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By Arie Egozi
For Russia, Syria was a huge war laboratory. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that the experience gained by the Russian defense forces while supporting Assad in Syria helped develop new weapon systems.
Russia was involved in the civil war in Syria since September 2015, helping President Assad to stay in power.
The Russian military has used the conflict to test its new jets, cruise missiles and other weapons in combat for the first time. According to Israeli sources, the Russians also tested new Cyber and GPS jamming techniques and equipment.
In a public appearance, Putin said that new Russian weapons excel their foreign equivalents.
Putin singled out the new Sarmat RS-28 heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Su-57 fighter jet, the S-500 air defense system and the Armata battle tank, which are set to enter service in the coming years.
Israeli sources say that one of the clear advantages gained by the Russians in Syria is the ability to test their Cyber tools against the best western-made technologies – these include the Israeli air force F-35 , the Arrow ballistic missiles defense systems and a line of UASs, some highly classified.
Israel is a Cyber power. Apart from numerous private companies developing attack and defense Cyber tools, the IDF’s 8200 secret unit is the spearhead of know-how.
This Intelligence Corps unit is responsible for collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption. Military publications refer to this unit as the Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, and it is sometimes referred to as Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU).
This unit with others, like the one operated by the Israeli air force, are responsible for defending Israel weapon systems from Cyber-attacks and allowing the most advanced weapon systems, operate in GPS-denied areas.
While Russia used Syria as a test range for Cyber warfare including GPS denial techniques, the real Cyber enemy of Israel is Iran.
If Teheran continues its gallop towards nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles armed with these weapons, the confrontation with Israel is just a matter of time.
Iran has a fairly well established infrastructure of cyber capabilities, both defensive and offensive. According to the Israeli institute for national security studies (INSS), Iran’s main targets of attack in recent years include Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.
The INSS researchers say that the Iranian cyber activity is supervised at the highest levels of the regime, including the president and the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, and is maintained in several ways. First, the Iranian regime invests heavily in research and training, based on a strategic perception of the importance of cyber.
Second, signing the nuclear treaty with the superpowers in 2015 opened up an opportunity for Iran to establish numerous opportunities for cooperation with universities and scientific institutes around the world.
According to INSS, Iran exploited this opportunity to promote its cyber capabilities through working with institutions possessing the relevant knowledge.
Third, Iran’s exploitation of foreign cyber knowledge is not limited to official cooperation.
In 2013, Iran established the Mabna Institute, with the aim of gaining access to scientific resources from outside Iran. While this goal is focused not only on the field of cyber, this is another possible channel with the potential to help Iran build its cyber capabilities.
Iran has certainly experienced the dangers embodied by cyberspace. The clearest example of this is the Stuxnet malicious worm that damaged Iranian nuclear infrastructures in 2012.
So Iran has focused its effort on protecting its nuclear infrastructure against further Cyber-attacks and at the same time developed aggressive Cyber capabilities .
This resulted in the capture of an advanced U.S army UAS.
On 5 December 2011, an American Lockheed Martin RQ-170 UAS was brought down by Iranian forces near the city of Kashmar in Northeastern Iran. The Iranian government announced that the UAS was brought down by its cyberwarfare unit which took control over the advanced UAS and safely landed it.
The U.S then began to fully understand the Iranian capabilities in Cyber and that according to sources resulted in the tightening cooperation with Israeli organizations and companies.
Most of this cooperation is classified but recently we could see one result. That happened when last year Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and Honeywell Aerospace have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly develop an advanced GPS Anti-Jam navigation
As part of the MOU, IAI and Honeywell are aiming to engineer, manufacture and market a combined GPS Anti-Jam solution. The new technology will combine existing ADA GPS Anti-Jamming system together with Honeywell’s embedded GPS Inertial Navigation System.
The ADA system will be integrated as a subsystem, or as an embedded module into Honeywell’s navigation systems.
According to the two companies, the joint solution is applicable to military navigation applications (SAASM / P(Y) Code) and has the provisioning to support future directives of the GPS directorate (M-Code).
Modern navigation, communications, and intelligence collection and electronic warfare systems integrated in modern platforms, rely on the uninterrupted availability of satellite-based navigation and timing for their operation.
Despite this dependency, still many platforms do not use Anti-Jamming Systems to protect those essential assets.
Experts say that even low-power jammers can disrupt or even deny the operation of Global Navigation Satellite Systems, thus degrading the platform’s capability to fulfill its mission.
But parallel with the defensive effort, some in cooperation with the U.S, Israel is developing weapon systems that can operate in GPS denied areas.
During 2019, the Israeli air force performed more than 200 air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria.
That while the Russians are very close to the targets. All these attacks were performed while the area was “covered” with GPS denying systems.
To perform those attacks, in such a sensitive area, the IAF used some very advanced weapon systems that hit the target with great accuracy in spite of the GPS jammers.