Improvised threats continue to provide challenges to the British Armed Forces and our Coalition partners and undoubtedly will continue to influence developing doctrine and policy in the era of information dominance and multifunctional CEMA operations, says Dave Ruddock, Chief Technology Officer at EWS.
In this thought provoking article, he discusses emerging technologies and the importance of threat horizon scanning to shape and inform what the next generation of RF spectrum dependent systems must deal with, with a particular focus on new technologies such as the Internet of Things, 5G telecommunications and WiFi.
The commercial availability of Radio Frequency (RF) sensors, emitters, networks, and systems is growing exponentially and with that, the potential for perpetrators to use them in Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (RCIED). Not all of these are suited to the task for disparate reasons but from a perpetrator’s perspective, the fundamental requirements have not changed; a good operating range, low probability of being detected, repeatability in terms of consistency of build and performance, and ease-of-use for the bomb layer and triggerman.
“Small changes in terrorist threat technology can have short-term tactical catastrophic effect and change requirements for longer term Information Dominance projects.”
The transfer of technology between organisations such as Al Qaida (AQ) and Islamic State (IS); the technological advantages brought about by the sponsorship or influence of state actors; and the lightning speed with which the threat can evolve from nothing to complex, as was seen recently in Hong Kong and the Philippines, should give us cause for concern. There is also an acceptance that state actors and near-peer adversaries provide new challenges for multi domain EW systems. Small changes in terrorist threat technology can have short-term tactical catastrophic effect and change requirements for longer term Information Dominance projects.
Technological Challenges and Opportunities
There are early signs that some of the underlying Internet of Things (IoT) technologies – LoRa for example – have already worked their way into the terrorists’ arsenal. The convergence of new IoT, WiFi and 5G technologies is going to leave an RF landscape and technology mix that leaves our adversaries with a bewildering choice of sensors, transmitters, receivers, and networks. They will have access to open-source tools to develop and evolve the threat in subtle, but potentially challenging ways for military stakeholders involved in the counter–improvised threat fight.
At the same time, this convergence is going to challenge the people and systems that are designed and in place to defeat this threat. The ever-increasing use of RF spectrum in terms of bandwidth requirements, the continual trend of moving up the spectrum to satisfy increased connectivity requirements into the mmW and THz bands, and escalating use of more complex modulation and access schema means that the existing techniques for defeating threats and exploiting the spectrum will no longer be sustainable.
“The escalating use of more complex modulation and access schema means that the existing techniques for defeating RCIED threats and exploiting the spectrum will no longer be sustainable.”
An indication of the potential challenges and opportunities that this new landscape presents includes:
- increased complexity of modulation and access technologies;
- exponential growth of the number of commercial and state-sponsored emitters and sensors;
- significant increase in the bandwidths that need to covered by Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) assets;
- the move towards the mmW and THz frequency bands with complex modulation and access schema, and;
- low power, intermittent and short duration transmission making them inherently hard to detect, locate, classify, and exploit.
This list of course does not include the challenges of SDR, cognitive radio systems, ML and AI add to mix.
The transition of ECM systems from being burdensome, constraining and spectrally damaging behemoths to the mission enablers that they now are, and the potential information dominance advantage that our future systems offer, has been hard won.
This must not be allowed to regress, and this means developing people, systems and RCIED defeat techniques that are cognizant of and can utilize Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive technologies. The use of these techniques will enable a clinical methodology concerning RCIED mitigation and provide our war fighters and first responders with the situational understanding that changes adversity into advantage. But it is vital that they take time to research, understand, mitigate and develop countermeasures against the Improvised Threat.
Change in Tack
The Improvised Threat has evolved and transformed with every development of new technology, and taken many forms, and there is little to suggest that this will not be the same in the future. The next generation of CEMA technologies must be adaptable and responsive to the dynamic developments in the potential threat landscape and be able to exploit it to our situational awareness advantage.
Our future efforts in this domain need to be further to the left of “left of boom” than ever before and be flexible enough to be intelligence led, to enhance not impede the burgeoning CEMA battle, and most importantly be proactive.
Future countermeasures and threat mitigation requires continual monitoring of current global improvised threat data for subtle changes and must be accompanied by a rigorous, structured, and informed program of technology horizon scanning.
About the author
Dave Ruddock is the Chief Technology Office at EWS Ltd. He has over 40 years’ SME experience in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), RF exploitation, training and Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) in support of Explosive Ordnance Disposal and High Risk Search operations gained in the British Army.
In addition to 16 years working at the forefront of tactical and strategic SIGINT and RF exploitation, Dave has seven years of operational experience as a chief ECM advisor to British EOD teams and nine years in industry with responsibility for all aspects of ECM; development of doctrine and operating procedures; equipment procurement; training; deployment; threat evaluation and exploitation; and the provision of specialist technical advice to senior military and law enforcement commanders, force protection teams and high risk search agencies.