Small Wars Journal

Electronic Warfare for the Fourth Generation Practitioner

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 8:41am

Electronic Warfare for the Fourth Generation Practitioner

Marc J. O’Connor


This paper explores the application and effects of locally-produced electronic warfare systems in the environment of the Fourth Generation (4GW) ‘come-as-you-are’ war in the context of a non-state actor using such systems to produce military effects for mission support and strategic influence, in order develop and facilitate competition as a peer/near-peer competitor against a state or other incumbent actor.

4GW is variously described as a hybrid warfare and with this definition, a space where locally developed and expedient technologies fulfill vacancies created when non-state actors are denied, or cannot afford, access to conventionally developed, militarily useful technologies.  A military actor, state or non-state, will attempt identify exploitable vulnerabilities and develop a means to exploit these vulnerabilities. In the case of wireless communication, it can be observed that wireless links provide the unique capability, are vulnerable to EW and the exploitation of this vulnerability by EW should be expected. 

While there is reporting in various open-sources regarding the application of Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) EW systems being used to harass and create local effects for harassment activities, there is no discussion of EW as the next technological development achieved by non-state actors in their evolution towards peer and near-peer competition.  EW systems can be locally developed relatively inexpensively and may achieve or support military effects in a manner similar to those used by state actors.  While not as destructive, EW systems have the potential to be as equally disruptive as Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and present unique challenges in early detection and supply chain interdiction.

Discussions of 4GW and EW center around the state military and it’s EW capability against some undescribed opponent, but little, if any, has described an opponent’s development and application of EW against the state or for it’s own interests.

Insurgent EW provides:

  • Expanded presence and occupation in the electromagnetic territory.
  • A new offensive capability against a trending and critical technology, wireless communications.
  • A defense capability against wireless enabled systems, like UAV.
  • New Combat Support capability to current Small Unit Tactics.

The capability of a non-state actor to develop and employ EW systems should be considered when assessing the Technical Readiness Level of an insurgent.  The capability to successfully employ locally developed EW systems in a role similar to integrated fires and joint operations is a milestone in non-state actor operations.

Part of this threat rests within the well described and characterized positive feedback mechanism of technological advancement and the Internet. The Internet that provides rapid, easy to access, global communications and is also the incubator of communications technologies.

Since the emergence of wireless ethernet in late 1997 and the expansion of interconnected devices, the use of wireless had tripled and is now an expectation like other utilities but far more profitable.  Wireless is an expected feature of contemporary society and it is expected to work as intended everywhere.

Electronic Warfare is Available at the Local Level

Electronic warfare devices are easily available through local development.  Internet research into this subject will reveal a broad and detailed field of information that is highly accessible to an electronics technician and very adaptable into tactical and concealable form factors.  The communication of technical subjects from basic to advanced level, including media specifically crafted to educate various ability levels, the development of the technology itself and the various tools to develop products from these technologies---DevOps, HackerSpaces, open source project design and management tools---are all driven by non-insurgent market forces.  EW capability can be developed and procured from locally developed resources and vertically integrated into the insurgent fabric.

Any insurgent actor can now develop military technologies to take the gap and exploit opponents vulnerabilities that were previously the domain of the state actor.  The acquisition of strategic and operational capability, formerly reserved for the state actor, by the non-state actor is, perhaps, a defining point of 4GW and hybrid warfare.  EW is no different.

Low Risk, Non-Attributable, Scalable Production

All expedient EW components are dual use and some technology can be harvested from cannibalized consumer electronics.  There is little in the way ITAR-like regimes can affect the development and procurement of such systems, therefore supply-chain interference, as in the case of small arms and precursor chemicals, is unlikely to have effect.  The educational base for such systems follows basic fundamentals of electronics and radio which is available everywhere and every language.  Again, ITAR like regimes which proscribe the transmission of certain information will be unlikely to control the dissemination of EW topical knowledge and the means to produce such weapon systems.

Like IED’s in Iraq, groups with specialized knowledge and tools can be expected to develop within the insurgency fabric.  Unlike IED’s. there is little danger to self as in the case of Homemade Explosives (HME), removing a psychological risk element.  From a risk perspective, the CoE is much lower.


Figure 1. Block diagram of a noise-modulated jamming system.

Expedient EW systems lend themselves readily to modular design which provides an advantage in design, development, production and maintenance.  Only the RF blocks need design variation depending on frequency to be engaged and power to be delivered.  The entire procurement cycle for expedient EW can be scaled to regular, volume production.  EW is available in small form factors and require little external support, making expedient EW easily distributed. 


Electronic warfare is rooted in the cybernetic domain, given its effects target the machine-to-machine and man-to-machine interfaces.  Cybernetic refers to the study of the relationships between man and machine and the relationship of communications and control systems between humans and machines.  This relationship is predicated on human control of the machine which is accomplished through communications.

In such a relationship, social network or social mechanism, this communications link is the most vulnerable element to exploitation given it is the most exposed element to such influence.  It is impossible to physical protect a radio wave.  Deny, disrupt, degrade, deceive or destroy this communications link and the human/machine relationship is adversarial affected. 

The human is denied the benefit of the machine, say as a force multiplier or life support, and the machine may operate in a hazardous manner, or become unavailable.

In the former, the machine becomes a weapon, in the later there is an acute and profound loss of investment and capability.  Here we find that disrupting communications not only facilitates political end-states, but can also weaponize the endpoints or turn a resource on and off.


Electronic warfare (EW) systems selectively deny, degrade and disrupt adversary wireless communications links by raising the noise floor of the receiver, a process often termed ‘jamming’.  This is accomplished by broadcasting a noise-modulated radio frequency signal over a target frequency, or sweeping this noise modulated signal over range of target frequencies.  Other techniques are extant, but this is the fundamental this describes the fundamental technique. In most cases, EW is an activity that broadly affects all systems in that frequency range and distance. 

Another technique of EW, one familiar in wireless computer hacking, is Denial of Service (DoS) attacks using ping floods or deauthorization attacks, and are well known and described in various hacking literature. Both techniques exploit existing and well understood protocols to accomplish military effects.  These techniques require more granular intelligence regarding targeted systems and more setup time, in addition to some detailed knowledge of the attack methodology.  They are not “point and shoot.” These DoS techniques do produce surgically precise EW effects.

While hacking has dominated talk of cybersecurity, particularly systems intrusion, the risk of Denial of Service via EW has received less attention. 

The fact that an adversary can induce military effects on a target through EW may carry greater utility from a tactical or street level perspective and EW attacks may be a more suitable choice for mission success because of power output (range) and broad application across a spectrum of wireless technologies, where DoS requires more granular intelligence of target, may require closer proximity and cannot affect the spectrum of technologies that is possible with EW.  With EW, all systems may be taken down in the target frequency range.

Market Forces Create Vulnerabilities

Not only is wireless communication the technical default for military and consumer communications, it is the expected default: if communications is needed or expected, then it is expected to be wireless and this so ingrained in consumer behavior that wireless is assumed to work whenever it is needed with psychological distress, a condition of anxiety, being raised when wireless is unavailable.

As an example, being in cell phone range is a planning variable when traveling. People are very habituated to having help just a phone call away.  A majority of Internet of Things (IOT) devices are wirelessly connected to the cloud.  The directed failure of these devices in time of emergency may produce military effects when needed and they don’t work.  As IOT develops further purchase into the life of a user, then it will be exploited for intelligence value.  Wireless is the default communications link in IoT and cellular communications is an expected resource.

The market for wireless enabled devices is not going to abate and the consumer behavior and reliance on these devices will not diminish either, therefore a continuum of vulnerabilities and exploitable behaviors will maintain and increase, trending with the market.  Insurgents must be prepared to exploit these vulnerabilities as part of their strategy to develop the environment areas into independent areas. ‘The environment’ includes the electromagnetic terrain.

An important operational takeaway from this is that the insurgent must follow the technological trends in terms of vulnerability assessment and developing measures to affect that vulnerability.  The insurgent must parallel that trend with a counter-technology. 

The availability and reliance on wireless consumer communications has created a significant, exploitable opportunity for 4GW actors to deny, degrade, defeat, disrupt and deceive counter-insurgency forces and the use of expedient electronic warfare technologies by non-state actors to facilitate operations and prevent, delay and degrade detection of operational and tactical activities should be factored into COIN activities.   The use of wireless communications will favor the counter-insurgent unless the insurgent develops and incorporate Electronic Warfare into their planning and operations.  

Here, the insurgent can rapidly develop effective, near-peer technologic competition using locally manufactured EW systems.  EW is a means to control access and utilization of the electromagnetic spectrum.

EW provides the insurgent with additional capability to engage the target by another means---a non-kinetic means that can produce military effects.

Parallel to market forces is the expectation of availability and the psychological need that accompanies this expectation.  Consumers expect their cell phone to operate as intended, they expect communications wherever and whenever they want. 

Government has this same expectation where a drone, using wireless technology, is expected to provide intelligence.  In the case of airborne RISTA at tactical levels of war, many systems are autonomous vehicles and manned systems have been removed in favor of this newer, cost efficient and unmanned technology. 

It is likely that EW attacks on smart-home devices may not produce much in the way of operational benefit, but such attacks may see utility when employed as propaganda of the deed.  While off center-of-topic, as smart-home devices proliferate, their vulnerability is more to provide insurgents, particularly urban insurgents, new opportunities to collect highly granular intelligence for target development and as an adjunct to audience analysis in developing propaganda and popular support. Rural areas will likely have much less in the way of smart-home devices.

Another real market vulnerability that EW is especially suited for is denial of state revenue and weaponized toll collection from smart networked devices used in utilities metering and road tolls, such as EZ-PASS.

Road access systems can also be easily targeted providing not only denial of revenue but also congested Point of Entries as smart tags, like EZ-PASS are denied access to the communications fabric, inducing failure of traffic control systems. Obviously, bureaucratic issues arise when legitimate users are unwittingly denied access and fined for using such a revenue collection scheme without automated receipt of payment.  Bureaucratic issues such as this deny and degrade legitimacy and such attacks on a soft, impossible to defend target can benefit the insurgent greatly.

Trials exploring the feasibility of EW attacks on proximity card readers to deny and degrade access to buildings and resources, have not been forthcoming, but are worthy of exploration. A limiting feature is antenna size and power requirements.

Access control infrastructure such as this operates on a one or a few single frequencies and expendable jammers are cheaply and easily constructed, and such production can easily and inexpensively be developed for mass deployment. To make such disposable technologies, like EZPASS, jam-resistant would likely raise their cost beyond what the consumer is willing to pay and probably beyond the budgeted amount for such an automated system.  

Effects Multiplier Equals Force Multiplier

In urban terrains, especially post-modern cities, emergency services seek to contain and mitigate the effects of fire and crime.  Deny and degrade these emergency services through EW application, and some instances of emergency will amplify sua sponte, amplifying chaos and uncertainty into everyday urban life in addition to the property destroying effect.  Here, degrading and denying Command & Control communications amplifies weapon, physical, social and psychological effects and creates a rich pablum for influence activities.

Applying EW to the military effects sought by insurgents should be considered as a future definite.  Any urban effect will carry an emergency response and the use of EW will increase the ROI of these attacks, diminish operational risk, provide opportunities for propaganda and increase societal fear---all valuable end-states of any insurgency.  EW increases the ROI of attack by diminishing the ROI of counter-attack and mitigation.  EW optimizes the use of personal labor needed for certain operations. Consider the following situations:

  • How much more effective would the Viet-Cong have been if they had access to portable, battlefield jammers capable of affecting call for fire, air/ground coordination for Close Air Support coordination and medevac?  
  • Pick any domestic terroristic attack since the Oklahoma City Bombing. How does EW amplify the effects of these attacks?  A great deal is a good answer.  Examine any casualty producing effect and consider how much wireless coordination was necessary to manage the scene, control fire and evacuate casualties, how much of a role did wireless communications play in mitigating that effect?  What are the effects when wireless communications are abruptly disrupted or denied?

The use of insurgent EW can be a force multiplier to enhance attack ROI in that delayed notification of an attack can allow attack effects to multiply before mitigation by emergency services.

Wireless is Needed in Every Emergency Situation

The revolution in communications brought by the Internet and social media developed new lines of easy to acquire and easy to use communication.  Most newsworthy events feature some form of video or audio obtained from cellular handsets.  YouTube is filled with hand collected video that has been successfully used in criminal investigation and prosecution.  SMS and Twitter provide a means to rapidly communicate newsworthy events to a worldwide audience. Consider the following conditions:

  • Twitter is a popular platform for the public dissemination of information with 85% of users employing mobile devices.  It is employed to communicate news of emergency situations rapidly.
  • In the United States, 00% of 911 calls are made from cellular telephones.  Citizens alert security forces to some suspicious behavior or criminal act through 911, which in turn, ultimately relies upon cellular and LMR to notify security forces.  Disruption of cellular telephony could reasonably be expected to prevent early notification of insurgent activities, enhancing infiltration/exfiltration and disrupting/denying effective Opposition search techniques. Using LMR EW further complexifies the COIN response.
  • Emergency services rely upon wireless communications in the form of Land Mobile Radio (LMR) for tactical communications in order to coordinate services and inform emergency responders.  This includes all ground and air-based security forces, pre-hospital care, marine security and fire department communications.  An emergency event can be weaponized using EW, without the insurgent actually causing the event.
  • Intrusion detection systems rely, in many cases, on small transmitters to communicate sensor information to the main alarm panel then use cellular or other Radio Frequency device in order to communicate the alarm to the central monitoring center.   Wireless CCTV is in a wide spectrum of price, is frequently employed in security systems, however, it is not the majority. An analysis of rooftop antennas on banks and commercial structures reveals the wireless link to the alarm monitoring facility (in addition to the telco lines).
  • Since the Troubles in Ireland, technical surveillance has demonstrated importance in collecting fine-grained intelligence for COIN and has been a common feature in intelligence collection and wireless technical surveillance systems can be expected to play a role in future COIN for the same reasons that consumer systems are profitable: ease of use, quality of product and availability.
  • Wireless CCTV is frequently employed by security forces for covert investigations and overt area security, with the pole cameras being a common representative of this application.
  • Many public WiFi locations, such as Starbucks, use 4G modems to provide connectivity to the Internet.  EW degrades public notification of some event until actors are free of investigative scrutiny.
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVS, or ‘drones’) used by military, security forces and consumers, rely on RF connectivity for Command & Control and sensor data transmission (video).  These communications links are cellular, 802.1x, satellite and other RF.  All are vulnerable to EW.
  • The wireless spectrum is the primary means of connecting a communications device to the Internet.  Given the ease and consumer behavior, this trend is not going to diminish but only continue with most Internet communications being wireless, at least at the consumer (tactical) level.

The paramilitary of the future in a 4GW environment will not only have to detect and identify these technologies but also have the capability to conduct Electronic Warfare against an increasing wireless world.

Wireless is Economical and Convenient

Wireless is the economical and convenient method to achieve communications without the additional cost and labor burden of stringing cable between two points.  Because of this, wireless can quickly provision communications over a wide area, removing the cost of cable, which, ironically in previous decades, was seen as a vulnerability to be protected.

Expedient EW is also economical and convenient and establishes a one to many vulnerability, making it an attractive force multiplier with a low CoE. Attacks on cabled systems are a one to one vulnerability.

Much like the U.S. Interstate moved population further apart, wireless is able to conveniently provide greater distance between points.  Should wireless fail or be denied, this distance is too great to be economically reduced with fiber or copper cabling, therefore, the continues use of wireless creates a single point of vulnerability that cannot be easily replaced with less vulnerable cabling.  This stretching of a communications network creates multiple points of attack by increasing the attack surface.

Operational Considerations of Electronic Warfare

The use of WiFi and cellular EW before, during and after some activity, especially urban operations, can be expected to delay and degrade initial reporting of the act through 911, providing the actors additional time to escape.   Given the observable behavior of cell phone users, they most likely would not immediately realize the loss of connectivity, or immediately suspect EW and seek other explanations for the loss of communications. Regardless, EW will delay emergency service notification and provide time. 

Urban environments present a many-to-one threat of observation and reporting of some threat.  Use of EW in an urban environment balances and helps neutralize that threat in favor of the insurgent and mission accomplishment. Here EW is not only an effects multiplier, but also provides force protection. 

The use of Electronic Warfare should be considered for every future non-state actor.  The use of EW just before until just after the activity results in a delayed emergency response which multiplies the effects of the activity or optimizes those effects while contributing to the interfering with the non-detection/non-identification of personnel.  This is a 4GW case where effects are multiplied by one action.

Security forces operations are particularly vulnerable.  The use of cellular communications to access security databases, coordinate enforcement functions, receive reporting on patrol and summon assistance is an expectation and are critical parts security forces.

EW cellular and VHF communication deprives security forces of situational awareness, degrades Command and Control, disrupts coordination and facilitates non-detection and identification of paramilitary activity.

It might be ventured that sustained Electronic Warfare will cause security forces to reduce patrol radius closer to stations and routes with shorter response times and curtail remote/rural policing.  This accesses into insurgent Anti-Access/Area Denial end-states.  Here, the insurgent controls government communications, at least locally and causes a gain of territory in spectrum and physical space.

Electronic Warfare are effects based Tactics, Techniques and Procedures that  are largely useless without careful analysis of what political end-states the insurgent seeks to develop and what effects support this development.  Electronic operations support TTP’s that, in turn, produce political end-states.


Wireless is an integral element to many infrastructures.  Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems monitor infrastructure parameters, such as temperature, flow rate and system alarms---virtually any system parameter.  A natural gas pipeline employs SCADA networks to operate valves and monitor pipeline pressure and highly distributed systems, like natural gas and electrical transmission, require SCADA and telemetry in order to function. Denial and degradation of SCADA may send the infrastructure into a “fail safe” condition.  SCADA informs the OODA loop of the industrial process. 

Disruption of SCADA degrades delivery of the product or service which carries significant social disruption and potential political costs. Given that insurgency is primarily a political struggle, SCADA disruption is an attractive option for technologically sophisticated organizations.

Similarly, Air Traffic Control requires wireless communications between aircraft and controllers.  Interruptions in this communication can delay and degrade airport operations since they to enter a “fail safe” condition, suspending activity.  This effect would be particularly observable during a holiday season.

Observe the recent disruptive effects that drones had on domestic and UK APOD’s and consider that EW could achieve the same effect, or, that with careful frequency selection and spectrum coordination, insurgent EW and drone operations could be done in unison as a combined arms team.

Money is Made in Microseconds

The New York stock exchange does business in the million to billion dollar per minute rate and wireless telecommunications plays some part in that.  The communications tower located at Mahwah NJ, USA is an endpoint in some of these exchanges.   Disruption of the microwave or optical links, by RF/optical emitter (or miniature drone), would have a disruptive economic effect.  Regardless of the economic value, such a successful disruption accesses into the insurgent propaganda campaign. Mahwah is only a representative of a potential economic target susceptible to EW.

An examination of a photograph of the Wall Street trading floor will show the use of wireless tablets in the trading process, which is a critical economic activity.  A combination of cellular, wireless and strategic attacks on the previous described Mahwah Tower is an example of how a joint, integrated, EW attack on an economic, strategic target may be accomplished remotely and with considerable stand-off and very little money compared to the loss of revenue and value as propaganda.

In the case of currency markets in Mogadishu Somalia, traders there use cellular devices to trade currency among their peers and internationally. Literally here, this currency market has maintained the Somali shilling as a currency for twenty years. High volume markets require constant connectivity and disruptions in such connectivity produce expensive effects Aside from the disruptive effect for an insurgent’s political ends, analysis and a crafted electronic attack on the trading might provide an advantage for a currency trader, perhaps employed by an insurgent seeking to maximize revenue generation through currency speculation to better fund the insurgent campaign.

This is an example of how tactical operations by small groups can have strategic effects and economic consequences.  In a technologically advanced society, much advantage is provided to the guerilla employing technical means such as EW.

Psychological Effects

Psychologically, communications EW is likely to go unnoticed and be rationalized away as a carrier issue, service is expected to return very soon.  We might expect jammed handsets to create a condition of frustration rather than fear.   Civilians and many military are not accustomed to EW in the civilian environment.  When EW is first realized and this discovery propagates throughout the “crowd,” a significant state of fear may be realized which can be shaped to further the insurgents end-states.  This fear can be utilized to exacerbate a situation

Another psychological condition is the fragile and illusory feeling of safety people have with their cellphones.  Being able to instantly call for help via 911, geolocate oneself or talk with a family member or friend all contribute to a feeling of security, through a highly fragile, medium of communication. 

Disrupt or damage this medium in a time of emergency and feelings of danger will develop and magnify.  In a crowd, this could be a catastrophic chaos, especially if such chaos is planned for, shaped or otherwise exploited by the insurgent.   

It is rare that a cellular customer has a contingency communications plan for when cellular service is abruptly interrupted.  Most customers do not have the education, training or wherewithal to seek additional, contingency, communications.

EW in this case opens new attack surface to influence the population, much like an IED or machine-gun attack. Here EW against a populated area is the attack modality, and in turns, provides a new element to propaganda of the deed.

Electronic Warfare Preserves Personnel and Freedom of Action

Given the escape of personnel is a key part of operations planning, EW prevents or degrades the critical ‘first-notification’ of activity through emergency services and degrades search/cordon coordination, including the effectiveness of aerial surveillance.  Tracking teams pursuing insurgents will be markedly degraded without team communications. All of which facilitates exfiltration and escape of personnel from the Area of Operations.

A notable, recent example of this tactic is the use of a backpack type jammer used in farm attacks in South Africa.

This advantage is another reason why EW is likely to be part of the 4GW landscape in future.  As cities become more densely populated and wireless communications parallels this trend, EW will become very important to the future insurgent to create space.  EW is needed in the urban environment.

Anti-Access/Area Denial

Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) tactics allow insurgents to control a physical area by controlling access to that area. A2/AD is a critically important aspect of insurgency in order to create and maintain insurgent dominated autonomous areas that are an important step in building the parallel insurgent government and also to degrade and disrupt real estate and resources that is valuable to the insurgent’s adversary.  A2/D2 is a cornerstone of insurgency at the operational level of war and EW can be an important contributor to those operations.

A2/D2 is fundamental to denying and degrading COIN RISTA collection and thus degrading the COIN OODA loop. With this, the insurgent can better shape their environment without the environmental competition of the COIN forces.

The development of expedient Off-The-Shelf (OTS) Electronic Warfare technologies to support an A2/AD strategy will likely become a high priority activity for any insurgent It is expected that non-state actors will give priority to locally developed EW similar to the acquisition of other technologies, like mortars, rockets and secure tactical communications and access to global credit systems.  

An especially lucrative target of future insurgency is the development autonomous land vehicles that, not surprisingly, require constant wireless communication, such as GPS in order to navigate and provide location information for Just in Time inventory management.  Such vehicles are sought to replace long-haul trucking and will be highly susceptible to EW. 

Continuous disruptions in urban supply chains will have politically and economically useful application for insurgents while at the same time degrading the efficiencies that promoted autonomous vehicles in the first place: automation, increased production and greater centralization of control,  the focus of automation, may be highly vulnerable to EW.

Present military and domestic security advantage in UAV would be degraded if expedient EW systems see greater application.  While RISTA through UAV would be unlikely to cease altogether, UAV subject to EW attack would have to switch to less accurate inertial navigation systems (INS) which proscribe the task-on-demand advantage of command guided UAV and create higher liability to the kinetic application of UAV.  A UAV crashing through a residence is expensive in terms of liability (dollars), propaganda and materiel---here the insurgent receives triple benefit. 

Some Contemporary Usage

The Ukraine is actively fielding locally developed tactical EW systems as a countermeasure to Russian drones and the Russians are reportedly employing a wide variety of EW systems against Ukrainian forces, including denial of broadcast radio transmission and cellular communications denial

The Russian involvement in Ukraine is developing into a real laboratory for the observation of EW systems and their effects in a LIC and deserves observation. The tactical and operational effects are easily transposed into studies of other LIC’s and hybrid warfare.

Again, the use of a multi-band jammer in a South African farm attack against a boer, is a recent example and prognostic of future applications of EW technologies by non-state actors.

A Special Note Regarding Unmanned Systems

Unmanned Systems, such as drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and remote-controlled robots are a technological trend among security forces and the military, and larger municipalities, like New York City.  This trend is forecast to continue unabated for the foreseeable future.  Given that low-level RISTA is such an important part of COIN and the ROI of drones, the use of UAV in this for policing, COIN and security is foregone conclusion.

Drones present security forces with the opportunity to collect intelligence remotely and autonomously with less risk, which provides a force multiplier and enhanced intelligence capability in addition to stealth.  As cities continue to aggregate, drones will play an increasing role in security forces resources to maintain urban stability. 

Given the importance of UAV, it should be expected that EW systems to combat this threat will become increasingly apparent on the battlefield, especially when considering the requirement for A2/AD strategies and the need for counter-RISTA.

The present counter-drone marketplace has a number of technologies that have EW as central to the application, technologies that are adaptable to local production and are useful to counter-RISTA.

Operational Risk

No operation is without operational risk, that is, the risk of identification of the sponsors and participants.   Electronic Warfare is no exception, however, EW operations are at a much reduced operational risk for the following reasons:

  • Electronic Warfare is through an invisible medium, where the measures do not produce an immediately observable, relatable effect, unlike a firearm discharge. 
  • Electronic packages may be concealed in a variety of concealment devices and containers.
  • Electronic components can be sourced through a variety of untraceable channels and manufacturing is available to an individual at the local level---the entire production chain is ‘dual-use’ and open source, adding to its covertness.
  • Expedient EW systems can be actuated and controlled remotely or via timer giving sponsors adequate time for exfiltration or follow-on operations. In some instancs, the EW system can be made disposable or left behind.
  • Electronic packages themselves are not perceived as having harmful purpose, compared to a firearm displayed in public.  Electronics are usually innocuous.
  • Electronic Warfare can provide tactically useful stand-off from the Area of Effect to the system.
  • Unlike cyber-operations such as systems penetration, Electronic Warfare does not use an addressable or identifiable media, like a TCP/IP packet, further enhancing the anonymity of the sponsor and making identification difficult.  In fact, EW may be detected, but identification of the sponsor may prove impossible. 

NOTE: Any radio frequency emitter can be detected and it’s position located using a variety of techniques, none of which are commonly available to security forces, but could be a threat for sustained campaigns in some future. 

It might be expected that handheld RDF devices for EW geolocation will see an appearance on the battlefield and certainly, government entities like the American FCC or UK OFCOM will see there enforcement service supporting COIN efforts.

Give that Electronic Warfare may be more easily effected from covert and stand-off systems, can seriously degrade communications and sensors, and in general, can be applied with less risk of discovery, then Electronic Warfare is a high payoff activity.  It’s expediency and effects allows low CoE and a high RoI.


Electronic Warfare is a significant operations enhancer that equalizes or neutralizes the communications advantages the COIN security forces have over the insurgent.  When used in the offense, like any offensive measure, EW provides initiative. Given this force multiplication and the ease in which this capability may be acquired and integrated into rural insurgency and urban operations, the use of Electronic Warfare cannot be overlooked or overstated. 

Insurgent EW exposes new attack surfaces, such as economic trading links, and creates new attack options, such as EW as an effects enhancer and develops the electromagnetic terrain into a maneuver and propaganda space.  Insurgent EW challenges the state monopoly on this attack and defense modality while expanding into this territory as a near/near-peer competitor.

Militant organizations must develop and employ Electronic Warfare in order to compete with state actors advances and regular use of wireless technologies.  It must be made clear that Electronic Warfare or other cybernetic techniques are only to support other operations and are not, in themselves, the operation.  There is no substitute for the development of popular support or the other basics of insurgency.

Forecast and Conclusion

Wireless technologies will continue to proliferate in military, police and consumer spaces because of consumer demand resulting from total reliance on such technologies to provision unique capabilities, like UAV control, data, GPS and other wireless only technologies.  There can be no replacement for these since they are a foundational element of the technology.

No insurgent group or campaign can survive, let alone be effective in today’s technological environment without technical innovation and application.  As technologies proliferate and non-state actors seek force multipliers to compete against state actors and effect political end-states, field expedient, locally procured Electronic Warfare technologies will see greater application in the 4GW environment in order to achieve parity and develop peer competition in future conflicts.

Future warfighters will find a combat environment that has intermittent wireless communications, or intermittently unavailable wireless communications throughout the battlespace, that wireless communications now is experienced as being highly reliable, but this will mot maintain as EW systems begin to make their appearance. RISTA collection will be similarly affected with its effects on the COIN OODA loop, with intelligence and situational awareness consequences.  While tactical pocket sized drones are becoming de riguer, they are highly vulnerable and locally procured EW systems are a natural reaction and early counter-measure.

Wireless is the systempunkt of a security, military communications and RISTA systems because wireless links cannot be adequately protected and EW permits reduced risk standoff attacks to achieve military effects while market forces advance their development, use and proliferation across military, consumer, police and industrial sectors.  The market forces which drive wireless communication also drive the intrinsic vulnerabilities of wireless systems.

This will continue to trend; therefore, electronic warfare can be expected to become a regular part of the insurgent battlespace.  

Insurgents will develop and employ EW systems precisely because the COIN forces need the advantage---and have become dependent on---the non-tethered RISTA and communications provide remote operation, penetration, instant intelligence, mobility, re-tasking on the fly, and the populace has become very dependent psychologically, socially and physically on wireless systems. The unconventional EW battlespace is just developing, and EW is forecast to be the next disruptive technology for the insurgent.



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About the Author(s)

SFC Marc J. O'Connor, USA (RET.), has a B.A. in GIS and Remote Sensing and an A.A.S. in Computer Science and Information Systems.  He has led a Weapons Technical Intelligence team in Iraq, is a former J-2 NCOIC and is a graduate of the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School and Ft. Huachuca.



Fri, 03/31/2023 - 2:38am

I hope it works. The intercom stations' ability to send speech and/or video image data wirelessly (through a wifi link) or over cables allows the user to hear or see the visitor on the other side of the door (via the base station). A contemporary home intercom system with a camera feature can be used to remotely screen visitors, and the unlock door strike option can even be used to grant admission access. Additionally, it enables quicker and easier communication between you and your employees.