Now that the USS Destroyer Donald Cook has dropped anchor off Syria's territorial waters, Russian and Syrian interference operations are intensifying ahead of an anticipated attack by the US. And in what appears to be a throwback to the run-up to Russia's annexation of Crimea, the Russian military has again been jamming signals for some US drones operating in the skies over Syria, according to NBC, which cited four military officials.
The jammings reportedly started affecting some smaller drones several weeks ago, after a series of chemical weapons attacks on civilians in eastern Ghouta, an area near Damascus that's one of the last rebel-held strongholds near the Assad regime's territory. The Russian military was concerned - rightly, it appears - that the US would retaliate for the attacks (despite the US having "not yet conclusively determined whether the attack was carried out by...Assad"). So it began interfering with the GPS signals of some drones.
As we noted earlier, Russia appears to be making preparations for an imminent, US-led attack and according to unconfirmed reports, there have been intensive flights of Russian aircraft along the Syrian coast & over Khmeimim base, in addition ot the intense flights of military aircrafts belonging to the Assad regime in the sky over Homs. There is great anticipation from Assad and Russia for a possible blow.
#BREAKING— Eva J. Koulouriotis (@evacool_f) April 9, 2018
now intensive flights of Russian aircrafts along the Syrian coast & over Khmeimim base, in addition to the intense flights of military aircrafts belonging to the Assad regime in the sky of Homs. There is great anticipation from Assad and Russia for a possible blow.#USA pic.twitter.com/isYVMsosje
According to Dr. Todd Humphreys, the director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, jamming isn't that complicated.
"GPS receivers in most drones can be fairly easily jammed," he said.
And what's worse, the technique is surprisingly effective: Humphreys, an expert on spoofing and jamming of GPS, warns jamming could cause drones to malfunction or even crash.
"At the very least it could cause some serious confusion" for the drone operator on the ground if the drone reports an incorrect position or is lost, Humphreys said.
The US first caught the Russians jamming their drone signals back in eastern Ukraine four years ago, following the invasion of Crimea. The jammers were initially detected as a faint signal from space, NBC said.
The jamming campaign "had a pretty significant impact" on the United Nations surveillance drones, forcing the UN to ground the fleet for several days - bringing their intelligence gathering operation to a screeching halt.
Asked by NBC whether the jamming was causing the drones to crash, the Defense Department wouldn't confirm or deny, citing concerns about operational security.
"The U.S. military maintains sufficient countermeasures and protections to ensure the safety of our manned and unmanned aircraft, our forces and the missions they support," said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.
The Russians' 'jamming' technique is very sophisticated, military officials said. It has even proven effective against some encrypted signals and anti-jamming receivers. Most of the drones impacted so far have been smaller surveillance drones - not missile-slinging Predator and Reaper drones.
Jamming attacks can ultimately be as crippling as a bullet, Humphreys said.
"They are a little less hostile looking than a kinetic bullet but sometimes the effect can be just as damaging," he said. "It's like shooting at them with radio waves instead of bullets."
The Russians, of course, aren't the only ones deploying scramblers. Yesterday, we reported that the Chinese had installed radar scramblers in the Spratly islands to foil or deter more US navy operations in the Pacific.
We're still waiting for the US's promised retaliation for the latest chemical gas attack. Though keep in mind: Nearly all information coming from the attack site in Syria has filtered through anti-Assad sources linked to al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra.