Experts say latest GPS disruption proves new kind of military threat from North
North Korea’s recent jamming of communications signals in South Korea is drawing keen public attention to its electronic warfare capabilities and raising questions over whether the South is making due efforts to enhance its own capabilities.
Last Friday and Sunday, the North sent strong electric waves to the South, temporarily disrupting Global Positioning System signals in Seoul and the surrounding regions, and causing cellular phones and other electronic equipment to malfunction there.
It was not the first time: The North attempted to jam GPS signals in the South last August during the South Korea-U.S. Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise.
Seoul officials believe the jamming signals are intended to disrupt the ongoing annual South Korea-U.S. Key Resolve/ Foal Eagle exercises, which the North has berated as rehearsals to prepare for an invasion to topple its regime.
As the electronic warfare technology is aimed at incapacitating the enemy’s high-tech precision-guided weaponry, communication, radar and other computerized systems, experts have called on the South to make more efforts to handle the newly-emerging military threats.
“With electronic warfare capabilities, one can achieve great impact at a low cost. By simply manipulating things on the Internet, it can achieve the effect of neutralizing scores of fighter jets,” said Kim Jong-ha, professor on military science at Hannam University.
“Electronic warfare is staged usually before a conventional war kicks off so that one can neutralize the enemy’s weapons systems. Should the North’s jamming systems affect the South’s Air Force during a possible war, it could be quite threatening.
“It is hard to verify the exact electronic warfare capabilities of the North. However, the South appears to be falling far behind the North.”
The North is known to have started preparing for electronic warfare in the 1970s ― more than 10 years earlier than the South.
In a manual on electronic warfare, which was published by the North Korean military in 2005 and obtained by a South Korean Christian group last August, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il stressed the importance of electronic warfare.
“As I mentioned many times before, the modern-day warfare is electronic warfare. Success in a modern war depends on how we carry out the electronic warfare operations,” he said in the manual.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin gives a briefing on North Korea’s recent jamming of communications signals in South Korea during a meeting with lawmakers at the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)
The manual also noted that electronic warfare helped the U.S. win in the 1990-91 Gulf War in a short period of time.
The North is said to have scores of military bases specializing in electronic warfare operations in various positions including some in its capital of Pyongyang. The electronic waves detected last week are believed to have originated from bases in Haeju, Gaeseong and Mount Geumgang.
The communist state is thought to use Russian-made vehicle-mountable jamming devices deployed at two or three locations near the Military Demarcation Line. The devices are capable of disrupting GPS signals in areas that are 50-100 kilometers away.
Military sources said that the North is believed to have imported a new jamming tool from Russia that can cover the whole peninsula. The new tool is thought to be capable of disrupting GPS signals within a range of 400 kilometers
The jamming equipment could pose a serious problem to the South in case of another armed conflict with its northern neighbor.
The North can use it not only to jam GPS signals but also to disseminate misleading, fake signals so as to confuse its enemies’ forces. The equipment also can preclude the South from using GPS-guided weapons to bomb its long-range artillery pieces that put the Seoul metropolitan area within striking range.
The North is also thought to be seeking to develop electromagnetic pulse bombs that can effectively paralyze computers and other electronic systems, and seriously hamper enemy forces’ basic warfare operations.
North Korea has a number of educational institutions to foster electronic warfare experts. It is known to have invited Russian professors to give specialized lectures.
South Korea started seeking to procure electronic warfare equipment from France only in 1993 after it recognized the importance of the electronic combat devices in the wake of the Gulf War.
It has deployed some electronic warfare tools such as TRC-613L EA (Electronic Attack) and TRC-274C ES (Electronic Support) ― both of which were produced by France’s Thomson ― in frontline areas.
TRC-613L EA is capable of disrupting wireless communications networks in the North while TRC-274C ES is used for eavesdropping purposes.
The South’s Air Force has also been seeking to purchase an electronic warfare training system through a contract ― worth 130 billion won ($116 million) ― with a Turkish-based defense firm since 2008. The system is intended to enhance military pilots’ survivability under the enemy’s aerial threats.
The South is also seeking to develop electromagnetic pulse bombs and high-power microwave bombs that could neutralize the enemy’s electric warfare apparatus.
The state-run Agency for Defense Development has carried out research on the development of EMP and HPM bombs with an aim to finish the development process by 2015.
The HPM bombs are known to be capable of incapacitating all electronic goods within a radius of 300 meters. Sound waves from their warheads are to go into enemy bases through ventilation facilities or antenna, and cause all electronic devices to stop functioning, experts say.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org