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Electronic warfare: Middle East a growing threat

Insurgents and paramilitary organizations in the Middle East are becoming increasingly sophisticated when it comes to the technology behind their weapons, defense experts told CNBC at the Farnborough International Airshow.

One such trend in the region has been an advance in surface-to-air missiles from infrared artillery – such as the heat-guided missile – to the more complex radio frequency gear – like a radar-guided missile, according to Chris Bushell, senior vice president for electronic warfare at Finmeccanica – Selex ES.

Patriot missile
Getty Images
Patriot missile

"As governments have withdrawn from Afghanistan and then got involved in Libya, they saw there was an radar-guided threat out there. It was a wake-up call for other airforces to see the threat out there. Libya had a lot of that on the ground," Bushell told CNBC at Farnborough.

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"If you then look at somewhere like Syria, you quickly realize that some nations out there, many of whom who have equipment that is dated, can modify it relatively easily, and that threat can be recognized as one that is growing and can be countered."

One way to intercept such new radar-guided missiles is to use "decoys". Imagine a radar-guided missile heading towards a fighter pilot. Within a few seconds the pilot's plane could be up in flames, but just in time they release a decoy which has a computer in it that confuses the missile's signal and pushes it off track.

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Global spend on the more advanced radio frequency electronic warfare systems is set to hit $9.3 billion by 2022, according to a report by Strategy Analytics, as nations realize the growing need to have strong digital capabilities.

"This is clearly an area where countries are investing and need to invest because that's where you get casualties," Bruno Carrara, vice president of the electronic combat solutions business at Thales, told CNBC.

- By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal

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