Between foreign military influences, civil war, and the presence of Islamic extremism, Syria has become a quagmire of conflict in recent years. Now, with a litany of domestic and international military assets in play, Syria appears to have become a test bed of sorts for new military technologies — particularly for the Russian military, who has provided kinetic support to Bashar al Assad’s regime since the onset of the civil war that aims to unseat him. Everything from Russia’s answer to the Tomahawk (the Kalibr) to their alleged 5th generation fighter (the Su-57) has seen some time in Syria, and according to the commander of SOCOM, it has also become a hotbed for new kinds of electronic warfare.
“Right now in Syria we are operating in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet from our adversaries,” General Raymond Thomas, the commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), told an audience of intelligence professionals at the GEOINT Symposium on Tuesday. GEOINT, in this case, is short for the United States Geospatial Intelligence.
“They are testing us everyday, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera,” he added.
The general did not specify the culprits believed responsible for disabling America’s EC-130s over Syria, nor did he elaborate on what “disabling” truly meant. However, context offers some clues. Reports released earlier this month show that Russian electronic warfare equipment has successfully been able to “jam” some of the smaller reconnaissance drones in use by U.S. advisors in Syria. There have been no confirmed reports of these drones actually be downed by this jamming equipment, but defense officials did characterize the jamming as having an “operational impact” on military operations in the region.
At the time, it was reported that the electronic warfare systems that were impacting reconnaissance drones had thus far had no effect on larger, armed drones utilized in air strikes.
Now, with SOCOM’s commander insinuating that even EC-130s have been affected, it seems possible that Russia’s electronic warfare apparatus is gaining competency against American assets.
The EC-130 is a variant of the tried and true Hercules C-130 aircraft – converted to house command and control assets as well as communications systems. These aircraft can serve as communication hubs for assets in the region, helping to coordinate fire and manage drone activity. If Russian equipment can successfully interfere with the functions of these aircraft, that can have a broad affect on all military assets in the region as a result.
There has been some question since General Thomas first spoke as to whether or not the SOCOM commander meant to say jamming had affected SOCOM’s AC-130, which presumably has sophisticated electronic warfare equipment on board because of the regions of the world SOCOM tends to operate in, but would mean different details in the way electronic warfare equipment could detrimentally affect operations.
If true, Syria isn’t the only place Russia has flexed their electronic warfare muscles. In last year’s large scale Zapad exercises conducted near NATO’s Eastern flank, local residents reported communications outrages throughout the region — which many attributed to the masses Russian forces in Kaliningrad and nearby Belarus. Similar reports have poured out of Ukraine, particularly following Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“We’re learning an awful lot from the environment in Ukraine, both the capabilities we’ve seen the Russians display in Crimea — electronic warfare capability at a tactical level that we absolutely don’t have,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general for U.S. Army Europe said in 2016.
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons