By Georgi A. Angelov
(RFE/RL) — An avid Bulgarian aircraft spotter heard odd chatter from business pilots getting ready to land their plane in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, round 10 o’clock within the night of August 31.
Tuned in to a Sofia Airport radio frequency, the aircraft spotter, who requested that they continue to be nameless, mentioned a number of pilots had been talking about issues they had been experiencing with GPS, or the worldwide positioning system, a community of U.S.-owned satellites which are used to find out places on Earth.
The subsequent day, September 1, it was taking place once more. Pilots approaching Sofia complained of the identical drawback, in accordance with transcripts seen by RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service of recordings from a Sofia Airport radio channel. The aircraft spotter’s findings had been additionally confirmed by GPSJAM, a web site documenting jamming exercise.
The jamming had additionally occurred earlier than. Romania skilled the same drawback with its GPS system, a glitch that the military’s chief of employees blamed on Russia and mentioned posed a major danger to transport within the area. Whereas Bulgarian officers are being cautious to not instantly accuse Russia, they’ve mentioned that the issues with GPS largely date from the beginning of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Requested by RFE/RL who was behind the jamming and the way Sofia is countering it, the Bulgarian Protection Ministry was circumspect, solely saying that the jamming was being carried out “with radio-electronic warfare programs.”
“However details about the programs themselves, the technique of operation and countermeasures is classed,” the Protection Ministry mentioned.
Russia is probably going behind the jamming, mentioned Thomas Withington, an knowledgeable on digital warfare, radar, and army communications on the London-based Royal United Providers Institute, a protection and safety assume tank, including that such exercise poses a security danger for transport within the space.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, Withington mentioned Russia could possibly be trying to guard its invading forces in Ukraine from GPS-guided weapons launched by the Ukrainian army. “It’s not essentially that the Russians are doing it on function, but it surely has penalties and a facet impact is that it may be very harmful for civilian vessels counting on satellite tv for pc navigation,” Withington mentioned.
Romania explicitly warned about this danger to transport on the finish of September when Basic Daniel Petrescu, the chief of employees of the nation’s military, accused Russia of “actively and consistently” jamming ships’ GPS communications in its territorial waters, inflicting a danger of collisions.
“Conflict has returned to Europe. It’s a battle chosen by Russia, which for Ukraine is a battle of nationwide survival and a struggle for Western values,” he informed the Euro-Atlantic Resilience Discussion board in Bucharest, a strategy-focused convention supported by the Romanian Overseas Ministry.
Petrescu mentioned that the battle in Ukraine has basically destabilized the Black Sea area. “The Black Sea has turn out to be an space of Russian army operation,” he mentioned.
“We don’t see the tip of this battle now, and whereas we admire the resilience of Ukrainian society within the face of Russian assaults, we should additionally put together for a long-term confrontation with the regime of the Russian Federation,” the overall added.
Such digital warfare — the usage of digital indicators to find, intercept, and disrupt enemy operations — has turn out to be an vital, if underreported, ingredient in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Leaked U.S. paperwork, cited in June by the Royal United Providers Institute, confirmed that Russian digital warfare could also be having a detrimental affect on sure U.S.-supplied weapons, generally known as Joint Direct Assault Munition, or JDAM.
“It’s no secret that Russian land forces have deployed scores of EW (digital warfare) programs into the Ukrainian theater of operations,” that report mentioned.
Bulgarian officers, nevertheless, have denied that GPS jamming is a significant issue. “The issues with the GPS sign are remoted incidents,” Georgi Peev, director-general of BULATSA, the Bulgarian Air Navigation Service, which oversees the nation’s air site visitors management system.
Such GPS interference “on no account compromises the safety of aviation, as a result of another, ground-based [radar] system is obtainable,” Peev informed RFE/RL.
Bulgaria and different international locations are “monitoring the state of affairs,” Peev mentioned, including that they had been taking precautionary steps to avert unspecified difficulties within the occasion of a GPS malfunction.
Whereas the supply of the jamming at Sofia Airport continues to be not recognized, some specialists have speculated that Russia could possibly be utilizing ships within the Black Sea outfitted with jamming units.
In August, GPS interference over the Bulgarian and Romanian Black Sea coasts appeared to spike, in accordance with information from GPSJAM. The uptick in exercise occurred only a month after Russia launched what it described as army workout routines within the Black Sea in an space not removed from the shores of Bulgaria, which Sofia has designated its Unique Financial Zone, a designation that provides a state the correct to discover and exploit marine sources.
The army workout routines additionally got here within the wake of Russia’s July 17 determination to unilaterally exit the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal attributable to sanctions that had blocked its meals and fertilizer exports.
“There isn’t a such [military] train. That is simply an event that Russia is utilizing, and ostensibly conducting an train, [to try] to dam the export of Ukrainian grain,” Bulgarian Protection Minister Todor Tagarev mentioned on the finish of September.
Beneath the deal, Ukraine had managed to ship greater than 32 million metric tons of grain to 45 international locations over a yr.
Kyiv responded to Russia’s withdrawal by organising a short lived “humanitarian hall” for cargo vessels, and a number of ships have left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since.
Citing declassified intelligence, Britain mentioned earlier in October that there was a danger Russia would goal civilian ships travelling by this hall in an effort to deter the export of Ukrainian grain. “Russia nearly actually needs to keep away from overtly sinking civilian ships, as an alternative falsely laying blame on Ukraine for any assaults in opposition to civilian vessels within the Black Sea,” the British Overseas Workplace mentioned in a assertion.
Since July, Russian assaults have broken 130 Black Sea and Danube River ports and infrastructure amenities and have destroyed practically 300,000 metric tons of grain, sufficient to feed greater than 1 million folks for a yr, Britain mentioned.
In September, London accused Moscow of concentrating on a civilian cargo ship at a port within the Black Sea with “a number of missiles,” which the U.Ok. authorities mentioned had been efficiently intercepted by Ukrainian defenses.
Past the Black Sea, jamming of world navigation satellite tv for pc programs (GNSS) has been detected in areas of the Mediterranean Sea, together with alongside the coasts of Turkey, Cyprus, and Syria, in accordance with information from GPSJAM.
Russian warships are additionally working within the Mediterranean Sea, with Moscow controlling the Tartus naval facility on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, a website the place specialists have advised Russia is finishing up jamming operations.
The Royal United Providers Institute’s Withington says he believes that a lot of the jamming is finished by gear deployed on Russian warships in each the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. “What the Russian weapon does is forestall the GNSS sign from area from reaching the receiver on Earth. And it does this by emitting much more highly effective sign than [the one] coming from area,” he mentioned.
Withington has warned that incidents within the Black Sea and the skies over Ukraine may rapidly escalate if Russian jamming will not be thwarted, though the duty is “difficult as a result of precision electronics are required.”
Written by Tony Wesolowsky based mostly on reporting by Georgi A. Angelov
- Georgi A. Angelov has been a journalist for RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service since 2022. He began his profession 20 years in the past at the Smolyan newspaper Otzvuk. He then labored for quite a few nationwide newspapers. He was a reporter at Dnevnik, an editor at OFFNews.bg, and a author and correspondent on the Bulgarian part of Deutsche Welle.