The Russian company at the center of the diplomatic row between the United States and Russia over illegal arm sales to Iraq appears to be playing both sides of the war, as WorldNetDaily has learned the company also was awarded contracts in the current fiscal year by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Moscow-based Aviaconversiya Ltd., which is located near the Kremlin, produces a portable GPS-jamming device that can seriously impair U.S. satellite-based guidance systems in Iraq.
The Global Positioning System, or GPS, provides the backbone for U.S. battlefield communication, navigation and precision-targeting of so-called “smart bombs” – including the 21,000-pound MOAB, or “Mother of All Bombs.” GPS receivers rely on signals from orbiting satellites.
The U.S. claimed earlier this week that Aviaconversiya technicians are on the ground in Iraq helping to deploy equipment designed to jam U.S. satellite signals. U.S. intelligence shows an electronic signal emitted by the jamming system in Iraq has been traced to the system sold by the Russian firm. Intelligence also indicates the equipment was delivered after the war started.
Such electronic warfare was recognized as a threat by U.S. officials as early as 1996, and defense contractors were instructed to evaluate the vulnerability of their weapons systems to jamming and “spoofing,” which is when false GPS signals get transmitted.
The National Air Intelligence Center, or NAIC, has been gathering intelligence on Aviaconversiya at least since the late 1990s. Based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, NAIC is the primary Defense Department producer of foreign aerospace intelligence. NAIC performs analysis on foreign aerospace forces and weapons systems to determine performance characteristics, capabilities, vulnerabilities and intentions for national policy-makers and the acquisition community.
An assessment done by NAIC officers indicated the company was getting help from the Russian military to develop and test its GPS-jammer product, and that the jammers were being specifically marketed to Iraq.
Intelligence officials think the jammers initially were imported to counter U.S. and British jets patrolling the “no-fly” zones of northern and southern Iraq after the Gulf War.
The company’s promotional brochure, obtained by Agence France-Presse, specifically markets the device as a means to bolster Iraq’s comparatively meager military might against that of the U.S.:
There are several regions of the world where international tension exists between rival countries which are not equivalent from the military point of view. For example: the United Arab Emirates against Iran, Iraq against the USA … The situation seems hopeless for countries with limited resources. Nevertheless, there is a way out. The firm Aviaconversiya has developed a jammer for GPS. A small number will greatly increase defense effectiveness. … Without knowledge of positions it is impossible to fulfill combat missions and for headquarters to control troops. … If you can’t destroy the enemy, paralyze its combat actions.
Despite U.S. intelligence, WorldNetDaily has learned the U.S. government hired the company to provide it with communications equipment.
According to Defense Department records, the U.S. Army in Germany contracted with Aviaconversiya Ltd. for “miscellaneous communications equipment” worth $399,000 in FY 1999 and FY 2000, and for “generators and generator sets” worth $231,000 in FY 2001 and FY 2002, which ends in September.
Defense spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin told WorldNetDaily the company is now flagged as “inactive” in the department’s database.
Is Aviaconversiya applying knowledge gleaned through contracting with the U.S. against coalition forces in Iraq?
“‘Miscellaneous Communication Equipment’ is too broad a category to determine any effect,” Irwin wrote in an e-mail response to WND’s request for comment, citing the database listing of Aviaconversiya’s contracts.
WND was unable to get further detail of the equipment provided to the U.S., but the description “generators” presumably stands for signal generators.
Repeated requests for comment on why the government would contract with a company it knew was working with the Russians to develop a product to help Iraq thwart U.S. military forces turned up no responses from the Defense Department.
President George W. Bush raised the issue of illegal weapons systems sold to Iraq with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, in a phone call Monday, according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Fleischer said the phone conversation came after U.S. officials at the “highest levels” had contacted their Russian counterparts over the past year urging the government to crack down on the companies, and were unsatisfied with the Kremlin’s response.
The U.S. also claims other Russian firms sent anti-tank guided missiles and night-vision goggles to Iraq.
Last year, the U.S. imposed sanctions on one of the companies, KBP Tula, for allegedly selling the anti-tank guided missiles to Syria, Libya, Sudan and Iran. But after the Russian Foreign Ministry interceded, the sanctions were lifted.
KBP Tula has denied accusations it sold weapons to Iraq, but admitted to Gazeta daily the anti-tank missiles were sold to Syria, a country the U.S. considers to be a state sponsor of terrorism.
Curiously, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday issued a warning to Syria during a Pentagon briefing.
“And to Iraq’s neighbor, Syria: We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles. These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments,” he said.
Russian officials also have pointed the finger at Syria.
According to Fleischer, Putin assured Bush he would look into the matter. Then, in an apparent public relations tit-for-tat, Putin accused the U.S. of creating a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Iraq.
Russia’s foreign minister angrily denied involvement in the sale of the technology, which violates United Nations sanctions.
“We did not send any goods, including military ones, that violated the sanctions,” Igor Ivanov said.
Aviaconversiya’s director and owner, Oleg Antonov, also has denied the allegation he sold equipment to Iraq, calling it a “fabrication by the Central Intelligence Agency, aimed at hindering the export of high-tech products from Russia,” according to the Russian Press Digest.
“They won’t find any of our technicians in Iraq. The Americans are trying to find a scapegoat because their bombs are not falling as accurately as they want. We didn’t sell anything to Iraq,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Antonov also suggested a third party – such as Syria – could have passed along the equipment to Iraq.
Antonov admitted Baghdad repeatedly had expressed interest in the jammers, which may account for the company’s direct marketing to Iraq.
In August 1997, NAIC personnel attended an air show in Moscow where they took pictures of Aviaconversiya’s exhibit and spoke to Antonov about the GPS-jammer product, which was fully functional at the time.
The portable jamming unit weighs 28 pounds and has an output power of 4 watts. It is capable of blocking GPS signals from a range of up to 200 kilometers.
Aviaconversiya jamming transmitter for GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation receivers.
“Antonov said that he has already recently marketed the jammer in the Middle East and said he has several potential customers there. He declined to elaborate further as to who may have already contracted for his jammer,” wrote the reporting officer in the NAIC assessment. “Dr. Antonov said the sophistication of the signal jammers was beyond the technical ability of his Middle Eastern customers. He said that besides Russia, only France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden/Norway, and possibly Israel are able to build these sophisticated signal generators.”
Map of Iraq with jamming transmitters lining the borders.
Among the pictures NAIC took of the Aviaconversiya exhibit was a map of Iraq with symbols indicating signal transmissions ringing the perimeter of the country.
According to the NAIC assessment, Antonov told the reporting officer he was working in conjunction with the Russian military on directional antennas for the jammer so that it could be used to jam directionally while maintaining safe areas for friendly forces to access GPS.
He also said the Russian military was assisting him in testing the device in an aircraft, and that in previous tests four types of GPS and GLONASS devices were subjected to jamming at remote distances and all the navigation devices failed in the face of the jamming.
Did the NAIC conclude the jammer posed a threat to the U.S.? NAIC won’t say.
“We really don’t have anything we can say publicly other than we have an interest in learning more and this is still a close-hold [classified] subject,” Rob Young, public affairs director for the NAIC production center, told WND.
Despite sparking a diplomatic skirmish, the deployment of the jammers in the current conflict is not affecting operations, according to U.S. military officials.
“We have been aware for some time of the possibility of GPS jammers being fielded,” Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday. “What we’ve found is, through testing and through actual practice now, that they are not having a negative effect on the air campaign at this point.”
Then on Tuesday, officials announced at a press briefing at U.S. Central Command in Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, that six GPS jammers “provided by another nation” were taken out of commission by U.S. forces.
“We destroyed one of the GPS jammers with a GPS weapon,” quipped Air Force Major Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr.