Addendum: Electronics for small units

I wrote about the electronic equipment tsunami that hits small units before and my original plan was to show off examples of these gadgets. The topic was too large, and I decided to show off some hardware examples at a later date.

Let's think about electronic equipment fundamentally before we proceed to the gadgets:
- military effect
- required manpower
- (trans)portability
- effective range
- cost
These are in my opinion the key variables.

Military effect - a militarily useless tool won't be used, while a useful tool can still be disadvantageous if it fails in the other criteria.

Manpower - is an important variable. The amount of required manpower shows whether a force multiplier effect (if applicable at all) justifies the occupation of manpower.
A tool that increases a company's utility by 10% or more and requires only one or two men (like a company-level radio in WW2) will be used, even introduced in peacetime. A tool that adds 1% utility to a platoon but requires two men for operation won't be used at all.

Portability - too heavy or too voluminous equipment cannot be used, no matter whether it's effective or not. Dismounted infantry cannot make good use of items much heavier than about 15 kg. Vehicles must not exceed their payload.

Range - an item with 20 km range might better be allocated at battalion or brigade level than at platoon level (unless it's for communication), while an item with one km range (like a small jammer) won't be fully exploited if kept under battalion command.

Cost - some items are simply too expensive to afford their use in all squads or platoons and need to be pooled at battalion or higher level, to be used only when their effect is expected to be great (and thus able to justify the expense).

Let's face it; many tools are available and their use in small units would be justifiable, but they won't be used in the necessary quantity till the brass needs to do something about too many KIA and WIA in a future war.
The machine gun was such a case before the First World War. The radio command mine jammer was such a case in the 2003-? Iraq occupation war. Trust me - there are many more examples.
There's even a good reason for the rejection of gadgets; the training schedule and efforts rarely permit the troops to accustom them properly with the new tool, and the acquired know-how can easily be lost due to personnel changes.

That's (in addition to manpower and weight issues) one more reason for additional specialists in small units (well, maybe only at company and battalion levels) who can focus more on electronics than most troops.

Now let's look at the tools, I've compiled some examples. Most are of U.S. or Russian origin, some of this stuff dates back to the 1980's and was probably already succeeded by more modern equipment. Few of these examples are as much in use as they should be.

- RP-377UWM2 "Kryscha" - a backpack radio jammer
The set has three emitters and one receiver. 26 - 960 MHz, 10 W radiating power.
It should be possible to use software-defined radios of all kinds as local communication jammers in the future.

- RP-377A "Pelena" - jammer mine
Pelena has six emitters with different frequency ranges; 20-30, 30-50, 50-80, 80-150, 150-220 and 220-400 MHz. Emitted power is three to five Watt. A withdrawing or delaying force could leave these jammers behind to degrade the radio communications and thereby the performance of the pursuiters. Some expendable jammer models can be activated remotely - for example exactly in the moment of an attack. Imagine an ambush against a company or battalion and suddenly their radio comm fails. The American HEXJAM is similar.

- AN/PRD-12, Lightweight Man Transportable Radio Direction Finder System
This is an example of a lightweight and compact radio direction finder system. Such systems can be scaled down to much, much smaller (and then less powerful) tools. That kind of portable radio direction finder isn't omnidirectional but needs to be pointed at a direction - probably obsolete because of burst transmission modes.
The minimum would be a hand-held antenna with a cable connection to a radio (less than one kilogram overall, foldable).

- AN/PSS-14 - Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System
This isn't the simple metallic anomaly detector as during the Cold War; it has additionally a ground penetrating radar for magnetic contact confirmation and non-metallic mine detection.

- Shortstop/Warlock series and other - short-range fuse jammers
Jammers to negate the effectiveness of radio proximity fuses have been developed for protection of soldiers on the ground since the 80's at least. The oldest prototype was built in WW2, as experimental device to learn about the vulnerability of the then brand-new radio proximity fuses against jamming. The oldest application known to me that was meant to protect ground forces was a Russian 80's device that protected engineers during obstacle crossing.
The Americans a backpack jammer with this principle in the 90's - that got adapted for jamming radio command mines in Iraq.
Many such jammers exist, but somehow most of them are kept away from public eyes.

- Squire - portable battlefield surveillance radar
Battlefield surveillance radars have been in existence for a while. I was shocked on Eurosatory 2008 when I learned that the claims for the most advanced ones reach to the detection of a crawling sniper at two kilometre distance.
Such a sensitivity is sure to create many false contacts (rabbits and such) in fertile areas, but smart processing and confirmation by thermal sight can surely reduce the false alarm rate to a minimum. A very personnel-efficient tool for the surveillance of open terrain. It's also useful for the observation of mortar shell impacts.
I guess that a Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) feature will be standard for such sensors soon.
- T-UGS - unattended ground sensors
Unattended ground sensors get usually no public relations effort to make them well-known, but T-UGS is different. It was part of the FCS meta-program and FCS needed some good news, so they showed off what they had (ready?).
Unattended ground sensors can save personnel and reduce risks in observation of defiles. Radars and thermals can easily observe open fields, but competent infantry avoids open fields and uses paths that provide concealment.The concealment makes personnel-efficient surveillance tricky by definition, and unattended ground sensors can help with this.Such a sensor can detect an attacking squad nearby and you must not hesitate to fire mortars at its position - no friendly soldier will be harmed.

- Javelin thermal sight, high performance thermal sights in general
The Javelin project was so far less important as a project for anti-tank missiles than for its delivery of many portable high power thermal sights. The sights have often been used for reconnaissance without carrying the missiles at all.
Today we've got better (lighter, more compact) thermal sighs for the same purpose - and much better batteries.

- NYXUS - thermal forward observer sensor
This is a new toy for the Bundeswehr forward observers (JFST). Target detection, identification and position finding made easy - day and night. In theory. Only time will tell how great such tools are in practice; their value is certainly much higher in open ground than in urban or forest terrains.

- Dragon Eye - miniature (backpack) UAV
Dragon Eye is already old news (almost a decade old), but a well-known drone and a good example for its class. Infantry companies can have their own aerial reconnaissance with these tiny aircraft and look over the hill. For the weight of a rifle and the bulk of a backpack. Their use has been complicated needlessly by regulations and the overall performance has been lesser than expectations (actually normal in military affairs), but we haven't been in wars with predictable battles recently.
The appreciation of such tactical reconnaissance tools will rise once infantry companies get orders like "capture hill 574 till 1600, an enemy platoon prepared for deliberate defence of it".

- radar warning receiver
I know no public domain source about this, but a battlefield radar threat justifies a battlefield radar warning receiver (RWR). The frequency bands are not the same as in battlefield radios, so we cannot use our radios as RWRs.
The low power output and possible LPI characteristics are surely a challenge to the RWRs, but it may be a necessity in future wars on open, flat terrain.

- - - - -

I saw infantry manuals from Germany, Austria, Canada and the U.S.Army.
Electronic warfare and specialist electronic equipment and its impact on small units - both when used by OPFOR and as option for blue - are almost no topic in these manuals. The whole electronic warfare dimension that developed during the Cold War and advanced since hasn't got the attention it deserves.
Our TO&E are not well-suited for electronic warfare as an integral part of combat at battalion level and lower.

I dislike the idea that we might stumble into conflicts with deficiencies and will only exploit our technical progress properly when finally - impressed by lots of blood - even retards could understand the utility of new tools.
A proper appreciation of new tools and their organizational integration if advantageous is necessary. Peacetime inertia is our enemy.


  1. Do you know of any armies that have done a good job of integrating electronic warfare into their forces? It seems like many of these technologies could be devastating against an enemy that relies too heavily on radio communications and electronic sensors. The U.S. for example, often sends relatively small forces out alone on missions, with the assumption that heavy support is only a radio call away. Effective jamming could also help slow down the enemy after a breakthrough, leaving advancing commanders uncertain of whether or not they're overextending themselves

  2. Electronic warfare is extremely powerful and arrived in ground warfare decades ago, but it's not a well-published field.

    It's difficult to learn meaningful information about it without being actually in an EW unit - and then you only get fed the information that you need for your job and little else.

    The problem that you cited will be covered in a few days actually, and it's not an EW-specific problem.

    We didn't face powerful enemies in combat for decades. We merely faced enemies who had enough survivability to make their defeat difficult.

    "Western" armies actually stopped to face first grade enemies after May 8th, 1945. The non-German Western forces already did so in January 1945.