Blind, Confuse and Demoralize: Russian Electronic Warfare Operations in Donbas

Russian R-330Zh “Zhitel” EW system (Source: Topwar.ru)

Executive Summary

Electronic Warfare (EW) has historically been one of the key pillars of Russian/Soviet military might. Following the tumultuous period of internal crises in the 1990s, Russia managed to restore and, in some categories, surpass Soviet-era achievements in the realm of EW. Given the evolution of modern warfare and increasing reliance on new means of combat, primarily involving various types of drones, EW will preserve its strategic importance in Russia’s military thinking for the foreseeable future.

The Ukrainian crisis—both the annexation of Crimea and (to a much greater extent) hostilities in the Donbas region—has allowed Russia to test its EW inventory accumulated after 2008. In Donbas, Russia successfully experimented with brand new as well as some previously used pieces. Moreover, the use of EW became one of the decisive factors in securing the survival of Moscow-backed “separatist” forces on the one hand, and soundly defeating the Ukrainian military on the other hand.

Since the start of the conflict, Russian forces in eastern Ukraine have been carrying out integrated testing of the concept of “information confrontation,” consisting of informational-technological and informational-psychological aspects. Yet Moscow’s successful experience in Donbas must be looked at in a balanced way. It should not be overrated, because the Ukrainian Armed Forces—at least during the initial “active phase” of military confrontation—were de facto nonexistent and so became an easy target. But at the same time, Russia’s performance must not be underestimated, since in Donbas, Russian units demonstrated only some of their offensive EW potential, while a number of the most recently produced EW weapons systems were not tested at all. Should hostilities escalate again in the future, Russia might be more inclined to employ and showcase this latest EW weaponry—particularly new anti-drone assets, given Ukraine’s own advances in this space.

 

Introduction

Moscow’s rapid and mostly bloodless annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in February–March 2014, followed a month later by the Russian-fueled instability and military confrontation in Donbas, marked the first serious test of Russia’s (para)military efforts abroad since the Russo-Georgian conflict and the launch of military reforms in 2008. In addition to Russia’s use of shadowy paramilitary outfits (e.g., private military contractors like Slavonic Corps and the Wagner Group), the early escalation of the Donbas conflict was marked by Russia’s use of Information Operations (IO) and Electronic Warfare[1] (EW).

The following study specifically discusses the use of EW by the integrated Russian-“separatist” forces in Donbas since 2014 and the role of this conflict in the overall trajectory of Russia’s development of EW capabilities. To this end, the paper covers:

  1. the general course of Russian development of EW capabilities through history,
  2. the refinement of the conceptual-theoretical foundations of Russia’s EW thinking in the post-2008 period,
  3. a detailed outline of EW systems used by Russia in Donbas, and
  4. speculation on future steps that Moscow might take in Donbas in case of potential military escalation there.

 

Development of Russia’s EW Capabilities: A Historical Perspective

Since the beginning of the 20th century, electronic warfare has constituted one of the main pillars of Russia’s military strength, as still reflected in the country’s current capabilities. The pre-1991 period of Russian EW development can be divided into three main stages:

The first stage (1902–1917) was marked by several groundbreaking achievements. The earliest recorded (in world practice) conceptual study addressing EW’s strategic importance dates back to January 1902.[2] Whereas, the rapid development of the sector reached a symbolic milestone during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) when the Tsarist Russian Navy—for the first time in history (April 15, 1904)—employed EW against Japanese naval vessels. During World War I (1914–1918), EW was one of the few components (if not the only one) in which the Russian Armed Forces held primacy over their opponents.[3]

The second stage (1918–mid-1950s) was marked by a rollback on both the theoretical and practical fronts. Despite some advances—the first unit tasked with EW operations was created in November 1918, in Serpukhov, and the integration of radio direction finders in the Red Army and naval forces started in 1919—necessary attention was not paid to their further implementation and development.[4] Nevertheless, electronic warfare did play a notable role in the Soviet Union’s confrontation with Japan in the Far East, in the late 1930s, where EW systems not only helped the Soviets acquire important data about Japanese military capabilities (intelligence gathering function) but also assisted in gathering information about the relocation of Japanese military formations. At a serious level, however, the first fundamental step was not made until the middle of World War II, in December 1942, when the first specialized units for radio-electronic suppression were introduced into the Red Army.[5]

The third stage (mid-1950s–1990) was heavily influenced by the Cold War and mushrooming (proxy) regional conflicts. Specifically, the Korean (1950–1953) and Vietnam wars (1955–1975)—where the Soviet-backed sides encountered a technologically advanced opponent—became a watershed that triggered a boom in the development of new Soviet EW capabilities. Between 1954 and 1959, the Soviet Armed Forces received the first battalions tasked with radio-electronic interference, radio-location, and radio-navigation.[6] Arguably, the zenith was reached between 1967 and 1977, when the Soviet Union made fundamental advancements on both theoretical and practical levels. In particular, the following developments should be highlighted:[7]

  • adoption of a concept on the further development of EW, which resulted in the unification of state policies in this area;
  • the launch of a series of military exercises (Efir-72, Efir-74, Elektron-75 and Impuls-76) to test ways to increase the effectiveness of EW in military operations; and
  • A structural realignment within the Soviet military, which included the formation of tactical EW units.

Nevertheless, despite massive financial injections, starting from the late 1970s, the Soviet Union started losing its competitiveness in the electronic warfare space. During the 1982 Lebanon War, the growing gap between Soviet and Western EW capabilities became especially apparent. This fact also partially became evident from the war in Afghanistan (1979–1989). Russian military experts have argued that this negative trend primarily resulted from “long-dated views on EW coming from the 1940s–1950s that were widespread among members of the Soviet General Staff”—de facto leading to a “petrification.”[8] Yet the genuine bottom would be reached later, in the 1990s.

 

The Post-1991 Period: From (Near) Collapse to a New Boom

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, EW remained chronically underfinanced and understaffed. Many qualified professionals left for the private sector, with some joining semi-criminal structures and “private armies” organized by the nascent class of oligarchs.[9] As a result, a vacuum on both theoretical and practical levels emerged.[10] But while Russia’s capabilities continued to degrade, Russian military thinkers and practitioners were dazzled by the United States’ advances in EW and informational-psychological operations, showcased between 1991 and 2003 in regional conflicts in the Gulf region, Afghanistan and the Balkans.[11] This trend persevered until 2008–2009, when three occurrences helped usher in a new era in the development of Russian EW capabilities.[12]

First, was the initiation of dramatic military reforms (triggered in large part by the Russian Armed Forces’ experience in the August 2008 Russian-Georgian War), which resulted in the emergence of a vertically integrated system of EW command and control (C2).[13] Ultimately, EW companies were created in virtually all reformed rifle and tank brigades and divisions, the Airborne Troops, and special forces.[14]

Second, in his address to the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) on November 5, 2008, then–president Dmitry Medvedev—speaking about potential responses to US plans to deploy elements of strategic missile defense in Central Europe—emphasized the role of Kaliningrad Oblast in contributing to Russia’s “asymmetric response.”[15] Russian military experts assumed that one such “response” would translate into deploying a “special EW center” equipped with up-to-date means of radio-technical intelligence gathering and radio-electronic suppression.[16]

Third, the creation of the Radio-Electronic Technologies Concern (KRET)[17]—within the Russian state-owned Rostec defense-industry corporation—resulted in a vertically integrated company offering a complex and diversified product line with a prospect for commercialization, an element nonexistent in the Soviet Union. KRET is specifically tasked with developing and manufacturing specialized military radio-electronic capabilities; state identification, aviation and radio-electronic equipment; multipurpose measuring devices; detachable electrical connectors; and civil products.

Furthermore, special attention was paid to EW research and the nurturing of a qualified cadre. For this purpose, a special military-scientific committee for EW troops was created in October 2015. This was followed by the creation of the Scientific Institute of EW in Voronezh in 2016.[18]

Thus, by the second half of the 2010s, Russia had arguably managed to overcome the consequences of the turbulence of the two preceding decades and—in some categories—took qualitative steps forward in comparison with the pre-1991 period.

 

Theoretical-Methodological Foundations of Russia’s EW Strategy

Russia’s contemporary (post-2008) defense-industry and military science literature divides EW into three main interconnected domains[19]:

  • Radio-electronic defeat (radioelektronnoye porazhenie), which is an offensive side of EW with the ultimate goal of achieving partial-to-full destruction of the enemy’s critical (digital/information) infrastructure;
  • Radio-electronic defense (radioelektronnaya zashita), which is primarily concerned with minimizing the effect produced by the adversary’s EW forces; and
  • Radio-electronic suppression (radioelektronnoye podavleniye), a concept somewhat close in meaning to “radio-electronic defeat” but primarily focused on decreasing the effectiveness (not complete destruction) of the opponent’s assets through spoofing and imposing other types of radio-electronic interference.

In this regard, one crucial aspect must be highlighted: in Russian theory, EW constitutes an integral element of a larger phenomenon, so-called “information confrontation” (informatsionnoye protivoborstvo), which combines political, economic, diplomatic and military means but is comprised of two essential elements.[20]

  1. Information-technological confrontation consisting of:
  • EW and electronic intelligence,
  • electro-optical warfare (elektronno-opticheskaya voyna),
  • acoustic warfare and offensive and defensive use of information security, and
  • computer warfare (so-called “hackers’ warfare”).
  1. Information-psychological confrontation, which envisages targeting:
  • human consciousness,
  • neurological systems (both individual and collective, including military formations),
  • state ideology, and
  • national consciousness.

Another essential aspect to Russia’s understanding of the role of EW within the wider “information confrontation” phenomenon is articulated in a 2017 article in Kommersant, which underscores a so-called “innovative approach” to building up EW capabilities. In particular, the following areas are to be additionally boosted in the nearest future[21]:

  • Creating “managed radio noise” (upravliayemiye radiopomekhi) on the enemy`s territory, which is to be achieved through integrated use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and special jamming transmitters (peredatchiki pomekh);
  • Boosting offensive EW capabilities via electromagnetic radiation; and
  • Allocating special attention to the imitation of radio-electronic environments (radioelektronnaya obstanovka) and integration of disinformation in the enemy’s command and control as well as the system of control of automated weaponry.

Importantly, nearly all the aforementioned aspects have been tested in the fullest possible way in Ukraine and Donbas, in particular.

 

Donbas as a Testing Ground: The ‘Active Phase’ of Military Confrontation

The active phase of military confrontation in the Donbas war zone occurred between 2014 and 2017. In facing off against the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), the Russia-backed “separatist” forces (actively supported by Moscow economically, politically and militarily) relied on various instruments of warfare ranging from nonmilitary (disinformation) to paramilitary to conventional military elements. Arguably, three main factors secured the survival of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics (LPR, DNR):

  1. The near complete unpreparedness of the UAF to engage in combat, whether militarily or psychologically.
  2. The rapid deployment and participation of Russian paramilitary contractors (PMCs) that spearheaded and coordinated all major military operations carried out by the “separatists.”[22]
  3. The employment of Russian-delivered means of EW, which played a key role in the defeats suffered by the UAF between 2014 and 2015.

Within the last element, five main operative tasks or functions should be indicated:

  • Sabotage of (Russian-manufactured) radios employed by the UAF,
  • Interception of communication,
  • Jamming, primarily employed against radio stations (with frequency bands of 137–180 and 400–470 megahertz) and GPS navigation,
  • Spoofing, and
  • Pursuing a combination of informational-technological (hacking smartphones and information systems, cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, etc.) and informational-psychological (disinformation, misinformation, provocations, dispatching malign content, and texting UAF members[23]) confrontations.

The main means of EW employed by the separatist forces in their engagements with the UAF between 2014 and 2017[24] included:

  • The RB-341В “Leer-3” complex, designed for jamming GSM (cellular) signals with the support of Orlan-10 UAVs and transmitting information. It had been tested in military engagements in Ukraine (spotted in Donbas during the spring and summer of 2015) even before its official introduction to the Russian Armed Forces (October 2015).[25] Later (May 2016), this advanced system was spotted several times near the city of Donetsk.
  • The RB-301B “Borisoglebsk-2” complex, one of Russia’s most advanced systems of electronic suppression. It is designed for radio intelligence and for jamming of HF/UHF (both terrestrial and aircraft) radio channels as well as mobile terminals and trunked radios at the tactical and operational-tactical command levels. It was introduced to the Russian Armed Forces in 2013 (even though it was created in 2009), when the first units were deployed to the Southern Military District.[26] This complex was first used in Donbas in November 2014 (near Stakhanov, Luhansk Oblast).[27] Also, complexes of this type frequently appear near the Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO—the Ukrainian military’s term for its armed activities against Russia-backed separatist forces) zone. Allegedly, this complex played a decisive role in the Battle of Debaltseve (January 2015), one of the heaviest defeats suffered by the Ukrainian Armed Forces to date.
  • The R-934UM automated jamming station (put into service in 2008–2010), first spotted near Luhansk in 2015, where it was working with an F-330KMA command unit. Previously, this station appeared near the eastern Ukrainian cities of Horlivka and Makiivka.[28]
  • The R-330Zh “Zhitel” automated jamming station, to which the Russian military allocated a particularly important role in the Donbas operation. This piece of EW technology has a long history of service in the Russian Armed Forces, having allegedly been employed during the assassination of former president of Ichkeria (Chechnya) Dzhokhar Dudayev (1996), the Russo-Georgian War (2008), and Russia’s annexation of Crimea (March 2014).[29] It was recorded being used by the Russian side in Donbas between 2014 and 2017.[30] On many occasions, it was spotted in Horlivka, Makiivka and Zaytsevo. This equipment may also have been used by separatist forces near Debaltseve in 2015.
  • The R-381T2 UHF radio monitoring station (R-381T “Taran” complex) and “Torn” radio intelligence complexes, observed with joint Russian-separatist forces in 2015 near the Donetsk International Airport and the “Sparta” impromptu military base, located on the territory of the Donetsk National Technological University.[31]
  • The PSNR-8 Kredo-M1 (1L120) portable ground reconnaissance station. Adopted by the Russian army in 2002, this system is designed to detect moving targets on the ground or on the water and to support artillery fire at any time of day, year round. Importantly, this system can also be used in conditions of low It has repeatedly been spotted on the territory of Luhansk Oblast (Blahodatne, Olhynka, Buhas, Volnovakha and Olenivka).[32]

These, by and large technical descriptions require some further context, which can be deduced from analyses provided by two prominent Ukrainian military experts specializing in electronic warfare.

Colonel Ivan Pavlenko, the deputy chief of Combat Support Units of the Joint Forces Headquarters,[33] admitted the overall effectiveness of Russian EW in Donbas. He also noted an important role played by Moscow jamming Ukraine’s use of GLONASS (Russia’s satellite global positioning navigation system) as well as spoofing Ukrainian GPS signals. According to Pavlenko, as a result of Russia’s actions, between 2015 and 2017, the UAF lost—among others—about 100 small UAVs.[34]

A more detailed analysis, presented by Major General Borys Kremenetskyi, underscored three additional important details.[35] First, he named additional EW assets employed by the Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas—the RB-531B “Infauna”; the SPR-2М “Rtut-BМ” interference and jamming station;  the “Shipovnik-Aero” jamming station; the “Murmansk-BN”; the 1L269 Krasukha-2, designed to jam S-band signals (2.3–2.5 and 2.7–3.7 gigahertz); the 1RL257 Krasukha-C4, and the RP-377LA Lorandit station—underscoring their role in operations.

Second, he emphasized some other key functions performed by Russian EW units, including degrading radio communications (sudden disappearance of radio communication due to unknown reasons), blocking cellular (GSM) radio signals without their further restoration, defining the points of access and targeting the areas of mass access to GSM communication, using radio-electronic warfare capabilities to spot the location of counterbattery radars, using new physical principles to destroy electronic equipment (the Murmansk-BN played a special role), sending cellular text messages to private phones of Ukrainian soldiers and ascertaining (through data obtained from smartphones) their location.

Third, according to Kremenetskyi, on some occasions, the Russian Armed Forces experienced “electronic fratricide” because of their jamming actions. Specifically, the Ukrainian general stated,

[I] believe that they did not solve the problem of interoperability. Once they try to jam our systems, their own systems are also being jammed. Sometimes they tried to jam our frequencies, but then would also jam their own frequencies […] For example Russian UAVs use satellite signals transmitted by the country’s GLONASS [global positioning] constellation using a waveband of 1.589 GHz [gigahertz] to 1.6 GHz. In such cases, Russian forces could sometimes end up jamming their own UAV GNSS [global navigation satellite system] signals.[36]

The last element is particularly important in light of growing tensions in Donbas since January 2021 that risk the situation spiraling out of control and resulting in yet another outbreak of heavy fighting between the UAF and “separatist” forces. Should the situation along the line of contact escalate, the DPR/LPR leadership[37] as well as leading Russian military experts and officials[38] contend that the separatists will receive direct military support from Russia. However, according to Russian experts and officials, in case of a renewed confrontation, Moscow’s actions will be mainly concerned with “providing support […] in such a way as to be able to minimize the risk of a full-fledged military escalation […] incurring a defeat on the UAF in a non-contact way of combat.” This could be construed as a stern warning by the Russian side that, to “help” the LPR/DPR, Moscow is ready to employ not only conventional means of war and covert PMCs—but also unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAV)[39] as well as advanced EW assets.

 

Russia’s EW Operations in Donbas: The ‘Post-Conflict’ Stage

The period since 2017—which could be conditionally defined as the “post-conflict” stage—witnessed a lowering intensity of (para)military engagements and the gradual “freezing” of the frontline war. This lowered intensity of confrontation did not, however, mean that Russia completely ceased testing its EW capabilities against the UAF. Both Ukrainian and international observers have indicated and reported numerous instances of Russian EW pieces being present in different parts of occupied Donbas. For instance, one of the last Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) reports mentioned three EW systems spotted by its long-range surveillance drones—R-330Zh Zhitel, R-934B Sinitsa and RB-636 Svet-KU systems—near the village of Verbova Balka (28 kilometers southeast of Donetsk).[40]

Based on the information available, it is possible to identify three areas Russia has prioritized when it comes to testing its EW capabilities in the region.

  1. Radio-electronic intelligence gathering and interception. This element is best seen in the testing of the RB-636 “Svet-KU” system, which is specifically concerned with “control […] and monitoring of radio signals […] transmitted by radio channels.”[41] According to Russian sources, this complex can—under certain circumstances (GSM, CDMA2000 and UMTS networks)—independently block systems of communication.[42]
  2. Radio-electronic suppression, which is primarily tested through the employment of the following two systems:
    • The “Tirada-2” jamming complex, which was first spotted in Donbas in 2019.[43] This complex has also been tested—within the scope of military exercises—on the territory of the Central Military District (CMD), in Sverdlovsk Oblast. Russian sources have claimed that Tirada-2 is primarily concerned with tasks related to location and blocking and suppression of communications satellites. In commenting on the results of those exercises in the CMD, Russian sources have argued that this complex is capable of not only blocking but also completely incapacitating enemy satellites.
    • The R-934B “Sinitsa” jamming station, whose main tasks are concerned with disrupting target-setting for the adversary’s aviation and blocking data transmission from reconnaissance aircraft.[44] Russian experts have compared the Sinitsa against the Krasukha mobile, ground-based EW system (also spotted by the OSCE mission Ukraine in 2018[45]), which is capable of disrupting low Earth orbit satellites and cause permanent damage to targeted radio-electronic devices. And according to these specialists, the Krasukha is more like a “rapier” (due to its centered angle of coverage and suppression) while the Sinitsa is more like a “club” (due to a much wider and broader coverage).[46] Interestingly, the most recent (since early 2021) reports from the front line note that “the UAF is experiencing difficulties with radio connections as well as reconnaissance,” which is attributed by Ukrainian sources to “actions of the Russian EW forces.”[47]
  3. Informational-psychological operations—not a new phenomenon—have acquired some new traits.

First, apparently, the combined Russian-separatist forces have attempted to use the Leer-3 complex together with the Orlan-10 UAV in an integrated manner to indicate and imitate the work of a radio station, which, in turn, might enable them to send text messages with malign or disinformation content.[48] However, some experts have argued that “since 2015, the effectiveness of such efforts has decreased significantly, and they have nearly lost their negative psychological impact. …many soldiers even collect such texts for fun.”[49] Still, the potential impact of these disinformation efforts must not be downplayed for two reasons. On the one hand, most recent reports have vividly demonstrated the extent of Russia’s determination to sow propaganda and disinformation in Ukraine (especially in the southeast), using all resources available (including local loyalists and covert defectors).[50] Were the military confrontation between the Ukrainian and LPR-DPR forces (supported by Russia) to significantly intensify—and especially with growing military casualties—Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts could start playing a more visible role. On the other hand, leading Russian media outlets have strengthened another side of their informational-psychological campaign, amplifying the opinions of foreign experts who argue that Ukraine cannot hope to defend itself against a (potential) Russian attack and urge their own governments not to become involved in a conflict with Russia over Ukraine, since the latter is not part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).[51]

The second noteworthy development that coincided with the new round of growing tensions in Donbas was the appearance of a narrative supported by Russia’s main information outlets about instances of suicide among UAF soldiers.[52] In effect, earlier—especially in 2014, amid the most intensive military engagements—Russian information outlets had actively circulated allegations of low morale among Ukrainian military personnel and their pervasive unwillingness to serve their country. Incidentally, the same narrative has forcefully reappeared in early 2021.[53] In the future, Russia-backed forces might try to reactivate this and similar narratives during periods of sharp escalation along the front line.

 

Conclusion: Lessons and Future Plans

Russia’s experience in Donbas is inseparable from two related factors. Fist is the extent of Russia’s involvement and objectives pursued. In general, to date, Russia’s paramilitary and conventional military involvement in eastern Ukraine has been rather limited. This is equally true with regard to the use and testing of radio-electronic confrontation capabilities. By and large, the main aspects of information confrontation extensively tested by Russia in Ukraine—both in Crimea and Donbas—have actually been informational-psychological operations as well as the radio-electronic suppression of enemy EW. Consequently, the war in Donbas provides only a narrow window on Russia’s offensive capabilities in electronic warfare; its full potential in this space is yet to be discovered.

That said, one must not ignore that, since 2017, Russia has achieved visible progress in EW. Specifically, by early 2021, the Russian Armed Forces received 1,000 pieces of various EW systems and 19 most-up-to-date complexes; moreover, during this period, the military performed more than 200 special-tactical trainings, simulating both defensive and offensive operations.[54] Should heavy hostilities in Donbas break out anew, Russia is likely to employ this growing potential accumulated over the past three to four years.

The second factor is Russia’s short-to-medium-term EW strategy, which has been shaped by the experience its Armed Forces gained in various recent regional conflicts—namely, Syria, Libya, Ukraine and Karabakh. At this juncture, it is worth citing the chief of Russia’s EW forces, Major General Yuri Lastochkin. In April 2020, when referring to a nexus between experience and EW capabilities, Lastochkin stated that over the coming years Russia must embark, among other activities, on the development of robotic means of radio-electronic suppression as well as disorganization of enemy radio connections and data transfer; but it must specifically prioritize the advancement of anti-drone warfare capabilities.[55]

The last element merits special attention, particularly in light of Russia’s experiences in the Syrian and Libyan campaigns and, perhaps, even more so, after the recent Azerbaijani-Armenian Karabakh war (September 27–November 9, 2020), which vividly demonstrated the strengths of aerial combat drones.[56] This latter conflict holds yet another special meaning for Russia, since during the hostilities, Turkish UCAVs played a decisive role in the military defeat of the Russian-equipped and -trained Armenian side. Russian experts are especially concerned by the prospect that Turkish UCAVs purchased by Ukraine will be employed in the Donbas region if that war grows hotter.[57] Despite their generally defiant rhetoric, Russian military analysts by and large realize that without direct support from Moscow, the LPR-DPR forces are likely to suffer major losses at the hands of UAF troops wielding advanced, Turkish-produced attack drones—particularly since Ukrainian soldiers are now being specifically trained for these types of military operations.[58]

Therefore, in addition to already-tested EW systems, Russia could—based on the results of its Syrian experience (anti-drone warfare)[59]—deploy heretofore not seen assets to Donbas. Indeed, leading Russian military experts openly contend that this will be the case.[60] In particular, three elements are most likely to appear. First is the Shipovnik-AERO jamming station, specifically designed to counter UAVs, TV- and radio-broadcasting stations, command communications centers, and cellular and other electro-magnetic band stations. This EW system generates powerful noise jamming that completely suppresses UAV control signals. And thanks to its ability to create a false navigation field by changing dynamic coordinates, the Shipovnik-AERO can place the adversary’s drones under its control within minutes.[61] The second element is the “Samarkand” complex—deployed in Kaliningrad Oblast and Belarus—whose full spectrum of characteristics is still unknown. The third EW asset that Russian experts believe might next be battletested in Donbas[62] is the Orion UCAV; although this prospect seems rather dubious because that system has, until at least late August 2021, been undergoing extensive pre-production trials.[63]

Given Russia’s determined and advancing development of EW capabilities, the Western response should be concentrated on two aspects. First is a more systematic accretion of its own capabilities in this domain. Second, the Euro-Atlantic alliance as a whole would benefit from facilitating its partner Ukraine’s technological transition to becoming a significant EW player in its own right. This could be done by selling or donating to Kyiv the most up-to-date Western electronic warfare systems as well as by investing in Ukraine’s domestic EW industry.

The European Union—which clearly lacks durable leadership and unity when it comes to Russia-related matters—is not a military alliance, and so NATO should become the key driving force contributing to Ukraine’s advancement in EW. Specifically, two actors, the United States and Turkey, are best positioned to assume leadership in assisting the Ukrainian Armed Forces develop their EW capabilities. Both countries have achieved truly impressive technological military advancements that have already been showcased in various regional conflicts.

As indicated above, cooperation in the EW domain should not be solely based on exporting NATO products. It would also make sense for Alliance members—with Canada and the United Kingdom, for instance, well suited to assume key roles—to provide Ukraine’s defense industry with foreign direct investment as well as technology and knowledge transfer essential for boosting its production potential. That said, however, NATO actions must complement Ukraine’s own efforts. Among the areas of strategic importance for Kyiv—aside from the defense industry—are improving energy security, reforming its information policies, and undertaking anti-corruption/anti-oligarch initiatives. If those latter issues remain unaddressed, NATO’s efforts to modernize Ukraine’s armed forces and EW capabilities will have little practical effect.

 

Notes

[1] In the Russian literature, EW is referred to as “radio-electronic confrontation” (radio-elektronnoye protivoborstvo).

[2] N. A. Kolesov and I. G. Nosenkov, Radioelektornnaya borba. Ot eksperimentov proshlogo do reshayushego fronta budushego (Moscow, Russia: Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, 2015).

[3] “Istorija radioelektronnoy borby,” Nauka Tehnika, August 24, 2019, https://naukatehnika.com/istoriya-radioelektronnoj-borby.html.

[4] Kirill Vostokov, “Rozhdeniya radiorazvetki,” Nvo.ng.ru, August 18, 2000, https://nvo.ng.ru/history/2000-08-18/5_radio.html.

[5]  “Izbrannyye voprosy radioelektronnogo podavlenija tsifrovykh signalov system radiosviazi,” Voronezh, 2010, http://www.sozvezdie.su/science/izdaniya/izbrannie_voprosi_radioelektronnogo/.

[6] Yuri Gorbachev, “REB w operatsiyakh XX i XXI veka,” Vpk-News.ru, November 17, 2004, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/944.

[7] Ilya Kramnik, “111 let pomekh,” Lenta.ru, April 15, 2015, https://lenta.ru/articles/2015/04/15/ew/.

[8] Mikhail Liubin, “K voprosu ob istorii razvitiya i perspektivakh radioelektronnoy borby,” Cyber Leninka, 2009, https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/k-voprosu-ob-istorii-razvitiya-i-perspektivah-radioelektronnoy-borby.

[9] Sergey Sukhankin, “A Black Cat in the Dark Room: Russian Quasi-Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)—‘Non-Existent,’ but Deadly and Useful,” Canadian Military Journal, 19, no. 4 (Fall 2019).

[10] Russian military thinkers started to allocate both offensive and defensive qualities to EW. Specifically, it was argued that “radio-electronic intelligence and maskirovka [military deception]—as a part of information warfare—in the military domain also have offensive and defensive components.” For more information see: “Informatsionnoye protivoborstvo i maskirovka voysk,” Voyennaya mysl, 2003, 74.

[11] Sergey Makarenko, “Informatsionnoye protivoborstvo i radioelektronnaya borba w setetsentrichsekikh voynah nachala XXI veka” (Saint Petersburg, Russia: 2017).

[12] Although, some steps toward transformation were made in the early 2000s. For instance, in July 2003, the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information—specifically tasked with radio-electronic intelligence—was fully transferred under the jurisdiction of the Federal Security Service (FSB). This led to the formation of the 16th Center of the FSB.

[13] “Reforma Vooruzhennykh Sil (2008–2012) i ee nekotoryje itogi,” Oboznik, September 17, 2018, http://www.oboznik.ru/?p=20067.

[14] Russian Ministry of Defense, “Spetsialnyye voyska,” https://structure.mil.ru/structure/forces/air/structure/spec.htm.

[15] Dmitry Medvedev, “Poslaniye Federalnomu Sobraniyu Rossiyskoii Federatsii” (address, Russian Federal Assembly, November 5, 2008), http://kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/1968.

[16] Liubin, “K voprosu ob istorii razvitiya i perspektivakh radioelektronnoy borby.”

[17] As of late 2019, the main players composing Russia’s EW production were: KRET (60 percent), JSC Concern Sozvezdie (20 percent), JSC Central NII Radio technical Institute of A. I. Berg (10 percent), JSC Scientific-Technical Centre of Radio Electronic Confrontation (5 percent), and Special Technological Centre (5 percent).

[18] “Den spetsialista po radioelektronnoy borbe: Dosie,” TASS, April 15, 2016, https://tass.ru/info/3204583.

[19] “Evolutsia radioelektronnoy borby,” Rostec, February 27, 2018, https://rostec.ru/analytics/evolyutsiya-radioelektronnoy-borby/.

[20] Sergey Sukhankin, “Russia’s Offensive and Defensive Use of Information Security,” Russia`s Military Strategy and Doctrine (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2019), https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Russias-Military-Strategy-and-Doctrine-web-1.pdf?x97632.

[21] “Nauchnyye printsipy radioelektronnoy borby,” Kommersant, February 24, 2017, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3211081.

[22] Sergey Sukhankin. “Unleashing the PMCs and Irregulars in Ukraine: Crimea and Donbas,” in War by Other Means: Russia’s Use of Private Military Contractors at Home and Abroad (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, September 3, 2019), https://jamestown.org/program/unleashing-the-pmcs-and-irregulars-in-ukraine-crimea-and-donbas/.

[23] “U Debaltsevomu rzsilayut panishni SMS pro proriv boyovykiv,” Lb.ua, February 6, 2015, https://lb.ua/society/2015/02/06/294740_debaltsevo_rassilayut_panicheskie.html.

[24] “Rossiyskie sredstva REB w boyevykh deystviyakh na Donbasse,” Inform Napalm, May 2, 2016, https://informnapalm.org/22868-reb-v-donbasse/.

[25] “Rossiyskii complex ‘Leer-3’ snova zafiksirovali na Donbasse,” Inform Napalm, April 6, 2019, https://informnapalm.org/46722-rossijskij-kompleks-leer-3-snova-zafi/.

[26] “‘Borisoglebsk-2’ – novii complex REP,” Sozvezdie, December 2009, http://www.sozvezdie.su/newspaper/_22_dekabr_2009_g/borisoglebsk2__noviy_kompleks/.

[27] “Stantsiya pomekh ‘R-378bB’ compleksa REB ‘Borisoglebsk-2’ na Donbasse,” Inform Napalm, May 8, 2016, https://informnapalm.org/22954-kompleks-reb-borisoglebsk-2-stahanov/.

[28] “Russian electronic warfare stations in Donbas,” Inform Napalm, June 5, 2016, https://informnapalm.org/en/russian-electronic-warfare-stations-donbas/.

[29] “REB ‘Zhitel’: kak ‘vykluchit’ amerikanskiye bespilotniki odnim nazhatiem knopki,” Tvzvezda.ru, September 18, 2015, https://tvzvezda.ru/news/forces/content/201509180822-s1gq.htm.

[30] “Na okkupirovannom Donbasse zafiksirovana rossijskaja stantsia pomekh ‘Zhitel,’” RBC, November 14, 2017, https://www.rbc.ua/rus/news/okkupirovannom-donbasse-zafiksirovana-rossiyskaya-1510658089.html.

[31] “Donetsk: Kompleksy radiorazvedki WS RF ‘Torn’ i ‘Taran’ na baze ‘Sparta,’ ” Inform Napalm, October 30, 2015, https://informnapalm.org/14245-radyorazvedka-ukv-dyapazona-na-baze-sparta/.

[32] “Russian Kredo-M1 Radar System in Olenivka,” Inform Napalm, March 11, 2016, https://informnapalm.org/en/russian-kredo-m1-radar-system-olenivka/.

[33] Between 2009 and 2017, Pavlenko served as chief of the Electronic Protection Section in the Electronic Warfare Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

[34] “Ukrainian Officer Details Russian Electronic Warfare Tactics Including Radio ‘Virus,’ ” The Drive, October 30, 2019, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30741/ukrainian-officer-details-russian-electronic-warfare-tactics-including-radio-virus.

[35] Borys Kremenetsky, “EW Lessons Learned: Russian Hybrid Warfare in Ukraine,” Royal United Services Institute, March 20, 2019, https://rusi.org/sites/default/files/russian_military_jamming_in_the_air_environment_-_maj_gen_borys_kremenetskyi.pdf.

[36] Thomas Withington, “Jam and Scoot,” Armada International, December 4, 2019, https://armadainternational.com/2019/12/jam-and-scoot/#:~:text=Major%20General%20Borys%20Kremenetskyi%2C%20Ukraine%E2%80%99s%20defence%20and%20air,three%20gigahertz%29%20tactical%20radio%20communications%20and%20cellphone%20transmissions.

[37] “V DNR zayavili ob obostrenii situatsii na linii zargranitchenia,” Interfax, April 5, 2021, https://www.interfax.ru/world/759600.

[38] “Bolshaya igra,” YouTube, March 11, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbfg5ACGs1A&ab_channel=%D0%9F%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B2%D1%8B%D0%B9%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B0%D0%BB.

[39] “Mashiny voyny. Spetsialnyy reportazh,” YouTube, April 5, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE7n0jSYxhc&ab_channel=TVCenter.

[40] “Exclusive Data: More Russian Electronic Warfare Systems Spotted in Donbas,” Inform Napalm, March 22, 2020, https://informnapalm.org/en/exclusive-data-more-russian-electronic-warfare-systems-spotted-in-donbas/.

[41] “Komplex radioelektronnoy borbi i radiotekhnicheskaya razvedka semeystv RB-636AM2 ‘Svet,’ ” Vpk.name, https://vpk.name/library/f/svet-reb.html.

[42] “Den innovatsii UVO: complex REB RB-636AM2 ‘Svet-KU,’ ” Topwar.ru, October 19, 2015, https://topwar.ru/84389-den-innovaciy-yuvo-kompleks-reb-rb-636am2-svet-ku.html.

[43] “Noveyshee rossiyskoye radioelektronnoye oruzhie vpervyye zametili na Donbasse,” Lenta.ru, March 20, 2019, https://lenta.ru/news/2019/03/20/obse/.

[44] “Spetsialisty vojsk REB kaspiyskoii flotilii w hode ucheniya podavili sviaz uslovnogo protivnika sovremennymi stantsiyami ‘Sinitsa,’” Russian Ministry of Defense, February 8, 2021, https://function.mil.ru/news_page/country/[email protected].

[45] “Latest from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), Based on Information Received as of 19:30, 10 August 2018,” Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, August 11, 2018, https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/390236.

[46] “Stantsia REB R-934Y ‘Sinitsa’. Kogda ‘Sinitsa’ w pole, zhuravliam w nebe tiazko,” November 3, 2017 https://warshistory.ru/raznoe-2/r-934-stanciya-reb-r-934u-sinica-kogda-sinica-v-pole-zhuravlyam-v-nebe-tyazhko.html.

[47] “Ukrainskiye SMI: REB rossiyskikh vojsk nachali glushit sredstave sviazi VSU w Donbasse,” Argumenti.ru, March 16, 2021, https://argumenti.ru/army/2021/03/713848.

[48] Pavel Shishkin, “Na Ukraine obvinili voyennykh RF w rassylke SMS-soobsheniy boytsam VSU,” Vonnoedelo.com, March 23, 2021, https://voennoedelo.com/posts/id10423-92l,9fpj77gbmbbwg06es.

[49] Yuri Lapaiev, “Russian Electronic Warfare in Donbas: Training or Preparation for a Wider Attack?,” Eurasia Daily Monitor March 17, 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/russian-electronic-warfare-in-donbas-training-or-preparation-for-a-wider-attack/.

[50] Alla Hurska. “Zaporizhia Oblast: The Next Flash Point in Russia’s ‘Hybrid’ Aggression Against Southeastern Ukraine?,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 28, 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/zaporizhia-oblast-the-next-flash-point-in-russias-hybrid-aggression-against-southeastern-ukraine/; Alla Hurska, “Pro-Russian Disinformation Operations in Kherson: A New-Old Challenge for Ukraine’s National Security,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, June 29, 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/pro-russian-disinformation-operations-in-kherson-a-new-old-challenge-for-ukraines-national-security/.

[51] Alla Hurska, “Russian ‘Bot Farms’—The New-Old Challenge to Ukraine’s National Security,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 3, 2020, https://jamestown.org/program/russian-bot-farms-the-new-old-challenge-to-ukraines-national-security/.

[52] “Ukrainskii soldat-srochnik pokonchil s soboy na postu,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta, April 5, 2021, https://rg.ru/2021/04/05/ukrainskij-soldat-srochnik-pokonchil-s-soboj-na-postu.html.

[53] “Ukraintsi ne hotiat klast golovy za polskije I amerikanskije interesy,” Vpk-news.ru,  April 7, 2021, https://vpk-news.ru/news/61610.

[54] Aleksander Grigoriev. “REB: kak uchatsia woejvat bojtsi nevidimogo fronta impulsov,” Zvezda Weekly, March 5, 2021, https://zvezdaweekly.ru/news/202132922-urO8Z.html.

[55] Viktor Khudoleev, “Strazniki efira na pravilnom puti,” Redstar.ru, April 15, 2020, http://redstar.ru/strazhniki-efira-na-pravilnom-puti/.

[56] For more information, see Sergey Sukhankin. “The Second Karabakh War: Lessons and Implications for Russia (Part One),” Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 5, 2021, https://jamestown.org/program/the-second-karabakh-war-lessons-and-implications-for-russia-part-one/; Sergey Sukhankin, “The Second Karabakh War: Lessons and Implications for Russia, Part Two,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 13, 2021 https://jamestown.org/program/the-second-karabakh-war-lessons-and-implications-for-russia-part-two/.

[57] Ukraina toze zakupaet turetskiye bespilotniki: ‘Eto budet ugroza Donbassu,’ ” EA Daily, “October 7, 2020,  https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2020/10/07/ukraina-tozhe-zakupaet-tureckie-bespilotniki-eto-budet-ugroza-donbassu.

[58] “V DNR rasskazali, kak budut sbivat turetskiye drony VVS Ukrainy,” Moskovsky Komsomolets, February 16, 2021, https://www.mk.ru/politics/2021/02/16/v-dnr-rasskazali-kak-budut-sbivat-tureckie-drony-vvs-ukrainy.html.

[59] Vladimir Gundarov, “Siriyskiye uroki REB,” Vpk-news.ru, February 16, 2021, https://vpk-news.ru/articles/60891.

[60] “Leonkov rasskazal, kakoy budet reaktsija Rossii na natuplenie VSU w Donbasse.” Newsua.ru,  February 19, 2021, https://newsua.ru/news/41830-leonkov-rasskazal-kakoj-budet-reaktsiya-rossii-na-nastuplenie-vsu-v-donbasse.

[61] Gundarov, “Siriyskiye uroki REB.”

[62] “Na turetskiye drony w nebe Donbassa Rossiya mozet otvetit ‘Orionom,’ ” Riafan, October 26, 2020, https://riafan.ru/1325614-na-tureckie-drony-v-nebe-donbassa-rossiya-mozhet-otvetit-orionom.

[63] “Minoborony RF podpisalo kontrakty na postavku udarnykh bespilotnikov ‘Inokhodets’ i ‘Forpost-R,’ ” Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade, August 24, 2021, https://armstrade.org/includes/periodics/news/2021/0824/155064173/detail.shtml; “Russia to begin deliveries of latest strike drones to troops from 2023,” TASS, August 26, 2021, https://tass.com/defense/1330349.