The Russian military has figured out how to jam some U.S. military drones in airspace over Syria, NBC News reported on Tuesday, citing four officials.
"The Russians began jamming some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago, the officials said, after a series of suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians in rebel-held eastern Ghouta. The Russian military was concerned the U.S. military would retaliate for the attacks and began jamming the GPS systems of drones operating in the area, the officials explained," NBC reported.
Russia has stepped up its offensive in Syria and has grown increasingly concerned that the U.S. will retaliate. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Monday warned the U.S. of “grave repercussions” if it attacks Syrian government forces over reports of a deadly chemical weapons attack.
At least 40 people died last week in a chemical attack in the southern city of Douma, according to the White Helmets, a volunteer relief organization that conducts searches and rescues and medical evacuations in Syria.
Trump has warned of a "big price to pay" for the deadly attack, and on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council that Washington “will respond” to the attack.
“We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done,” Haley told the council. “History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria,” she said. “Either way, the United States will respond.”
According to Dr. Todd Humphreys, the director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, Russia blocking or scrambling a drone's reception of a signal from a GPS satellite "at the very least it could cause some serious confusion."
U.S. analysts first caught the Russian military jamming drones in eastern Ukraine four years ago, after the invasion of Crimea, according to Humphreys. He said the jammers were initially detected as faint signals from space, bouncing off the earth's surface. The jammers "had a pretty significant impact" on the United Nations surveillance drones that were attempting to monitor the area, grounding the fleet for days and halting intelligence gathering from the air.
The Defense Department will not say whether the jamming is causing drones to crash, citing 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.
But one official confirmed the tactic is having an operational impact on U.S. military operations in Syria.
The officials said the equipment being used was developed by the Russian military and is very sophisticated, proving effective even against some encrypted signals and anti-jamming receivers. The drones impacted so far are smaller surveillance aircraft, as opposed to the larger Predators and Reapers that often operate in combat environments and can be armed.