August 4, 2014: Strategy Page
In mid-2014 the U.S. Army successfully tested a UAV operating as an electronic warfare (EW) aircraft. Specifically an army MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV carried two pods containing jamming equipment previously only used in manned aircraft. The MQ-1C was able to safely carry and operate the jammers without screwing up its own electronics and communications. The pods were repackaged versions of the electronic jamming equipment normally used on manned MC-12 aircraft. This gear fit into two pods designed to be carried and operated from the MQ-1C. The two pods are called NERO (Networked Electronic Warfare, Remotely Operated).
The original system had been installed in Beechcraft King Air twin engine commercial aircraft. That system was designed for electronic warfare and reconnaissance against irregular forces (terrorists, specifically those found in Afghanistan and Iraq). The Beechcraft King Airs performed like a heavy (Gray Eagle, Predator, or Reaper) UAV. The MC-12 was crammed with vidcams, electronic sensors, jammers, and radios. This ensemble of gear was called CEASAR (Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance And Reconnaissance). The MC-12 could spend hours circling an Afghan or Iraqi battleground, keeping troops on the ground aware of enemy walkie-talkie and cell phone use, including the location of these devices and translations of what is being discussed. The MQ-1C has vidcams as standard equipment so its two-pod version of CAESAR has everything but the vidcams.
Moving most of the Caesar electronics to a UAV is part of a trend. As effective as the King Air is, UAVs are cheaper to operate and can stay up longer. Military use of the King Air in the United States (where Beechcraft is located) began in the early 1970s, when the U.S. Army adopted the King Air as the RC-12 and then used it for a wide variety of intelligence missions ever since. Israel then developed its own versions (the Tzufit). But the Israelis had different needs and they eventually developed a King Air equipped to deal with Palestinian terrorists who had declared war on Israel in 2000. In the last decade Israel developed an intelligence collection version of the King Air that the U.S. eventually adopted in 2010 as the MC-12 CEASAR. Now the MC-12, like many other manned recon aircraft, are being replaced by UAVs.
The recent test of NERO involved the pods being carried for 32 hours and for twenty of those hours the jammers were at full power. That jamming shuts down most radios and cell phones and was used in Iraq and Afghanistan on the MC-12s to deny the enemy use of their wireless communications and using cell phones to remotely detonate bombs. There are no plans to install the pods on smaller (than the 1.4 ton MQ-1C) UAVs because of the weight and power requirements of the pods.