned bomber arrived.
Electronic warfare is defined as the capability to deceive, disrupt and destroy the surveillance, command and control systems and weapons of an enemy’s air defence network. It involves jamming and deception, and can use lasers or radio frequency beams. Electronic protection technology is also used for protecting personnel and facilities from friendly or enemy electronic warfare.
The UAVs can also supply electronic support in which they search for, intercept and identify enemy electromagnetic energy. This can include communications signals as well as radar and other air defence signals.
Recent conflicts have seen UAVs take on more prominent offensive roles. The aircraft have operated in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where their primary role has been to detect enemy troop movements.
However, in the war in Afghanistan in 2001 the US military’s Predator UAV carried Hellfire missiles for the first time and this type of armed UAV is said to have killed suspected al-Qaeda operatives in the Yemen in November 2002.
The success of drone technology is leading to ever more sophisticated UAV operations. In the US work is underway on an unmanned combat aerial vehicle which would have a fighter-bomber capability. There are also European plans to develop such a vehicle.