Four US officials confirm, the jamming started after the western press started flinging allegations that the Syrians had used chemical weapons and preparing the ground for a military intervention.
The NBC report says the Russians are so far jamming only smaller surveillance drones, rather than the larger Predator combat drones, but this likely just a way to say strike drones are not being flown right now as US is not involved in combat yet.
Americans complain the Russian jamming signal is “is having an operational impact on US military operations in Syria” but won’t say whether it is causing the drones to crash.
In any case it certainly sounds it is making them useless. Previously when Russians jammed the skies over East Ukraine drones were grounded as they weren’t of use anyway and for risk of crashing:
The Russian military has been jamming some U.S. military drones operating in the skies over Syria, seriously affecting American military operations, according to four U.S. officials.
The Russians began jamming some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago, the officials said, after a series of suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians in rebel-held eastern Ghouta. The Russian military was concerned the U.S. military would retaliate for the attacks and began jamming the GPS systems of drones operating in the area, the officials explained.
Jamming, which means blocking or scrambling a drone’s reception of a signal from a GPS satellite, can be uncomplicated, according to Dr. Todd Humphreys, the director of the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.
“GPS receivers in most drones can be fairly easily jammed,” he said.
Humphreys, an expert on the spoofing and jamming of GPS, warns this could have a significant impact on U.S. drones, causing them to malfunction or even crash. “At the very least it could cause some serious confusion” for the drone operator on the ground if the drone reports an incorrect position or is lost, he said.
U.S. analysts first caught the Russian military jamming drones in eastern Ukraine four years ago, after the invasion of Crimea, according to Humphreys. He said the jammers were initially detected as faint signals from space, bouncing off the earth’s surface. The jammers “had a pretty significant impact” on the United Nations surveillance drones that were attempting to monitor the area, grounding the fleet for days and halting intelligence gathering from the air.
The Defense Department will not say whether the jamming is causing drones to crash, citing operational security. “The U.S. military maintains sufficient countermeasures and protections to ensure the safety of our manned and unmanned aircraft, our forces and the missions they support,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.
But one official confirmed the tactic is having an operational impact on U.S. military operations in Syria.
The officials said the equipment being used was developed by the Russian military and is very sophisticated, proving effective even against some encrypted signals and anti-jamming receivers. The drones impacted so far are smaller surveillance aircraft, as opposed to the larger Predators and Reapers that often operate in combat environments and can be armed.
Dr. Humphreys says that though the attacks occur in cyberspace, the results are still serious.
“They are a little less hostile looking than a kinetic bullet but sometimes the effect can be just as damaging,” he said. “It’s like shooting at them with radio waves instead of bullets.