U.S. military surveillance drones operating in Syria are having their signals jammed by the Russian military, seriously affecting U.S. military operations, according to American officials.
The Russians began jamming some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago, the officials said, after a series of suspected 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.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., reacted to the news of Russian scrambling Tuesday by saying “Russia wants to undermine our interests at every turn.”
“It is insane to think that Russia is anything but an adversary,” said Sasse.
Jamming, which means 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, an expert on the spoofing and jamming of GPS, warns this could have a significant impact on U.S. drones, causing them to malfunction or even crash. “At the very least it could cause some serious confusion” for the drone operator on the ground if the drone reports an incorrect position or is lost, he said.
U.S. analysts first caught the Russian military jamming drones in eastern Ukraine four years ago, after the invasion of Crimea, according to Humphreys. He said the jammers were initially detected as faint signals from space, bouncing off the earth’s surface. The jammers “had a pretty significant impact” on the United Nations surveillance drones that were attempting to monitor the area, grounding the fleet for days and halting intelligence gathering from the air.
The U.S. won’t comment as to if the jamming has caused any drones to crash. However, the jamming appears to affect only the smaller reconnaissance drones and not the larger, armed MQ-1B Predator or Reaper drones.
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