Russians operating in Syria have now figured out how to jam drones used in the war-torn country by the United States. At least four US officials have said that this new development has seriously affected US military operations in Syria.
According to NBC News, the Russian military began jamming some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago, the officials said, after a series of alleged chemical weapons attacks on civilians in rebel-held eastern Ghouta. The Russian military was concerned the U.S. military would retaliate for the attacks and began jamming the GPS systems of drones operating in the area, the officials explained.
And so far, it looks as if the United States does, indeed, intend to respond to the alleged chemical attacks. “Russia wants to undermine our interests at every turn. It is insane to think that Russia is anything but an adversary,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska.
Jamming, which is the blocking or scrambling a drone’s reception of a signal from a GPS satellite, can be uncomplicated, according to Dr. Todd Humphreys, the director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. “GPS receivers in most drones can be fairly easily jammed,” he said. Humphreys warns that the Russians jamming of US drones could cause the machines to malfunction or even crash.
Dr. Humphreys says that even though the attacks occur in cyberspace, the results are still serious. “They are a little less hostile looking than a kinetic bullet but sometimes the effect can be just as damaging,” he said. “It’s like shooting at them with radio waves instead of bullets.”
The officials said the equipment being used was developed by the Russian military and is very sophisticated, proving effective even against some encrypted signals and anti-jamming receivers. The drones impacted so far are smaller surveillance aircraft, as opposed to the larger Predators and Reapers that often operate in combat environments and can be armed.
One US official has admitted that the jamming is having an impact on US operations in Syria.
Not surprisingly, the Defense Department will not say whether the jamming is causing drones to crash, citing operational security. “The U.S. military maintains sufficient countermeasures and protections to ensure the safety of our manned and unmanned aircraft, our forces and the missions they support,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.
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