Electronic Weapons: Silok Gets It Done

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December 24, 2018: Russia has revealed details of the performance of its new Silok UAV jammers in Syria, and elsewhere. Recent Islamic terrorist use of multiple small, explosives equipped UAVs to attack the Russian controlled Hmeimim (or “Khmeimim”) airbase in Syria was described as a failure because Russian air defense systems shot down or forced down over fifty of the small UAVs that approached the base in several attacks. Those forced down were because of Silok, which did not show up until early 2018. Silok was based on several earlier UAV jamming systems. Silok is apparently optimized to detect, locate and, when possible, jam control signals being received by the UAV and data being transmitted back to the operator.

The Hmeimim airbase was built by Russia in 2015 near the port city of Latakia, which is 85 kilometers north of Tartus and 50 kilometers from the Turkish border. Russia brought in Pantsir-S1, Tor-M2U and S-400 air-defense systems to protect it from attack. Islamic terrorists based near the Turkish border obtained commercial fixed-wing UAVs and equipped them with explosives for attacks on Russian bases. One early attack was partially successful and damaged several aircraft on the ground. This prompted Russia to deploy its ELINT (electronic intelligence) collecting and EW (Electronic Warfare) jammers to defend these bases and to find out where the UAV controllers. These were hit with artillery and airstrikes once the UAVs were detected and dealt with. This also encouraged the Russians to speed development of new jammers, particularly those effective against UAVs. The Russian airbase in Syria would not be the only target Islamic terrorists go after and here was a chance to market a “combat proven” UAV jammer.

Much has been learned, or at least made public, about Russian jamming equipment in the last few years. Many of the Russian jamming systems were seen deployed in Russia (especially Moscow) for the World Cup games in early 2018. As more became known about the capabilities of Russian EW gear for jamming UAV communications it seemed to explain how Iran had forced an American RQ-170 UAV in 2011. Some of the earlier Russian jammers were in Iran at that time, apparently for testing and the downing of the RQ-170 made it clear to the Russians that they were moving in the right direction. The Russian involvement in the 2011 incident was kept quiet but that became less of a secret after 2014 when Russian again deployed its ELINT and jammers in Ukraine and then Syria.

One of the many reasons NATO believes the Russians are actively involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) is the presence of Russian electronic warfare equipment. Not just Cold War era stuff (which Ukraine inherited some of when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991) but equipment NATO knows was developed in the 1990s or later. This Russian gear has greatly aided the rebels, who have neither captured any advanced Ukrainian electronic warfare equipment or possess the number of electronic warfare experts needed to operate the equipment needed to explain the amount of jamming and eavesdropping the rebels are being supported with. Thus the rebels can jam or eavesdrop on all manner of Ukrainian communications (cell phones, military communications and control equipment for UAVs and anything else operated remotely) and jam those communications as well. The Russian gear also jammed the older model Raven UAVs the United States gave the Ukrainians. The U.S. then sent the latest (digital with anti-jamming capability) Ravens and these did somewhat better.

Ukraine has asked NATO for electronic warfare support and there was initially no publicity about the result. That was because some NATO nations wanted to respond, but quietly, mainly for the opportunity to get a better understanding of the latest Russian electronic warfare gear under combat conditions. That was important because Russia exports a lot of this equipment. The Russians don’t mind making their electronic warfare tech more vulnerable to theft because Russian manufacturers need the money to stay in business. NATO simply wanted to know more about the latest Russian gear, just in case. That knowledge was soon put to work in Ukraine, Syria and other areas where Russia was using its ELINT and jamming gear. Most of these systems are truck mounted, with some pulling small trailers behind them containing some of the emitters that operated best if a located some distance (under a hundred meters) from the truck containing the control center, some of the receivers and the generator. Russia has been quick to upgrade this equipment and it has been noted that since Silok showed up there have been no more Islamic terrorists UAV attacks, or at least none that got close enough to be noticed.

While the Americans, Ukrainians and Israelis have learned a lot about the post-Cold War Russian equipment, and developed methods and equipment to deal with it, Russia has gained a lot of useful publicity on the real-world effectiveness of this equipment and many new customers for the export models (which lack some features Russia would prefer to keep secret as long as it can).

The exposure to Russian jammers under combat conditions has enabled the U.S. and Israel to improve the “jamming resistance” of their military UAVs, guided weapons and other gear dependent on GPS. There have always been ways to cope with such jamming but those countermeasures are much more effective if can observe the threat in action. In addition to jamming resistance, American drones are being supplied with more capable autonomous flight software that is also immune from jamming.

 


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