Tag Archives: GPS Jamming

See How USAF Aggressors Jam Civilian GPS Signals in Training at Nellis Air Force Base

GPS Jamming is a New Story from Red Flag 18-1, But We Videotaped It at Nellis Last Year.

Despite the Jan. 27, 2018 accident with a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the massive tactical air training exercise Red Flag 18-1 continues from Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The training exercise extends throughout the sprawling 7,700 square mile Nellis Military Operating Area (MOA) ranges.

Aviation authority and journalist Tyler Rogoway broke the story of the U.S. Air Force jamming GPS signals on a large scale for training purposes during Red Flag 18-1 in an article for The War Zone last week. But earlier in 2017 we went inside Nellis AFB to get a firsthand demonstration of how easy and how quickly the U.S. Air Force can jam GPS signals for training purposes.

In our demonstration, members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS) at Nellis AFB showed us how they can use off-the-shelf equipment to conduct tactical short-range jamming of the GPS signal on a local level. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron was at Nellis AFB for the 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo. Our reporters got a firsthand look at GPS jamming on media day. In only a few seconds members of the 527th SAS used off-the-shelf equipment available to the public to jam local GPS reception. As you can see in the video, the signal bars on our test receiver, a typical consumer GPS, disappeared entirely as thought GPS simply didn’t exist anymore.

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron’s mission is not active combat jamming of GPS, but to provide these and other electronic warfare capabilities for training purposes in exercises like Red Flag 18-1. The unit is based at Schriever AFB in Colorado but is attached to the 57th Wing at Nellis. According to the U.S. Air Force, the 57th Wing, “is the most diverse wing in the Air Force and provides advanced, realistic and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space and cyberspace.”

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron personnel showed enthusiasm for their mission and reminded us that cyber and electronic warfare is the most dynamic and fastest growing battlespace in modern combat.

The unique insignia worn by members of the elite 527th Space Aggressor Squadron. Notice one version worn by the unit is in Russian. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

In an operational environment jamming GPS signals represents both a threat and an important capability. In addition to serving an important purpose in navigation on land, sea and in the air GPS also provides targeting capability for precision weapons along with many other tactical and strategic purposes.

For instance, among the various theories surrouding the capture of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone by Iran in 2011, one mentioned a GPS hack. This is what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Eventually there is an explanation for the mysterious capture of the U.S. stealth drone by Iran. In an exclusive interview to the Christian Science Monitor, an  Iranian engineer (on condition of anonymity) working to reverse engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel hacked while it was flying over the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from the Afghan border, says they were able to exploit a known vulnerability of the GPS.

In simple words, in a scenario that I had more or less described in my last post which described also the known threats to the drone’s Position, Navigation and Guidance system, the Iranain electronic warfare specialist disrupted the satellite link of the American robot and then reconfigured the drone’s GPS setting the coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the Sentinel thought it was its home base in Afghanistan.

They jammed the SATCOM link and then forced the drone into autopilot reconfiguring the waypoint of the lost-link procedure to make it land where they wanted.

Such techniques were tuned by studying previously downed smaller drone, like the 4 U.S. and 3 Israeli that could be exhibited in Iran in the next future.

Although we don’t know what really happened to the Sentinel drone during its clandestine mission (in the above article our own Cenciotti was skeptical about the version mentioned by the anonymous Iranian engineer), it’s pretty obvious that dominating the GPS “domain” is crucial to win. That’s why during Red Flag 18-1 the widespread jamming of GPS for training purposes enables warfighters to operate in an environment where electronic and cyber-attacks may disable GPS capability. This compels the players to develop new tactics for fighting “GPS blind” and to revisit existing capabilities perfected in the era prior to widespread use of GPS in a warfighting role.

The 527th SAS displayed press clippings about GPS jamming incidents around the world at Nellis AFB. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

Link 16 on board the Italian Tornado F.3?

I’ve just finished reading a couple of interesting articles published on the latest issue of Rivista Aeronautica (06/08). They deal with the Trial Imperial Hammer 2008 (TIH 08), a complex exercise that was held in Decimomannu last September and whose aim was to improve the Time Sensitive Targeting and Dynamic Retasking capabilities during counter-terrorism operations. The TIH 08 proposed an asymmetric warfare scenario with UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operations, GPS Jamming missions, SIGINT/ESM sorties, Improvised Electronic Device activities. Some specialized assets attended the exercise: G.222VS of the 14° Stormo, B.707 of the Spanish Air Force, French C-160G Gabriel and Mirage F1CR, a C-130 Senior Scout of the Delaware ANG, a C-160 of the Turkish Air Force, a Br.1150 of the German Navy, Luftwaffe Tornado ECR and IDS, two EH-101 in ESM configuration, and Italian Tornado ECR and IDS. AMX, HH-3F and AB.212ICO of the Aeronautica Militare (ItAF) attended the CSAR missions. Supporting the exercise also a NATO E-3 AWACS and an E-3F of the French Air Force. All the information gathered by the various assets were collected by the JFFC (Joint Forces Fusion Center) that acted as a sensor fusion unit. The JFFC was a sort of “middleware” that received and distributed all the information received from the various assets linked by means of the Tactical Data Link (TDL): Link 16, Link 11 and IDM (Improved Data Modem). Noteworthy, the Link 16 data link was implemented also on the Italian Tornado IDS and ECR – this latter equipped also with an MSR (Multi-Ship Ranging) a Link 16-based capability for integrating and fusing information coming from different ELS (Emitter Locator System) in order to geolocalize electromagnetic threats discovered by different platforms. In a typical net-centric architecture, during the TIH 08, the Italian Tornados sent the information gathered by their MSR to the JFFC that could update the picture by delivering the information via Link 16/Link 11/IDM to all the other assets involved in the exercise and to the AWACS. The same information could be sent to a Tornado IDS that could be used to attack a target detected by a Tornado ECR. That said is it clear that the Link 16 – which required the installation of a MIDS/LVT (Multifunctional Information Distribution System / Low Volume Terminal) on the Tornados – is extremely important to establish a flexible, authenticated, encrypted e communication channel between different platforms for information exchange. Considering that the first Tornado ECR with MIDS and MSR was taken on charge by the Reparto Sperimentale on Jul 17, I didn’t remember that the Link 16 capability was not achieved by the ItAF for the first time by the Tornado fleet, in 2008, until Riccardo Vestuto, an F-104 and aviation expert, requested me some Tornado F.3 cockpit pictures. After I sent him those images I shot during my visit to Gioia del Colle in 2004 for an article that was published by Rivista Aeronautica he made me notice that in WSO (Weapon System Officer) cockpit there’s a third CRT above the standard two ones, that is not present on all the examples leased from the Royal Air Force and could have been installed after the delivery (that took place on Jul 5, 1995) as a retrofit.
Since some RAF Tornado F.3 are JTIDS/Link 16 capable it is possible that the third CRT on my pictures was the JTIDS (Joint Tactical Information Display System) or MIDS terminal installed only on a few examples in service with the 12° Gruppo of the 36° Stormo based in Gioia del Colle (that is the last Squadron to have been equipped with the ADV variant of the Tornado). When in 2004 I interviewed Maj. Luca Spuntoni, Cdr of the 12° Gruppo (to read the article in Italian click here: Il 36° Stormo), he explained that the Tornado F.3 was the first aircraft to introduce the JTIDS in Italy but I don’t know if the panel in the pictures is the one used by the WSO to manage the system in the ADV. If anybody has more information, please let me know.