One of a number of new Chinese systems unveiled at last month's IDEX defense show in Abu Dhabi was what appears to be an analogue of the Czech-developed Vera-E passive location system - which China attempted to acquire in 2004
, only to be blocked by US pressure. The model of the DWL002 was displayed by CETC International, as part of a display that included a complete surface-to-air electronic warfare system comprising truck-mounted jammers.
Vera-E itself is a development of the Cold War-era Tamara, which achieved a brief notoriety as an anti-stealth weapon - which it really is not, although it may evolve into something of the sort. The system comprises three mast-mounted, highly sensitive wideband receivers, connected together by a secure directional data link. The three receivers can pinpoint the location of any electronic signal from an airborne platform within range (around 200 km) by measuring the difference of the signal's time of arrival at the three locations.
It is a useful system but not magic. It can be degraded by transmitting as little as possible, by transmitting in short bursts (the system can then detect the emitter but has a hard time building a track), using directional datalinks - as current stealth aircraft do - and by other low probability of intercept techniques. What it will do is make it harder to conduct net-centric operations, which are heavily reliant on datalinks.
Vera itself was being presented at IDEX in its new Vera-NG version. Its developer, the ERA company,
is now owned by a US company, SRA International. The main new feature of the NG version is that the individual stations can be operated remotely, which combined with new electronics makes the system small enough to be carried on a Humvee-class vehicle rather than a medium truck.
However, Vera-NG also opens the way to two future developments: an interconnected system of multiple clusters, able to monitor a much wider area, and a version that could track non-emitting targets by taking advantage of "signals of opportunity" such as radio or TV broadcast signals. Because the system is multistatic and operates at very low frequencies, it has the potential to bypass many standard stealth technologies.
ERA officials urged caution in estimating the potential of China's system, however. "The core of the solution is the algorithms, and we have been doing that for 40 years. It's easy with one pulse and one target, but when you have 200 targets and 400,000 pulses, it's more difficult. It's not straightforward."