Russia’s electronic warfare capability ‘exposed’ in war in Ukraine; Is Putin’s tech-savvy army losing the EW battle?


Media coverage of the ongoing war in Ukraine is largely focused on the use of missiles, artillery planes and armored vehicles, etc., but there is an invisible war between the two sides for spectrum control electromagnetic.

Lacking the visual or emotional impact of explosions caused by rockets or destruction caused by bullets from machine guns and rifles, electronic warfare (EW) has not received much mainstream media attention, however. , there has been a lot of discussion among experts about how the war in the field of electromagnetic spectrum (ESD) has progressed in Ukraine.

Russia, considered a world leader in advanced electronic warfare capabilities and tactics, has so far failed to put its full power into ESD, which has left many experts baffled.

“The apparent lack of EW frontline systems is puzzling to those of us who have followed Russian EW tactics and concepts,” said Samuel Bendett, deputy principal researcher at the Center for a New American Security (CNA).

A military radar screen scans air traffic. 3D rendered illustration by vchalup (123RF)

The Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Valeri Gerasimov, ordered Russian combat units to be supported by battalions and brigades EW specialized in the Ukrainian conflict with their missions, including jamming, neutralization and blocking of enemy communications and navigation and positioning systems.

Russian EW systems deployed in Ukraine include the RB-341® “Leer-3” supported by Orlan-10 drones, the most advanced RB-301B “Borisoglebsk-2” electronic suppression system, and the RB-636 “Svet -KU” and the RB-109A “Bylina” and Tirada-2.

RB-341В “Leer-3” in conjunction with Orlan-10 drones are aimed at intercepting satellite navigation signals, 3G, 4G communications and text messages, while RB-301B “Borisoglebsk-2” is intended to block Ukrainian military terrain. and the High Frequency (HF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) airborne radio channels, and the RB-636 “Svet-KU”, whose role is to locate and intercept radio signals.

While the RB-109A “Bylina” and Tirada-2 are used to degrade and jam communication satellite transmissions.

There is also the R-934B “Sinitsa” jamming station, capable of disrupting and if necessary even damaging the communication and guidance systems of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).

In addition to this, there are the 1RL257 “Krasukha-C4” and R-330Zh “Zhitel” automatic jamming stations for reconnaissance and electronic attack (EA) aimed at jamming long-range radar signals from AWACS E -3 of the US Air Force. Sentry and AEW E-2 Hawkeye airborne warning and control aircraft, attempting to locate Russian fighters in flight.

ucrania guerra
United States Air Force (USAF) E-3 Sentry AWACS

Despite deploying such an array of Russian electronic warfare systems, the Ukrainians still appear to have good command and control (C2) over their forces on the ground.

One of the possible reasons suggested by the experts is that the Ukrainian forces could disperse some of their command structures to limit the impacts of the Russian EW.

Scramble electronic signals

“On the Ukrainian side, they can mitigate some of the challenges of Russian cybersecurity and jamming because they exercise command and control in a decentralized way,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander. of the US Army in Europe. National interest in an interview.

Electronic warfare involves jamming electronic signals from radar systems, radio frequencies, or guided weapons to blind or disrupt enemy operations, and decentralizing these assets can help ensure connectivity without relying on a single C2 structure that could be targeted more easily.

electronic warfare AC |  Lockheed Martin
Image for representation: Electronic Warfare CA | Lockheed Martin

Hodges suggested that the Russians might not have the experience to target and attack decentralized operations, which would be more difficult to locate while a centralized C2 structure would emit a substantial electronic signal and be more easily detected by EW sensors. Russians.

While Bryan Clark, a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute, noted that broadcasts from Ukrainian forces using normal cellphones are also caught in other civilian broadcasts, making it harder for Russian forces to find Ukrainians in the forest from electromagnetic spectrum emissions.

While Russian troops also reportedly used cellphones and even stole SIM cards, this means the Russians are likely dependent on local Ukrainian communications infrastructure, suggesting a lack of their own resilient or redundant communications.

Therefore, another possible explanation is that the Russians do not use jammers so as not to disrupt their communications on the battlefield, because although jamming can be effective in blocking enemy communications, it can also interfere with communications friendly if not done correctly, indicating that Russian forces lack proper warfare tactics. in the EMS field requiring good electromagnetic management.

Interoperability issue

This has been observed not only for communication networks, but also in the case of satellite navigation signals where the Russian armed forces have experienced “electronic fratricide” due to their jamming actions.

Major General B. Kremenetskyi, the Defense Attaché of the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States, had noted the interoperability problem with the Russian armed forces which would jam Ukrainian frequencies, but end up jamming their systems in using the same frequencies, for example, Russian UAVs which use satellite signals transmitted by the country’s GLONASS [global positioning] system.

GLONASS uses a frequency band of 1.589 GHz [gigahertz] at 1.6 GHz which falls under the Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF: 30 MHz to three gigahertz) range, so if Russian forces target Ukrainian UHF transmissions, they could sometimes end up jamming their GNSS UAV [global navigation satellite system] signals.

There are also reports of Ukrainians using a Soviet-era TA-57 wired field phone as a backup for worst-case scenarios, which is a shoebox-sized analog landline phone.

It has spools of wire several hundred meters long and to make a call, a user manually operates a dynamo, which alerts the user on the other end of the line to an incoming call. The two operators then talk to each other normally while their respective devices are running on battery power.

electronic warfare
A Soviet-era TA-57 field phone (Wikimedia Commons)

Introduced to the Soviet Army in 1957, the TA-57 is bulky and obsolete, but also virtually impregnable to modern Russian EW systems. Therefore, this piece of Soviet-era kit remains in active service with the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces did not stop using analog and primitive means of communication,” Andriy Mikheychenko, an active-duty first lieutenant in the Ukrainian military, told Coffee or Die before the Russian invasion.

The invisible domain

Additionally, throughout the ongoing conflict, there have been numerous reports of Russian military convoys stalled due to lack of fuel and other logistical problems. Therefore, experts also blamed logistical failures for preventing the Russian military from utilizing the full extent of their electronic warfare capabilities. .

For example, Laurie Buckhout, a retired Army colonel who specializes in EW, told Breaking Defense that Russia’s airborne EW system, like a helicopter with an EW payload, is not useful only if there is a capable ground attack, but if the armor is mired in the mud or the soldiers surrender or abandon their vehicles because they have run out of fuel, there is no point in putting a helicopter in support.

“Why put your asset [Helicopter] up there to be dismantled if there isn’t a worthy operation on the ground? said Boukhout.

It is also important to remember that it is not possible to determine with certainty the use and effectiveness of electronic warfare capabilities in the current fog of war, as the electromagnetic spectrum is an invisible domain.

Cranny-Evans, C4ISR research analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), noted that it’s not because it’s unwatched, partly because “good EW” is highly targeted. , that this does not happen.

“So I’m very reluctant to say we haven’t seen it because it’s not being observed. And B, Ukrainians will be the last to admit they have communication problems,” Cranny-Evans said.

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