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Advancements in electronic warfare are one of the key components guiding the development of autonomous systems for the military. There is a wide range of electronic warfare jammers that are designed to disrupt enemy drones. However, airborne jammers carried by drones could be more common than you think. Drones as a platform for, and not just the target of, electronic warfare means that the sight of a flying robot overhead could signal incoming strikes as well as a sudden inability to call for help.

Russia has recently extended the range on its drone-carried jammers to 100 km, or over 60 miles. “Russia has been using a UAV-mounted cellphone jammer for a number of years now,” said Samuel Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. The drones operate in a two- or three-vehicle pod with a ground station, collectively grouped as a “Leer-3” system.

“When these UAVs fly in teams, one acts as a signal-and-comms relay while another acts as a jammer,” Bendett said. “These Leer-3 systems have been around for about two years at this point.” What has changed is the range of the jammer.

The Orlan-10 drones already have a range of 75 miles, which means that, with the latest update on the jammer, the drone pod can interfere with signals up to 135 miles away from where the drone was launched.

This capability, or an earlier version of it, has even been witnessed in conflict, reveals Bendett. “Ukrainian forces claim to spot Leer-3 systems in eastern Ukraine, while there is potential evidence that Leer-3 was used in Syria as well,” Bendett said. “Russian forces are constantly training with Leer-3 UAVs as they practice adversary signal and cell comms suppression, identification and eventual destruction of the enemy force. In fact, this kind of training is part of the official [tactics, techniques and procedures] in electronic warfare and other forces across the Russian military.”

For now, drones are conducting electronic warfare against cellular communications, but evaluates that it’s not hard to imagine the same doctrines applied with new technology.