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Taiwan needs to acquire electronic warfare capabilities

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Members of Amphibious Search Team pose for the press during a military exercise in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP photo)

Members of Amphibious Search Team pose for the press during a military exercise in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s recent procurement of AGM-88E HARM (high-speed anti-radiation missile) from the U.S. is a step in the right direction aimed at destroying People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) radars, but it may be insufficient to carry out modern electronic warfare (EW) missions.

Electronic warfare consists of three major subdivisions: electronic attack (EA), electronic protection (EP), and electronic support (ES). ES is the provision of military intelligence via a range of passive electromagnetic “listening” devices for surveillance, collection, and analysis purposes. ES gives commanders timely insights to use in EA and EP.

The HARM missile is a powerful weapon for electronic attack against enemy radar, but it needs ES as the foundation to have a higher probability of success. Deploying HARM missiles requires serious, multi-disciplined planning beforehand in order to build a threat library for the PLA’s electronic order of battle (EOB) intelligence, such as locations and types of radar and communications assets.

Electronic support measures (ESM)

Because operating frequency bands for radars are very broad, no radio reception system can cover the whole range for transmission or reception. Therefore, electronic support measures (ESM) are inextricable to the EW planning to identify and record all electromagnetic emissions. These are the kind of bullet-less operations that Taiwan’s military leadership has yet to fully appreciate and invest in to prepare for the looming conflict with China.

ESM identifies the signal band and location of radar emitters and determines the signal characteristics, such as pulse width, pulse shape, pulse amplitude, carrier frequency, scan rate, scan pattern, signal modulation, pulse repetition frequency (PRF), and PRF type, just to name a few. A signal analyzer then needs to examine these parameters to identify the type of transmitter and determine the level of threat, such as scanning, tracking, or lock-on mode.

Data collected from ESM must be compared with signals with known emitter characteristics from the intelligence threat library. The ESM can identify and confirm known signal types and categorize new RF (radio frequency) emissions not in the library.

Taiwan has to build the threat library on its own as part of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB), as the U.S. will not sell it to Taiwan. However, Taiwan lacks modern aerial and maritime assets to conduct ESM missions.

Electronic protection

The flying of PLA Y-8 ESM aircraft around Taiwan in the last two years has not been without serious consequence. They must have silently collected the parameters described above and built a library containing Taiwan’s electronic order of battle. We can only hope Taiwan’s military did not turn on radars all the time during Y-8 sorties for them to collect all signal characteristics.

The information gained from the PLA’s ESM will be put to use to gain a tactical advantage over Taiwan. It may also be used to picture the strategic scenario in peacetime, in transition to war, or during a conflict.

It’s a multi-faceted threat, and Taiwan must develop strategy and tactics for EP. A good first step would be to make the country’s surface-to-air missiles (SAM) mobile.

Electronic attack

With the ESM threat library and timely intelligence, Taiwan’s fighters equipped with HARM missiles can take out the PLA’s radars. After that, Taiwan still needs cluster bombs to obliterate the PLA’s command post, missile launchers, and other equipment to ensure their SAM sites stay offline permanently.

The suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) sorties will pave the way for Taiwan’s subsequent counterforce missions to wipe out China’s military and industrial targets. The PLA has developed the “first battle is the decisive battle” doctrine; thus, if and when they attack, the enemy will attempt to destroy Taiwan’s military capabilities immediately.

To that end, Taiwan’s military must develop preemptive strike capabilities to neutralize some, if not most, of the PLA’s assets before they even have the chance to launch attacks. Alas, in the last 3 decades, Taiwan’s top brass seems to have adopted the dovish stance for a “purely defensive” posture.

That is an irrational recipe bound to fail.

The author has more than 30 years of professional experience in the US aerospace industry and served as an adjunct distinguished lecturer at Taiwan’s War College from 1999 to 2002.


Updated : 2021-06-16 07:31 GMT+08:00