U.S. Marines with S-2 intelligence prepare their equipment before launching a Backpackable … [+] Electronic Attack Module (BEAM) at an expanded range aboard the USS New Orleans (LPD 18) in the Coral Sea, July 25, 2021.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Daisha R. Ramirez
Electronic warfare has long been an exercise in combating adversaries with powerful equipment. In Gaza, thwarting tiny, low power drones and countermeasures will be key.
While terrorist organizations like Hamas have historically been regarded as uninterested in and incapable of prosecuting electronic warfare (EW), their inclinations and capabilities have changed markedly in the last eight years or so.
The rise of EW capabilities within non-state actor groups is a consequence both of patronage by rogue states and the diffusion of modern technology says Emily Harding, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) intelligence, national security, and technology program.
“Sadly, Iran has had lots of practice with jamming and counter-jamming facing off against U.S. troops in Iraq. Their proxy networks there are constantly on the hunt for U.S. forces which have quite effectively employed jamming techniques to avoid things like [remotely-triggered] IED explosions,” she notes.
That kind of experience can and has spread, Harding asserts.
“I would assess that [Iran] has shared that kind of expertise with Hamas and with Hezbollah.”
Sharing could include not only lessons in the employment of EW techniques but in the transfer of EW equipment to Hamas. Thus far, Harding notes, there has been no reporting of Iran-supplied EW devices making their way into Hamas’ hands. But Iran may not just supply EW equipment. It may have simply funded it.
Harding points out that it is easier than ever to get access to the sort of equipment needed to undertake GPS jamming or other forms of jamming.
“The democratization of technology is one of the features of current warfare. As we’ve seen in Ukraine, you can pull stuff off the shelf and do some really amazing things.”
I recently noted the possibility that Hamas could use sophisticated EW equipment supplied from Iran or others to degrade Israeli ISR and drone capabilities at low or ground level in Gaza. Alternately it could use commercially available jammers to achieve the same effect.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have a mix of low- and high-end EW capabilities, a reality Hamas is aware of and has likely studied for years. Recent reporting shows that the terrorist group tried and succeeded in exploiting gaps in IDF ISR and EW capability in its opening attacks on Israel.
“They can kind of anticipate each other’s moves,” Harding says of Hamas and Israel. “I would not be surprised if Hamas is working to preempt some of what they know Israel’s [EW] tactics and technology will be.”
Among the technologies available are portable electronic attack modules. CACI International’s CACI Mono Backpackable Electronic Attack Module (M-BEAM) is a good example. M-BEAM literally fits into a backpack and can be used by dismounted soldiers or affixed to drones.
CACI describes its BEAM 3.0 as a man-packable advanced electronic attack system that is “ideal for countering complex small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) and other targets in a coordinated fashion.”
An illustration of CACI’s networked Mono Backpackable Electronic Attack Module (M-BEAM) which can be … [+] used in land, airborne and marine environments to jam and spoof adversary drones and other systems.
The system can detect, identify, locate, and attack drones and associated communication devices. According to CACI, the backpack-carried system surveys the environment to enable deployed units to counter adversary sUAS, range extenders, cellular communications, digital or analog push-to-talk radios, data links, WiFi, Mode-S/ADS-B, Bluetooth, and digital or analog video signals.
In late 2021, U.S. Marines experimented with the system, affixing it to Puma drones and launching it from the USS New Orleans. The Corps noted that a basically trained rifleman could be taught to use the system in the course of an afternoon, a feature that could translate to small IDF soldier formations which are and will be moving around Gaza.
Israel has developed its own portable electronic attack modules and has sold systems like the MCTECH ECH MC-4/8 RA Man-Pack reactive jamming system as far back as 2018. Development of such small modules has moved on apace since then and Israeli forces will look to take advantage of it in the confines of Gaza City.
Hamas may have its own versions of these types of modules, effectively setting up a micro-electronic warfare duel of a sort not seen before. Emily Harding says it may have elements different but similar to the EW fight seen for almost two years in Ukraine.
“I’m looking to see how the Ukrainian approach to sometimes literally duct-taping new technology to old technology translates [to Hamas].”
Israeli firm MCTECH has developed its own MC-4/8-RA2 backpack EW system.
Hamas may well have watched the Ukrainian conflict closely and drawn lessons in how to improvise primitive and sophisticated EW exploits. Israel has likewise studied the Ukraine experience but may look to mix its EW approach by integrating M-BEAM-like systems with more powerful ground based electronic attack and countermeasures systems like its Scorpius-G, which can sit outside the Gaza Strip but affect the electromagnetic environment within.
Outside the classified realm which one quickly bumps up against when talking EW, it is difficult to tell how Hamas and the IDF are attempting to control the spectrum and tools it enables both sides to use. But both sides may be motivated in ways not previously seen, Harding observes.
“Everything about this conflict has a micro element. The Israelis are going to have to move street by street, block by block, tunnel by tunnel. When they try to do big, disruptive things there are just too many civilians, the potential for hostages being in the way.”
“They’ll be fighting at a very tactical, micro level. I can definitely see small jammers being of use to Hamas to prevent Israel from even targeting or communicating in an apartment block.”