In 2010, Israeli fighters bombed a suspected nuclear materials site in Syria. Here’s the million dollar question: How did they do it without tipping off Syria’s Russian-bought air defense radar? Radar expert Dave Fulghum over at Aviation Week’s Ares blog may have the answer: Israel hacked the network.
So lets consider what means could have been used and even more, how technology has advanced in the last four years.
The Air Force is a prime user and developer of radar systems, using them for early warning during the Cold War, when the Air Force had both airborne and ground based radar systems deployed around the world to guard against and detect Soviet aircraft. Radars were and continue to be one of the most important pieces of equipment on modern aircraft. The faster and farther away an adversary can be identified and accurately tracked helps to give the pilot an edge that can be vital during combat. Electronic warfare techniques (EW and ECM) and technology have been in use since World War II and go hand in glove with radar systems. These technologies are often used to jam, counter jam, spoof, or confuse enemy radar operators and weapon systems, allowing the aircraft to accomplish their mission.
But what exactly is Radar? And how does it work?
The basic idea behind radar is very simple: a signal is transmitted, it bounces off an object and it is later received by some type of receiver. This is like the type of thing that happens when sound echo's off a wall. (Check out the image on the left) However radars don't use sound as a signal. Instead they use certain kinds of electromagnetic waves called radio waves and microwaves. This is where the name RADAR comes from (RAdio Detection And Ranging). Sound is used as a signal to detect objects in devices called SONAR (SOund NAvigation Ranging). Another type of signal used that is relatively new is
laser light that is used in devices called LIDAR (you guessed it...LIght Detection And Ranging).
Radio waves and microwaves are two types of electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves, which I will call EM waves, like all waves, transport energy but can do so through a vacuum. Sound waves and ocean waves require matter to transport energy, but EM waves can do so without the presence of matter. Because of this, satellites can use radars to work on projects outside of the Earth's atmosphere and on other planets. Another useful thing about EM waves is that they travel at a constant speed through a vacuum called the speed of light abbreviated by the letter "c" (299,792,458 meters per second). This is very useful to know to when doing ranging calculations. Once the radar receives the returned signal, it calculates useful information from it such as the time taken for it to be received, the strength of the returned signal, or the change in frequency of the signal. This information is then translated to reveal useful data: an image, a position or the velocity of your target.
When an EM wave hits a surface, it gets partly reflected away from the surface and refracted into the surface. The amount of reflection and refraction depends on the properties of the surface and the properties of the matter which the wave was originally traveling through. This is what happens to radar signals when they hit objects. If a radar signal hits a surface that is perfectly flat, then the signal gets reflected in a single direction (the same is true for refraction). If the signal hits a surface that is not perfectly flat (like all surfaces on Earth) then it gets reflected in all directions. Only a very small fraction of the original signal is transmitted back in the direction of the receiver. This small fraction is what is known as backscatter. The typical power of a transmitted signal is around 1 kilo-watt and the typical power of the backscatter can be around 10 watts.
To determine the range of a distant object that reflected a radar signal, the receiver must record the time when the signal was received and compare it to when that signal was transmitted. This time is the time taken for the radio wave to propagate to the object and back to the antenna. Since all EM waves travel at the speed of light in a vacuum, 299,792,458 meters per second (Air is not quite a vacuum but EM waves still travel through it at approximately this speed) it is very easy to determine how far away the object is (just multiply the speed of light by the time for the signal to get received). Another thing the radar does when it receives a signal is determine how strong it is. For ground penetrating radars the strength of the signal can tell how much the beds under the surface have different properties. A higher received power indicates a larger difference between neighboring beds.
Radars are being used to measure different parameters
1. Range Using Pulse Delay
2. Velocity From Doppler Frequency Shift
3. Angular Direction Using Antenna Pointing
4. Target Size From magnitude of reflected energy
5. Target Shape Analyzing reflected signal as a function of direction
6. Moving Parts Analyzing modulation of the reflected signal
Cost and complexity of radar is dependent upon the number of functions it performs. Radars are used for various applications like surveillance, imaging, remote sensing, altitude measurement, etc.
Blip enhancement is an electronic warfare technique used to fool radar. When the radar transmits a burst of energy, some of that energy is reflected off a target and is received back at the radar and processed to determine range and angle. The reflected target energy is called skin return, and the amount of energy returning to the originating radar is directly proportional to the cross-sectional area of the target.
Basic radars present the target information on a display and displayed targets are referred to as blips. Based on the relative size of the blips on the display, a radar operator could determine large targets from small targets. When a blip enhancing technique is used, small targets returns are augmented to look like large targets.
Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) is practiced by nearly all modern military units—land, sea or air. Aircraft, however, are the primary weapons in the ECM battle because they can "see" a larger patch of earth than a sea or land-based unit. When employed effectively, ECM can keep aircraft from being tracked by search radars, or targeted by surface-to-air missiles or air-to-air missiles. An aircraft ECM can take the form of an attachable underwing pod or could be embedded in the airframe. Fighter planes using a conventional electronically scanned antenna mount dedicated jamming pods instead or, in the case of the US, German, and Italian air forces, may rely on electronic warfare aircraft to carry them.
Today, Satellites may play a major role in ECM.
But lets get back to the 2010 Raid on Syria by Israel. The system used for the raid is called Suter.
U.S. aerospace industry and retired military officials indicated today that a technology like the U.S.-developed “Suter” airborne network attack system developed by BAE Systems and integrated into U.S. unmanned aircraft by L-3 Communications was used by the Israelis. The system has been used operationally in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see, and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can’t be seen or seen in false positions ans false sizes. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages algorithms that allow a number of activities including control.
BAE and the Suter system developed and used in 2010 have made major advances in abilities. Not only can the system Spoof location, bearing, heading, and target size, but it can also project misleading information on aircraft in the vicinity.
For example, let’s say for sake of discussion that a fighter jet was flying missions in the Ukraine against Russian Separatists. Separatists missile defense systems would readily detect such flights, identify it as a foe via the ground radar systems, and lock on in preparation for launch. The Sutor software, however, could forward project data showing their aircraft in another location.The launched missile would then seek a hard target after launch seeking any hard target in the area. If that happened to be a commercial airliner, the missile would automatically lock on and destroy that target. If it could not acquire a target, it would search until fuel supply runs out and fall to earth.
Today's electronic battlefield is more complex and deadly than ever-particularly when it comes to electronic surveillance and electronic warfare.