GEW at EWSA 2019 – connecting science and industry

GEW brings academia and industry together to develop and optimise EW as a specialised field in South Africa

GEW at EWSA 2019 – connecting science and industry

As a prominent player in the industry, GEW is closely involved with academia and industry, bringing these scientific and operational spheres together to develop and optimise electronic warfare (EW) as a specialised field in South Africa. GEW kicked off its activities at the 2019 Electronic Warfare South Africa (EWSA 2019) International Conference and Exhibition with an electronic warfare workshop. GEW is the EW business unit of HENSOLDT South Africa and specialises in premium signals intelligence solutions to detect and protect in contemporary defence and civil environments.

Dr Naudé Scribante, senior executive of EW systems at GEW, opened the proceedings and mentioned that the workshop was only the beginning of HENSOLDT South Africa’s continuous drive to invest in the industry, especially in South Africa. Dr Scribante used the opportunity to announce that GEW is launching an Electronic Warfare Training Academy in 2020. “We are introducing this academy to assist end-users in South Africa and across the world with EW training,” says Dr Scribante. The coursework will focus on signals intelligence (SIGNIT), communications intelligence (COMINT), and electronic intelligence (ELINT), teaching students the fundamentals of mission planning, signal analysis, data decoding and general EW principles. Advanced courses with specific focus-areas will also be offered.

The University of Pretoria’s Professor Warren du Plessis aptly started the discussion by taking the audience back to the beginning of EW and reflecting on the lessons we can learn from history. Quite literally referring to reflection, Dr Du Plessis told the story of how Greek soldiers set enemy ships alight in 220 BC by reflecting sunlight onto their vessels using glass. This was the first recorded event in history where the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum was used for warfare. Taking a quick journey through the evolution of EW, Dr Du Plessis paused along the way to illustrate how EW contributed to success and failure on the battlefield, taking lessons along the way. “Your current technology is the best you have now, but you can never think you’re there and done,” said Dr Du Plessis. Technology can only remain on the edge for a limited time and continuous improvement is necessary to stay ahead. Another lesson exemplified during the Vietnam War and also in Operation Desert Storm, is that “technology and doctrine should not be separated. No matter how advanced the technology, the methodology of its application determines its effectiveness as a solution”.

From using glass to reflect light, EW has come a long way to where we are now harnessing the mechanics of our planet to utilise the EM spectrum. GEW’s in-house authority on antenna design, Dr Hannes Coetzee, spoke about “what antennas do when nobody is looking” – shedding light on signal propagation and the role of the ionosphere HF communications technology, specifically EW. The ionosphere plays an integral part in spectrum operations, as it is utilised to propagate transmitted radio waves by reflecting or refracting signals back toward earth, especially to transmit beyond the horizon. The ionosphere is, however, a very dynamic medium and sophisticated technologies are required to effectively use this resource. In his talk, Dr Coetzee explored these technologies, such as propagation-prediction and analyses tools.

Following on the topic of effective transmission, Dr Cornell van Niekerk addressed the topic of controlling and reacting to these transmitted signals. Electronic attack, or ‘jamming’ as it is commonly referred to, is a crucial capability on the battlefield, as it controls an adversary’s ability to communicate and make use of the EM spectrum. After performing a witty social experiment with the audience to illustrate some complex concepts, Dr Van Niekerk explored the different hardware platforms and the requirements that different missions place on jamming technology. Van Niekerk delved into the various operational jamming scenarios, from classical communications jamming, to self-protection jamming against radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (RCIEDs) and radio network attacks. Focusing on one of the more notorious threats on the modern battlefield, RCIEDs, Dr Van Niekerk elaborated on this modern asymmetric warfare threat and the technologies used to protect civilians, troops and assets against them. “GEW has some of the most advanced jammers on the market,” says Dr Van Niekerk. “The automatic hopper-follower capability in our high-end communications jammers is a unique capability that few can match”. Likewise, GEW’s flagship mobile RCIED jammer, the GMJ9, optimises size, weight and power to offer a high-end communications jammer on a vehicle platform, providing new capabilities to end-users. To close off, Dr Van Niekerk shared some thoughts on where things might be going in the future. “The EW environment is heading towards tighter integration between electronic attack and COMINT systems to provide clients with near-seamless integration of these systems on small platforms such as armoured vehicles. This is the holy grail of communications EW.”

Also focusing on countering threats on the battlefield, Klasie Olivier, radar ESM manager at GEW, ended the day off with an overview of EW against radar for ground-based applications. Locating and controlling the capabilities of radar threats have become a key priority for battle commanders. “You want to know what type of emitters are in your area of operation and feel confident that you can deal with the competencies thereof,” says Olivier. As a key market need, GEW is integrating ELINT and radar jamming with communications EW support and attack techniques to offer a comprehensive battlefield picture and tactical advantage.

Exploring the historical relevance and various disciplines of electronic warfare, the workshop served as an excellent sample of the training academy to be launched next year. Heading up the setup of the training academy, Dr Scribante said that “we are proud to bring the experts in our field together to develop our industry and bring science and its application in the field closer together”. After kicking-off the well-anticipated EWSA 2019 conference on a high note, HENSOLDT South Africa anticipates a successful event and looks forward to hosting the attending industry experts, clients and associates.

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