Abrams Tanks to Get Active Protection Systems

Can Army electronic warfare and cyberattacks stop enemy tanks?

U.S. Army weapons developers are working vigorously to give soldiers an ability to launch cyber and electronic warfare attacks, service developers said. 

In a recent simulated exercise at the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., enemy tanks were stopped by cyber attacks and electronic warfare.

The Army's Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and U.S. Cyber Command are among the entities developing the technology.

Army trainers successfully used cyber weapons and electronic warfare (EW) technology to thwart a simulated tank assault at a training exercise conducted at the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The exercise reinforced the need for the EW and cyber protection technology that is under development by entities such as

“These tanks had to stop, dismount, get out of their protection, reduce their mobility,” said Capt. George Puryear, an Irregular Operations Officer at Fort Irwin. As a result, they were easily defeated.

The cyber weapon used in the exercise specifically targeted the radio and wireless communication systems of the tankers. Cyber warfare can include both jamming of communication signals and hacker infiltration into networks, which they can then either disable or manipulate to relay false information to commanders from within their own networks. This capability was also demonstrated in the exercise at Fort Irwin, according to an Army official.

Another aspect of cyber warfare explored as part of the exercise was infiltration of civilian networks in order to subdue a population and invade territory.

For example, in one training exercise, a commander was tasked with occupying a simulated city and had “cyber activities going on inside the networks that exist within that city where they’ve been able to come in from a distance, exploit into those networks and then take over devices within that city,” said Brig. Gen. J.P. McGee.

“Importantly, we’ve got leaders thinking through how do we adjust our planning process to do what we need to do to make sure we deliver the effect in the right place of the battlefield, the decisive fight may well be in the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, Director of Operations at the Army RCO, at the 16th Annual AFCEA NOVA Army IT Day on June 1.

Exercises like this one help determine the technology and equipment necessary to achieve this effect in the field, explained McGee. The Army RCO plays a key role in developing this technology and making it accessible.

For example, the RCO initiated the development of new EW and cyber protection kits, which have been delivered to troops in Europe for testing. The kits are able to be mounted on vehicles or carried by the soldiers themselves, according to Doug Wiltsie, Director of the Army RCO.

According to the Army RCO, these kits contain sensors controlled by software that recognizes and analyzes electromagnetic signals. The package reportedly also has offensive EW capabilities that are more effective than the existing jammers used by anti-missile systems in aircraft.

 During heavy fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, EW technology-equipped aircraft helped suppress electromagnetic signaling from enemy ground fighters, according to the Air Force. However, in a larger war against a more technologically advanced enemy, those aircraft would be preoccupied with jamming the signals of their counterpart aircraft and the ground troops would be on their own. This is why the small size and portable nature of these cyber EW kits also has the potential to be very significant.

The final components of the kits will arrive in Europe in October, according to Wiltsie, and will be operationally tested during the Saber Guardian exercise in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Right now, the kit focuses on EW offensive and defensive technology, but it is part of a larger effort to obtain both EW and cyber protection capabilities, and GPS alternatives.

GPS alternatives being explored include DARPA’s Adaptable Navigation Systems (ANS) and Spatial, Temporal and Orientation Information in Contested Environments program, which is based on using extremely long-range signals, self-sufficient tactical clocks, and data sharing to overcome EW attacks. 

The ANS program uses cold-atom interferometry technology to pinpoint location and time without transmitting electromagnetic signals to and from satellites that are susceptible to enemy EW interference. The ANS sensor houses a cloud of atoms and software algorithms are able to measure the acceleration and rotation of this atom cloud to calculate position and time.

The ANS is also capable of exploiting commercial electromagnetic emissions from radios and TVs, as well as natural electromagnetic emissions from lightning strikes, according to a DARPA media release. Cold-atom interferometry data combined with data from these incidental emissions render the ANS a potentially more accurate and versatile measurement system, able to operate in GPS-denied environments.

As many as seven alternative systems for Precision, Navigation, and Timing are being considered, and work on the first PNT projects has begun and is scheduled for operational assessment in early 2018, Shoffner said at the AFCEA NOVA Army IT Day.

 Cyber offensive and defensive weapons continue to be tested and trained with at Fort Irwin and in Europe because, as Shoffner explained, “if we don’t win the cyber and EW fight, then the [next] maneuver may not matter, because we may not get to it.”


About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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