The Pentagon’s in-house tech incubator is trying to stop Russia from scrambling US battlefield signals in Syria, federal contract documents show.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — or DARPA — has awarded at least $9.6 million worth of contracts over the past couple of months for radio systems designed to protect US signals used to call in air and artillery strikes. The agreements with US defense contractors Northrop Grumman and L3 Technologies come amid rising concerns that Russia could intercept and manipulate US targeting data.
DARPA says in contracting documents that the program aims to defend against a so-called kill chain, enabled by electronic warfare weapons, that could paralyze opponents and then pummel them with overwhelming firepower. Russia has deployed a bevy of electronic warfare systems in Syria to defend bases and air assets that are potentially capable of jamming and tricking US systems, experts say.
“The US military recognizes that Russian electronic warfare capabilities are evolving to the point where they can pose a threat to US systems,” said Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at CNA, a Washington-based defense think tank. “When it comes to Syria, Russia has used it as a massive laboratory for its weapons.”
The announcement of the DARPA program comes as US military officials are increasingly expressing worry, both privately and publicly, about the threat of Russian electronic warfare systems on the Syrian battlefield. In April, NBC News reported that the Russian military had jammed GPS signals to US drones in Syria, a technique first honed in Ukraine. US special operations chief Gen. Raymond Thomas has called the war-torn country “the most aggressive [electronic warfare] environment on the planet.”
The program will support Special Operations Command, the Marine Corp, and the Air Force’s command tasked with rescuing missing US troops. A DARPA spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. A representative for L3 Technologies, one of the contract awardees for the radio technology, refused to answer Al-Monitor’s questions at the US Army’s annual trade show last week.
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