Electronic warfare (EW) is a warfare action that involves the use of the electromagnetic spectrum (or the energy used to control the spectrum) to attack the rival, or prevent the rival from attacking us. In this article we will take the opportunity to talk about the electronic warfare developed by the NATO sphere, on one hand the focus will be in the United States and allies in other parts of the world, such as Asia; on the other hand the focus will be in Russia and China.

The EW purpose is to either deny the enemy the advantage of access to its electromagnetic spectrum, (civil or military) and to guarantee free and unimpeded access to our own spectrum. EW is performed in the air, sea, land and/or space dimensions through manned and unmanned systems. It can be oriented to reach targets as human beings, communications, radars or any other resource, be it civil or military. [1]

EW goals can be twofold: to attack civilian or military structures. If one actor attack civil structures he can manage to paralyze key and strategic sectors needed for the correct functioning of a State, such as energy supply, drinking water, but also internet, radio, television, telephone, etc.. Doing this it will be looped a terrible economic damage, but also psychological damage; it has managed to establish in the citizenship of the country under attack the sense of vulnerability. Also it has been manage to show the inability of the state to protect vital structures and supplies, generating a defeatist spirit that moves the state to avoid conflict before a higher technological power. On the other hand, if the targets are military, what the attacker has to achieve is to leave his rival "blind, deaf and confused" by disabling sonar, radar, communications, GPS and so on. Or even further, to put down the State under attack at the mercy of the attacker to trigger with the minimum of possible damages a conventional attack on previously fixed targets.

Signal-Generation Advances Support Electronic Warfare’s Evolution
Signal-Generation Advances Support Electronic Warfare Evolution - www.mwrf.com

In this context, the organization of the State under attack will be absolutely unstructured, without essential services, without an efficient communication (maybe totally annulled or manipulated) of the leaders with their combat units and of these units among themselves. Moreover, the ability of the State under attack to use the mass media and the internet to transmit slogans in an ideological sense (nationalism, political ideology, religious) is totally blocked... The result is that the population will be forced to rise up against the leaders, thus breaking the Clausewitz´s triad: army-government-society. The disarticulation of that triad is already widely developed in the work of Gene Sharp, which speaks of using a "peaceful" opposition as a weapon of war, as a fifth column. However, this context also makes Clausewitz relevant, paradoxically, when he states "In abstract, the defensive form of war is stronger than the offensive". And it is underline "Abstract" because the new scenario gives a new dimension to the "law of numbers" of the Prussian theorist; now the numbers contemplate invert dimensions. The law of numbers established that the size of the armies was a determining variable when the other variables were constant (technological, armament, theory ...), the law of numbers in the ancient war favored the state under attack since, being in his territory, it could manage more resources. In the New Law of Numbers proposed here, the number of army soldiers is replaced by an ocean of war tools such as EW, climatic or psychological warfare ... The form taken by the 4.0 industrial revolution and new sources of energy, among other multifactor, will determine how it can follow the path of what may be a new military revolution. This revolution has to go hand in hand with a new form of state and deep political and social transformations.


Since the invention of radar during the Second World War, E.W. has not stopped progressing by leaps and bounds. Nowadays it has become a decisive factor for victory. It is possible to ensure that as without aerial superiority it is unthinkable to obtain victory, without electronic superiority it is also unthinkable.

The first hostile action in a confrontation always involves the disruption and attack to the detection and communication systems of the adversary. The main measures taken at the beginning of a conflict are to search, intercept, identify or locate sources of electromagnetic signals in order to obtain immediate recognition of the threat. With regard to countermeasures, it is clear that the rival's use of the electromagnetic spectrum must be prevented or reduced. The different weapons used to perform the E.W. have a different spot and time in the scenario. To do an analysis of the E.W. arsenal is a necessary step to prepare or prevent warfare.

Graphite bombs - galaxiamilitar.es

As a first step to analyze the EW arsenal, we must talk about the classic graphite bombs. Graphite bombs are a key weapon in EW. Since World War II, power infrastructure has been a key objective. Graphite bombs are designed to attack electrical networks, disconnecting power, but without causing complete destruction of equipment or infrastructure. Bombs would be used to take action in the early stages of an attack with the aim of causing chaos or as a pressure measure on a government and/or its population. These bombs contain fine graphite fibers, inside a container or warhead, designed to disperse them in the air in cloud form. When the very light  and highly conductive filaments are thrown onto an electrical power distribution station, they float in the air and come into contact with bare cables and electrical terminals, causing multiple short-circuits that provoke the activation of the power plant's protection mechanisms, putting it offside. Graphite bombs do not cause permanent damage to the structures; once cleaned structures can back into service. That is the reason why they’re called “Soft Bombs”, and are included in non-lethal weaponry; the BLU-114 would be a well known type of Graphite bombs. Graphite bombs were used in the First Gulf War (1991) and in Serbia (1999). South Korea would have prepared similar weapons to use against its northern neighbor.

In a second stage of development came the electromagnetic pulse or EMP, that is another system designed to trigger adverse reactions in an electrical network, but is has its origin is in the Cold War. The EMP consists of an intense pulse of electromagnetic radiation that is generated by the interaction between a nuclear explosion and the upper atmosphere and that has the particularity of creating intense electromagnetic fields in conductive lines and other electrical elements, even at thousands of kilometers. The EMP causes voltage peaks that provoke short circuits and burn insulators in elements of an electrical network, whether civil or military, causing its blockage and physically destroying its components. The U.S. military has been shielding its own systems against electromagnetic pulses for decades, which is not complicated, but expensive: it is just needed shielding electronic systems to make them invulnerable. Even the electronics of U.S. fighter planes are shielded, so the armed forces would not be badly affected, although civilian infrastructure could be devastated. It is whispered that the United States would have weapons capable of causing an unexploded EMP nuclear weapon, perhaps based on high-powered microwave generators.

In a third stage, and already within the computed world came the cyberattack, that is the most sibylline attack system, due to the difficulty of precise detection and the real impossibility of proving true authorship. Electricity grids in developed countries are controlled by computer systems that are easily manipulated and easily accessible from outside computer networks, which make them a perfect target for attack by viruses, trojans or similar computer tools.

Silent Hunter, anti-drone laser weapon - Chinese brand Poly Technologies

Within the current EW development laser weapons are vital. Laser weapons are non-kinetic weapon as lower costs than kinetic systems, because the logistic needs are much lowers. The cost of each shot is reduced to the cost of the electrical energy required by the system. For example, to knock down a drone requires an expense of about $30 USD. Maintenance and spare parts are also low-cost. It doesn't have ammunition, so it relieves the logistical workload and cancels the risk for the three operators who manage the weapon. Being an electromagnetic weapon the displacement of the laser beam occurs at the speed of light, so the effect is almost immediate. In addition, the laser beam is extremely narrow and precise, greatly reducing the risk of collateral damage or friendly fire. The USS Ponce, located in the Persian Gulf, is equipped with a cannon of these characteristics.

Another type of modern weapons in the EW arsenal are the directed Energy weapons. The U.S. Navy has already experimented on a ship with a cannon capable of generating an electromagnetic field that can launch projectiles 185 kilometers away and at seven times the speed of sound. Radio frequency weapons, such as drone jammers, are radio frequency rifles that emit signals that interfere with the transmission of data between the drone and its control center. The electromagnetic radiation is another important E.W. tool. This is an ability that would destroy all the electronic systems of a rival and take him directly to the Stone Age.

In another sense, we find the CHAMP project, against North Korea. This project is involved in the Advanced Electronic Interference Microwave Missile Project. These are projectiles that emit very high frequency waves that would destroy electronic systems. This attack is performed with military equipment carrying out electromagnetic bombardments; it has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq to defuse bombs and drones of Chinese manufacture.

The SPEAR-EW (Select Precision Effects At Range-Electronic Warfare) missile becomes an "electronic bomb" against air defenses. The company MBDA-missile systems is developing a variant of its air-surface missile, the SPEAR 3, as an electronic warfare system to disrupt air defense systems. This new variant is the SPEAR-EW (Select Precision Effects At Range-Electronic Warfare), it was commissioned by Defense Equipment & Support in the United Kingdom. The goal was to provide the RAF tools to carry out SEAD missions (Air Defense Suppression). The Electronic Warfare technology to be used in the SPEAR-EW is Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM), which is an electronic jamming and deception system. It has not been reported whether it will have a warhead (the most probable is that it will) since once its mission as an electronic warfare is over, it would be enough for it to use the kinetic energy of the impact to cause damage. Perhaps the mode of use is throwing swarms, with an estimated range of 130 kilometers. The obvious resemblance of the SPEARs to the Brimstones would make it possible for the SPEAR-EWs to be installed in the internal hold of the F-35, or armed with three of them each wing support of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Resultado de imagen de SPEAR-EW


There are currently two main lines for the development of EW weapons. The first focuses on autonomous lethal weapons systems (drones in all areas), which are the basis of the future military revolution of robotic warfare. The second line is non-lethal weapons, such as sonic weapons. The research lines focus on organizations related to armies that have abundant funding, although private organizations are also investigating in the EW field.

One of the most active organizations in the development of new EW weapons is DARPA. The Pentagon annually provides the Agency for Advanced Defense Research Projects (DARPA) with at least 3 billion dollars for research, development and innovation of new technologies for military use, especially those related to cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. The priorities of this agency now go through computer and electronic operations, bandwidth, unmanned systems (land, sea, air and space), information management, artificial intelligence, biometrics, wireless warfare, 3D printers, electromagnetic radiation and directed energy weapons. Also within the US is located IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity). Under the direct dependence of the National Intelligence Director, the organization specializes in: microelectronic superconductors; advanced technologies and computing alternatives; cybersecurity; image processing from satellites; bioinformatics; electromagnetism; neuroscience, knowledge of the brain and artificial intelligence; radio frequencies; and autonomous underwater vehicles.

Nowadays major military forces have aircraft equipped exclusively with electronic warfare systems. Some of them combine the conditions of stealthy aircrafts and fifth-generation multi-purpose fighters with the E.W conditions by placing two pilots in the cockpit with separate functions, as in the case of the Chuengdu J-20 in China. In short, they would have airborne electronic attack and interference capabilities. They would launch cyber attacks on rival air defense and command and control systems.

Resultado de imagen de J-20
Chengdu J-20

Russia is hacking the GPS signal worldwide using spoofing, which is a hacking technique that allows simulating false GPS locations. There are whispers of thousands of cases reported. For example, Norway complained diplomatically that Russia was disrupting its civil navigation through these EW procedures, making GPS navigation "unacceptable and dangerous". Moreover, in the last year and a half Norwegian military forces stationed on the militarized Kola Peninsula have had blinded their GPS signals at least 5 times, especially pilots.

Examples of the use of EW today are abundant, although little known. For example, in 2014 the US State Department acknowledged that the crew of the last generation destroyer USS Donald Cook was seriously demoralized after their meeting in the Black Sea, on April 10, with a Russian Su-24 fighter bomber, which was not carrying bombs nor missiles, but only a container with an EW system called Jibiny. Several media outlets even assure that 27 US sailors requested the withdrawal of the service after the experience. When approaching the destroyer, the Jibiny system of the Su-24 put the radars, control circuits, information transmission systems, etc. out of service. The entire Aegis system of the American destroyer was rendered useless. After this, the Su-24 simulated a missile attack on the USS Donald Cook, who had become totally blind and deaf. And he repeated that action a total of 12 times. When the Su-24 moved away, the USS Donald Cook quickly went to a Romanian port and did not approach Russian waters again.


The Russian military industrial complex is immersed in the design of different devices and systems, apart from Jibiny. Russian Airborne Troops have begun to equip with the Infauna system. This system finds and isolates radio communication in the HF and VHF bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, rendering all kinds of weapons that require remote control by means of frequencies useless. Another important EW project is the Lesochek device, which performs the same functions as Infauna, but is much more compact: it can be carried in a backpack or in a small case. With this system it is very comfortable to attend important meetings, avoiding with this device that the most advanced intelligence services can spy on a word of what is discussed in those meetings. The Russian development activity EW gives the same importance to the defense as to the attack, so they develop systems such as Borisoglebsk-2, which is the basis of the electronic protection of communications of the Russian army. This system has automatic control and four types of radio interference to track and disable active sources of communications. A dual-use system is the one that uses the Zhítel device, which locates and blocks satellite and cell phones, as well as GPS navigation systems. Its effectiveness was demonstrated during the conflict in South Ossetia, where it managed to disorient Georgian unmanned vehicles. The retrofitting of Russia's strategic forces with new EW media advances at breakneck rates, leads to a reflection on the complexity and speed of EW development: the first country to develop quantum technology will have an absolute advantage in EW. Quantum communications are totally safe; quantum radar can see the invisible, and its cryptography is inviolable.

[1] The interested reader can consult the following document: https://fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/jp3-13-1.pdf

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