Electronic Warfare- grunt style

Almost as soon as electronics entered warfare, Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) began to appear. For instance, in the Battle of Port Arthur, wireless radio communications lead to jamming.

One of the most dangerous threats facing American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. The vast amounts of explosives available in these countries, such as artillery ammunition, or ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with fuel oil, has led to some very creative mines and similar devices used to attack our troops.

Early on, most IEDs were triggered via either a pressure plate or command detonated by wire.  US troops quickly learned to spot most of these.* The enemy quickly learned to use a variety of radio frequency remote detonators, ranging from simple devices like the key fob used to unlock your car door, to garage door opener, to cell phones and other systems.

The Army quickly moved to counter these radio frequency (RF) remote detonators. Unfortunately, a quick reaction capability** meant the first generation of jammers were broad band devices designed to simply overwhelm any enemy signal. That had the knock on effect of often overpowering friendly use of the RF spectrum. As the Army and Marines began to grasp that RF controlled devices would almost certainly be a part of any future battlefield, they also began to work with industry to determine exactly what they want in ECM to counter the threat, field devices that could be used at every tactical echelon, require minimum training, space, weight and power, and best defeat the enemy without interfering with our own use of the RF spectrum. It should be noted, back in my day in the 80s and 90s, electronic warfare assets were held by the Military Intelligence battalion organic to each division. Teams might be attached to brigades or lower echelons, but there simply was no organic EW or ECM equipment in the maneuver battalions or their vehicles.

Today, virtually every echelon has their own equipment, be it large to defend an installation, vehicle mounted to protect a column of vehicles, or even manpack jammers to defend dismounted patrols.

Let’s take a look at some of the ECM gear in use today, and discuss some issues with them.

First, some terminology. The Army loves acronyms, and in recent years has even taken to embedding acronyms within acronyms. The series of jammers in use today are collectively referred to as CREW, or Counter Radio-Controlled-Improvised-Explosive-Device (RCIED) Electronic Warfare.

ECM systems might be used to protect entire Forward Operating bases. FOBs are popular targets for Vehicle Borne IED (such as a truck bomb) and while most VBIEDs aren’t radio command detonated, it never hurts to cover that contingency). These semi-fixed installations are beyond the scope our discussion today.

That leaves vehicle mounted and manpack CREW systems. Not every vehicle will mount a CREW system. The range of the system is sufficient that one jammer can cover a fairly good number of vehicles.  Secondly, not every vehicle has the power and space to mount one. Further, the costs imposed on adding CREW to certain vehicles, such as M1 tanks, is prohibitive, considering their relative invulnerability to most IEDs already.  Having said that, Humvee and MRAP units are commonly well equipped with CREW devices. Probably the most common one in use is the DUKE, or ULQ-35.

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Note that DUKE isn’t continuously transmitting, but rather spends its time listening for possible enemy signals, and then automatically jams them, often times with very sophisticated waveforms and techniques. DUKE is a wideband system, and covers virtually the entire tactically significant RF spectrum.

But roadside bombs aren’t the only threat our troops face. Particularly in Afghanistan, dismounted patrols move through areas were RCIEDs are common. Those patrols need protection as well. The standard manpack IED jammer is the Thor III.

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You’ll notice there’s not one, but three manpacks in a Thor III system. Three packs are needed to cover the high, medium, and low bands. Unfortunately, that greatly increases the load of mission equipment a dismounted platoon has to carry.


You’ll also note that the size of the pack means that each troop carrying one has no room to carry his own personal equipment such as food, water, and extra clothing. That means their load has to be spread about the rest of the platoon, further exacerbating the load carrying problem.

The Joint IED Defeat Organization, the DoD’s counter IED office, solicited proposals for a pack that would allow a troop to carry both loads, but cancelled the contract

Given the burden the system imposes on a platoon, one wonders if any commanders have conducted an operational risk assessment and occasionally decided to leave one or two of the packs behind and cover only the most likely threat band.

As this lengthy but interesting article from 2013 notes, currently Army and Marine Corps small unit electronic warfare is focused on force protection, but that is beginning to change:

The program office for electronic warfare is fielding an array of precision jammers, including some that target the triggers for radio-controlled improvised explosive devices and act as sensors to pinpoint the trigger man’s location. These new devices also extend to squads on foot and forward operating bases the protective bubble for wheeled vehicles.

“This is a significant shift from defense — protect your convoy, let’s just get through the day — to go on the offensive for enemy command and control,” said Mike Ryan, electronic warfare program manager at PEO IEW&S.

The next version of the CREW Duke for vehicles merges electronic warfare and cyberwarfare by conducting “protocol-based attacks,” said Ryan, “where you actually get into the system and displace ones and zeroes to break that communication chain between the trigger and the [radio-controlled] IED receiving those ones and zeroes.” This is part of a technology insertion over the next few years.

Basically, in addition to defeating the detonation of one IED, the technology will begin to defeat the enemy’s network. In addition to simply jamming enemy signals, distributed CREW systems will conduct ongoing Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) collection and Traffic Analysis collection. Each system will either record or retransmit its collection for analysis at higher headquarters, which can use this information to discern the enemy Order of Battle, chain of command, and potentially its capabilities and intentions. One suspects future systems will also be linked to an embedded GPS system capability to provide real time or near real time targeting capability.

We personally suspect that since future generations of tactical radios for friendly voice and data use will use software defined waveforms, they will also embed a jamming and EW/SIGINT capability, meaning that each friendly radio will also serve a CREW mission, thus reducing the number of devices needed at the tactical level, and reducing the physical and power burden on a given unit.


*Most. Not all. But a lot of training went into spotting possible IEDs and tell-tale signs of wires and pressure plates.

** Quick Reaction Capability or QRC means not that it acts quickly on the battlefield, but rather that the government was able to quickly contract with industry to field a capability to the forces. The solution is almost always imperfect, but it is at least there.

Soldiers learn pitfalls of bomb training – Fort Hood Herald: Across The Fort

Soldiers learn pitfalls of bomb training – Fort Hood Herald: Across The Fort.


3-8 Cav conducts IED training

Lt. Col. Esli Pitts, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, talks to soldiers of the battalion as they conduct a training exercise Wednesday, July 3, near battalion headquarters at Fort Hood.

While other units were jogging down Battalion Avenue in formation and singing cadences during morning physical training, “Warhorse” soldiers were in full battle gear as they prepared for confrontation with an opposing force.

Soldiers were tracking a potential bomb-making facility, and had to maneuver through enemy forces, while providing wide-area security, to find the facility and disarm the threat.

The idea behind the July 3 training scenario of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was to provide all the components of a full-scale operation with a physical training element thrown in, said Lt. Col. Esli T. Pitts, battalion commander.

“I’ve always found that you can do a lot of tactical training during PT. It’s a couple hours in the morning when everybody is dedicated to PT anyway, so it’s easy to just do tactical operations with PT,” he said.

Last week’s training incorporated the entire Warhorse battalion, as well explosive ordnance disposal soldiers from the 79th Ordnance Battalion and human intelligence collection teams.

“The entire battalion is out and it doesn’t get any better than that,” Pitts said.

Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize

We’ve talked before about the anti-IED project in Iraq and Afghanistan known as Task Force ODIN.  Via War News Updates, here’s an further look at how the military is trying to defeat the IED threat.

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, roughly half of all our casualties have been caused by IEDs, and the military has recognized that this is a threat that we well be facing long into the future. It has spent enormous sums of money trying to find technical means of detecting and defeating IEDs. High tech is something the US is good at, so we tend to like to take a high tech approach to most problems. That’s much of what the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has been trying to do.  But the problem with that is that IEDs are almost by definition somewhat low tech. And that means that the most effective counter is going to be somewhat low tech as well. The human eyeball is still the most dangerous sensor on the battlefield.

From the article at the Washington Times:

Of the 909 NATO military personnel killed in 2009 and this year, 540 died from IED attacks, according to the monitoring group icasualties.org.

Mr. Hunter became so frustrated by the lack of the task force’s counter-IED assets in Afghanistan that he wrote to Gen. Petraeus as he took command in July.

“Regrettably, unlike Iraq, our forces in Afghanistan seem to lack a clear and coherent counter-IED strategy to combat this threat,” Mr. Hunter wrote. “We firmly believe that the lessons learned from Task Force ODIN in Iraq can be replicated in Afghanistan, dramatically reducing the rate of casualties due to IEDs. … Simply put, Task Force ODIN currently in place in Afghanistan is not the Task Force ODIN that was extremely successful in Iraq.”

Iraq and Afghanistan are different theaters, and what works in one won’t always work in another. But there is simply no excuse to not even attempt to duplicate success.

Go read the whole thing.

And the New York Times had an embedded reporter covering this issue as well:


What’s an EFP?

Update: Welcome, Conservative Grapevine readers. I hope you will look around. If you have a question, just ask. My goal here is to  help you understand how the Army works.

You’ve seen on the news how Iranian made EFPs are being used as roadside bombs to attack US vehicles in Iraq. But what is an EFP?

Early IEDs in the Iraq War were mostly artillery shells wired to explode. The first Humvees in Iraq had thin armor that would not protect very well against nearby explosions. As up-armored Humvees became available, these early IEDs lost some of their effectiveness. The insurgents reacted in two ways. First, they used bigger IEDs, wiring together several artillery shells at once. The larger blast was more effective, but took longer to emplace and were easier to spot. The second technique, using EFPs, is more difficult to counter.

EFP stands for Explosively Formed Penetrator. Using the concept behind a shaped charge, a disc of metal on one end of a charge can be blasted in the direction of the target. The charge is usually a steel pipe, 6-8″ in diameter. When detonated, the concave disc is deformed by the explosion, and reformed into a slug. The explosion pushes this slug at phenomenal speeds- up to Mach 6.

One of the biggest advantages of EFPs is standoff. The damage to the target isn’t caused by the explosion, but rather by the slug it fires. This means that the EFP doesn’t need to be right next to the roadside to be effective. This means that US soldiers have to scan a much larger area to detect IEDs.

An EFP can usually penetrate as much armor as the diameter of the charge. That is, a charge 6″ in diameter should be able to penetrate 6″ of armor, more than enough to defeat the armor of any Humvee, and indeed, all but the most heavily armored tanks.

Clearly, the threat posed by EFPs is one of the reasons that the US is putting so much pressure on Iran to stop equipping insurgents. Other countermeasures have included focusing on raiding bombmakers.

Update and Bump:

Because the EFP fires a single slug, timing the explosion is critical. Too soon, the slug goes in front of the vehicle. Too late and it misses behind. To get around this, the insurgents are using a cheap passive infrared sensor, sorta like an electric eye. When a Humvee passes in front of the sensor, off goes the EFP and destroys the vehicle. Ahh, but it didn’t take long for the US to come up with a countermeasure. You can see in the photo below a “Rino” device, designed to trigger the EFP before the Humvee reaches the kill-zone. Normally, it would be lowered so it is in front of the Humvee.

An unsuccessful EFP attack can be seen here.