Jamming warfare and air taxis

November 15, 2023  - By
Russian Pole-21 jammer – (photo: Defense Ministry, Russia)

Russian Pole-21 jammer – (Image: Defense Ministry, Russia)

Other than the tracked unit — a truck that appears to be a power generator and has an overall look of complexity — the thing that jumps out at you about the Russian Pole-21 jammer is that it is brisling with a huge number of antennae. The system apparently can jam almost any known communication channel and everything GNSS. It is a bit lumbering to move around, may be difficult to set up, and must be used judicially, because it may jam everything, including the Russian’s own coms and GLONASS navigation systems. So, it may be useful for disabling the enemy, but only when your own soldiers have already established visual contact with their target.

The Russians just parked one of these contraptions in southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Oblast (district), which has been the focus of the Ukrainian counteroffensive for the last few months. However, the Ukrainians found it quickly, had time to figure out what to do with it and launched a GPS-guided weapon that destroyed the inoperative Pole-21 jammer. They may have caught the system either before it was fully activated or when it had been intentionally shut down to protect Russian forces. The Pole-21 set up was found during a drone recognizance flight and the system was then taken out by a Ukrainian aircraft — perhaps a Russian Sukhoi Su-27 or Mikoyan MiG-29 — which deployed a U.S. Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) to destroy the system. The UAV, the aircraft, and the JDAM all use GPS for guidance, which is perhaps a little ironic. The Ukrainians have reportedly destroyed more than four dozen other Russian jamming systems since the start of the war.

Just in case there might be reprisals, the Ukrainians have developed their own RF system that forms a 600-ft dome over the area/asset that needs protection from UAV attacks. Additionally, Western countries have supplied several jamming systems to the Ukrainian forces for more elaborate, wider range jamming protection.

Ukraine initially shot down low flying, slow Russian UAVs with rifles and large caliber anti-aircraft defense systems; however, as expensive missile systems have become available from the United States and elsewhere, it has become apparent that it is too expensive to use complex missiles to bring down large numbers of inexpensive commercial UAVs. It just does not make sense — too many UAVs and not enough expensive missiles. Ukraine has thrown large numbers of cheap UAVs — some even made from cardboard — in the other direction, at a significant cost for the missiles shot at them by Moscow’s air-defense system.

Counter-UAV (C-UAV) technology must be an alternative, and several suppliers can readily provide affordable production equipment. Tactics range from firing anti-aircraft gun batteries to intercepting drones using nets, or just crashing UAVs into interlopers, or more prevalently using electronic disruption systems — such as the DroneGun Tactical “arm-held” from DroneShield — which jams the control signals and/or GNSS guidance.

A large proportion of “attack-UAVs” are simply modified off-the-shelf commercial vehicles adapted to carry explosives, even existing conventional ordinance — read “bombs”. The UAVs themselves are built with commercial components, which have little resistance to directed jamming frequencies that overpower the RF section of the receiver. Then, there is loss of lock on the coms and/or the very low power GNSS signal — where signal processing stops, and guidance is lost.

Meanwhile, back in our much safer land of commercial aviation, progress toward the emergence of electric vertical take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) air taxis took a simple step forward, at Tampa International Airport (TPA), Florida.

TPA growth plan of the Tampa airport. (Image: FAA)

TPA growth plan of the Tampa airport. (Image: FAA)

TPA is in the midst of a significant growth spurt that began last year with moving the rental car facility off site to make more space and installing a rail link to restore access for renters to the main terminal. Upcoming is a new Airside D set of 16 additional gates, and future provisions for urban air mobility, enabling eVTOL air taxi traffic services in and around the airport to bring passengers directly to the airport from their local catchment areas. Possible locations have been identified for one or two vertiports on the airport grounds, and an airport integration plan appears to be well underway.

Last week, Volocopter, a German company, showed up at TPA with its VeloCity two-seater prototype air taxi to carry out the very first tests of a passenger-carrying UAM vehicle at a major U.S. airport. The Tampa and St. Petersburg mayors were on hand, as were airport management and others from the aviation and transportation industry.

VeloCity prototype in clear skies at Tampa. (Image: courtesy of courtesy BoxAdmin/Beau Zimmer/Velocopter)

VeloCity prototype in clear skies at Tampa. (Image: courtesy of courtesy BoxAdmin/Beau Zimmer/Velocopter)

Now TPA is a busy place, with 553 flights daily into and out of the facility, but Volocopter was able to fit into the infrastructure and perform two flight tests with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to investigate aircraft downwash and outwash, along with aircraft performance in TPA’s actual environmental conditions.

Various prototypes of the VoloCity have already flown 2,000 flights. Initial operational flights will be flown by a pilot with only one passenger. However, as operational reliability is proven, a fully autonomous service is planned. Volocopter is currently focusing on certification of the VoloCity, by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2024, leading to initial service on three routes in Paris, France. Concurrent validation in cooperation with the FAA, originally submitted in 2020, is also progressing.

In conclusion, GNSS and communications jamming is escalating in and around Ukraine as the war drags on and each side tries to compensate, while efforts to revolutionize shuttle services for passengers to and from major airports in the United States has taken quite positive steps in Tampa, Florida.

About the Author: Tony Murfin

Tony Murfin is managing consultant for GNSS Aerospace LLC, Florida. Murfin provides business development consulting services to companies involved in GNSS products and markets, and writes for GPS World as the OEM Professional contributing editor. Previously, Murfin worked for NovAtel Inc. in Calgary, Canada, as vice president of Business Development; for CMC Electronics in Montreal, Canada, as business development manager, product manager, software manger and software engineer; for CAE in Montreal as simulation software engineer; and for BAe in Warton, UK, as senior avionics engineer. Murfin has a B.Sc. from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in the UK, and is a UK Chartered Engineer (CEng MIET).