Jihadis Share Methods of Bringing Down U.S. Predators over Libya

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 19

Most jihadi internet forums have sections on training manuals and special postings for their members. When a jihadi operational priority arises, certain training tactics are typically discussed at length. Since the American deployment of the unmanned Predator drone in a military effort to protect Libyan civilians, jihadi forum members have begun discussing ways of downing the aircraft (al-jahafal.com, April 2).

A forum member nicknamed Nosra, regarding himself as the “General Commander of al-Zarqawi Battalion,” commenced a posting entitled" How to Down the Predator" by labeling the Predator the most criminal type of aircraft. Nosra claims a technique to jam the Predator’s satellite signal is an easy one, requiring only simple devices and proper software. By jamming the frequency of the satellite, an inaccurate signal would be transmitted to the Predator falsely indicating no satellite GPS signal, consequently causing the collapse of the Predator’s systems. Nosra’s long explanation of the technique focuses on jammers that work within a fixed range radius. The jammers’ capability to intercept the Predator’s signal and the simplicity of building such jammers from material readily available in the market is a great opportunity for jihadis to take down the number one killer of mujahedeen, says Nosra.

Another method discussed in the lesson is producing a focused microwave beam with a commercial microwave and using a parabolic dish to direct the beam on a single source. According to Nosra, this is capable of disrupting circuitry in the Predator’s camera motor. There are also a few GPS jammers available in the market; the mujahideen could procure and develop these for use against UAV’s.

Nosra reports that Iraqi mujahideen hackers have used software available in the market to intercept data transmitted by American drones. The software used is the “SkyGrabber,” developed and marketed on the internet by Russian company SkySoftware. [1] Nosra refers here to the 2009 discovery that insurgents belonging to the Iraqi Shiite Kata’ib Hezbollah were using the SkyGrabber software to intercept the drones’ video transmissions, though they were unable to control the drones or interfere with their flight (see Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2009; BBC, December 17, 2009; CNN, December 17, 2009). The insurgents used the software to exploit the fact that the UAVs’ video transmissions were unencrypted to increase the speed of communication with ground control operators.

Finally, Nosra promises to do more research on the technique and urges the mujahideen to share their findings on UAV’s such as the Predator, the Reaper and another small UAV made by Jordan and approved by the United States for use in Iraq (possibly a reference to the “Jordan Falcon,” a tactical UAV intended for surveillance tasks). The Falcon is a joint venture between Jordan Aerospace Industries (JAI) and the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADBB).

Other forum members considered acquiring the methods outlined in Nosra’s posting a high priority. Developing such abilities would help protect the mujahideen in Palestine, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and all other Muslim countries. Forum member Abu Fahad al-Misri deemed the techniques very timely and very much needed to counter U.S. attacks in Libya and Egypt in the near future (al-Jahafal, April 2).

Another jihadi forum conducted a month-long online workshop entitled “How Do We Shoot Down the Enemy’s Aircraft?” (alboraq.info, April 15).  Many forum chatters contributed to the workshop with ideas and techniques, posting pictures and drawings of different UAVs. Bu Omar al-Ghanim, who started the workshop, concluded the findings and knowledge share by recommending, firstly, the use of homemade smoke bombs to cover mujahideen firing on attacking gunships. Secondly, the mujahideen are encouraged to try to manufacture magnetic cannons capable of sending electromagnetic vibrations. Al-Ghanim does not mention how these cannons would be manufactured, but he may be referring to an adaption of the High Power Electromagnetic System (HPEMS) being developed by California-based Eureka Aerospace with funding from the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Department of Defense. [2] The device is intended to use a beam of microwave energy to stop moving vehicles or boats by disabling or destroying their computerized control systems, but is only in the prototype stage.

Al-Ghanim quotes from a message by the Amir of the Islamic Army in Iraq in which he encourages the mujahideen in Gaza to shoot down Israeli aircraft: “Our hero brothers: You are in the heart of the nation. You are the symbol of its dignity and pride, hold your ground, attack the enemy and prepare intensive crossfire arcs to destroy enemy aircraft.” [3] The workshop also discussed the ability to interrupt the electronic systems of enemy aircraft by using 700mW Chinese-made laser pointers. According to al-Ghanim, the laser can jam and burn a fighter aircraft’s electrical equipment at a 28 kilometer distance.  Al-Ghanim posts links to some Chinese websites that sell the laser pointers. Although many of the tactics recommended by the workshop are unconventional and unlikely to succeed, it shows the continuous endeavors of the mujahideen to invent ways to defeat counterterrorist air superiority.

Despite Salafi-Jihadi claims to have shot down U.S. or Jordanian-made attack and surveillance UAVs in Iraq and elsewhere, none of the videos released by the mujahideen’s media outlets, especially al-Furqan, show any advanced air defense techniques being used to down UAVs. The existing videos only show downed UAVs that could have crashed because of technical malfunctions.

Note:

1. http://www.skygrabber.com/en/index.php.
2. http://eurekaaerospace.com/content/high-power-electromagnetic-system-stopping-vehicles Video of the device prototype can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT5EJYY_6HQ&feature=player_embedded.
3. Al-Ghanim doesn’t provide a source for this statement.