Brig. Gen. Tad Clark, director of the Air Force’s electromagnetic spectrum superiority directorate, said modern wars will increasingly involve electromagnetic warfare, particularly to shape the battlefield when conflicts begin.
Dave Tremper, director of electronic warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, pointed to SpaceX’s ability last month to swiftly stymie a Russian effort to jam its Starlink satellite broadband service, which was keeping Ukraine connected to the Internet. SpaceX founder Elon Musk steered thousands of Starlink terminals to Ukraine after an official sent him a tweet asking for help keeping the besieged country online.
“The next day [after reports about the Russian jamming effort hit the media], Starlink had slung a line of code and fixed it,” Tremper said. “And suddenly that [Russian jamming attack] was not effective anymore. From [the] EW technologist’s perspective, that is fantastic … and how they did that was eye-watering to me.”
The government, on the other hand, has a “significant timeline to make those types of corrections” as it muddles through analyses of what happened, decides how to fix it and gets a contract in place for the fix.
“We need to be able to have that agility,” Tremper said. “We need to be able to change our electromagnetic posture to be able to change, very dynamically, what we’re trying to do without losing capability along the way.”
Comment: Not really news by now, but sharp work by Musk, SpaceX and Starlink. First they got the terminals into Ukraine within a few days. Next they moved the satellites into place to optimize reception and then they spanked the Russians’ much vaunted radio-electronic combat capability. I was expecting much more from the Russians in this field, but it appears their marketing far out stripped their true capabilities here as in the rest of their military.
Space Force is young enough to grasp the agility, inventiveness and boldness of Musk’s deployment and defense of Starlink and incorporate those traits into its very soul. That would be a marvelous thing… a true hacker mentality. Semper Supra!
“… which was keeping Ukraine connected to the Internet…”
That can’t be true. There’s likely multiple fiber optic connections between Ukraine and neighboring countries like Poland so Ukraine is not dependent on Starlink satellites to remain connected to the internet. I’ll research it further but the bandwidth on an individual Starlink terminal likely won’t support very many users in any case.
The other claim “they slung a line of code” to counter the jamming sounds dubious. The carrier wave frequency used by the satellites and user terminals is likely built into the hardware so it can’t be changed by a line of code. The Russians could jam that carrier wave depending on the power of their equipment and proximity to terminals. You could probably jam your neighbors’ Starlink terminal with a Ka-band police radar gun.
It’s time for some critical thinking on the Ukraine narrative. Start asking: is this true and if true, is it relevant to the “Ukraine is winning” narrative that is being broadcast pretty relentlessly by western media?
In excess of 5,000 Starlink terminals were sent to Ukraine. They allowed critical communications at critical times in critical locations. They weren’t the only internet connection available, but they did the job.
The code in satellites and terminals can certainly be altered remotely. That how most things work now. Even the Voyager probe’s code was modified over an immense distance. How do you think computers and smart phones receive their software updates? A single line of code could easily change how signals are processed. EW is a lot more than indiscriminate, high power jamming. There’s a lot more finesse and computer code involved in jamming specific signals while not jamming one’s own signals.
My comment has nothing to do with remotely updating sofware. That capability is a given nowadays.
Breaking the code is hacking, blocking the carrier wave is jamming. The Russians were claimed to be jamming not hacking the (encrypted) signal, that is they were blocking the carrier wave. But the characteristics of the carrier wave are regulated by the FCC and like bodies. You can’t just change it to fool the Russians. And you can’t process the signal on a carrier wave that that’s being cancelled by a out of phase wave broadcast by a competing higher powered antenna.
The whole story seems like fake news. The Ukrainians didn’t need to Starlink to communicate encrypted information, which begs the question of whether the Russians would spend a lot of effort jamming a non-essential communication mode.
Nothing to do with remotely updating software, huh? You wrote an entire paragraph dismissing the idea of throwing a line of code to disrupt Russian EW. This is from an interview done today with a Ukrainian officer in Dnipro, ”I want to say one thing: Elon Musk’s Starlink is what changed the war in Ukraine’s favour. Russia went out of its way to blow up all our comms. Now they can’t. Starlink works under Katyusha fire, under artillery fire. It even works in Mariupol.”
“Starlink terminals are EW-trackable, location can be pin pointed and targeted. So use with caution. And then one line of Over The Air uploaded code made them invisible.”
The “changed the war” comment sounds like hyperbole, but this guy obviously thinks it made a difference.
“Starlink is what changed the war in Ukraine’s favour. ”
None of this is believable. The Russians aimed their death ray at our satellites but we “slung a line of code” like the swashbuckling cyber cowboys that we are and turned on the ultra secret cloaking mode. Right. Starlink is so amazing it works even proximate to rocket fire (although I would guess a direct hit on a starlink antenna might just possibly shut down the link).
It’s possible these claims are even true. But after hearing nonstop claims about the how the Ukies are ready to mount massive counter attacks, and they’ve got the Ruskies on the run, call me skeptical.
As near as I can tell it’s the Russians who are winning, despite incompetent leadership, abysmal moral, and broken logistics.
No need to block the carrier wave. Too damn hard to do anyway. And if they tried, the uploaded code might be a simple fix to dither with the signal to noise ratio, or narrow the beamwidth? And why would Ukraine care about the FCC, especially now?
More likely that they were trying to spoof Starlink instead of brute jamming. Perhaps by altering GPS functions or GPS time coding. Starlink is reportedly being used to coordinate drone strikes and maybe even for FOs directing artillery, so that might be a more important target for Russian EW than degrading other Ukraine comms & internet. And Russian EW has a history of spoofing or trying to spoof GPS signals in Ukraine, in the Black Sea, in Syria, in the Mediterranean, and in the Baltic. I’m told by someone far smarter than me that it would be an easy software code fix to recognize and reject eccentric GPS data.
But its all speculation. Only SpaceX’s engineers know the particulars.
Jamming satellites is next to impossible when you have thousands of terminals on the found and dozens of satellites in low earth orbit. Countries like Iran can do is because the govt controls the ground based terminals. Maybe Russian was playing with some new tech.
Jamming is typically done in localities because of the power requirements for the jamming devices. Has anyone ever used jamming to isolate an entire country?
If Russia or anyone else, demonstrated that they could actually jam satellites, as opposed to ground stations in a small area, that would be quite an accomplishment.
It’s an interesting problem.
A satellite is basically a relay. You have a ‘Voice of America’ website located in North Carolina beaming up to the satellite using a carrier frequency which then beams it down to some place far far away.
You could jam a smallish location on the ground for a while but the big kill would be to blind the satellite itself. I would think that it takes a lot of power to use a ground based jamming device to ping multiple satellites hundreds fo miles above. Does a full spectrum jam take more energy than targeting a specific radio frequency? If so then the provider could make it more difficult by changing carrier frequencies on the fly. Have an integrity check and if the signal degrades, switch to the next one. The ground stations could be pretty passive and always look for the strongest signal.
Sorry for the long post. Thinking about stuff like this keeps me going.
Christian J Chuba is correct that “the big kill would be to blind the satellite itself”, and that it would take a lot of power. But it’s unclear to me whether Russia was trying to jam the uplink? Or the downlink?
Uplink jamming being extremely difficult due to the high power required for the long distance involved. It would be ideal if it could be done because it would degrade the signal for all Starlink sets in that area.
With downlink jamming they need much less power. Perhaps only as strong as the signal being received on the ground. But even then a jammer would have to be somewhat local and more importantly would have to be within the field of view of the Starlink dish. Tough sledding for the bad guys if all the dishes are pointed west.
But then I’m no EW guru. Any who are please feel free to jump in and correct any of my assumptions.
A lot depends on how directional the Starlink antenna is. If it’s extremely narrow, basically straight up, it would be far more difficult to jam since the antenna won’t pick up the jamming signal.
When we mission planned for ops in Poland, we asked for a radio like the Joan-Eleanor system used by Jedburgh teams. We wanted a transceiver or transceiver antenna with an extremely narrow field of view, basically straight up. The Jedburgh teams had a handheld transceiver that shot straight up to a Mosquito circling tightly to send and receive. It was so directional and of such low power that the Germans couldn’t even intercept it, much less jam it. I didn’t see SATCOM until I got to a SMU.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlink According to this, the ground based dishes point straight at the satellite, does that help a narrow configuration?
The dishes track the satellite(s) even when moving in a fast vehicle. I’m impressed but low earth orbit requires tracking. Finding the satellite is a straightforward calculation. The satellite’s orbit and speed is very deterministic. Being in low earth orbit must also help with reducing latency.
Both a user and attacker would be able to point to the satellite. Still think the brass ring is disrupting communications at or very close to the satellite itself. Since users on the ground both send and receive data, why can’t a jamming signal reach the satellite as well? Low earth orbit makes more things possible.
Amazing, DHS is creating an Information Governing Board to combat “misinformation” concerning the border and Russia.
Maybe things are what they seem, milk can be mislabeled as cream…
Forgot to add (note Hispanic community):