Russian authorities have created the first specialized Electronic Warfare (EW) unit tasked with countering unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The unit is to be based on the territory of Kursk oblast, in the Western Military District (MD). Colonel Alexander Vostrikov (the head of the EW troops in the Western MD) stated, on October 28, that this unit is an absolutely unique formation (, October 28).
“[T]he preparation of servicemen of this type will be conducted in accordance with a program that steps significantly beyond known up-to-date linear exercises. Both the level and schedule of training reflect a qualitatively new level of preparation,” Vostrikov claimed, adding that this allows one to define a unit of this kind as the “spetsnaz [special operations forces] of the EW troops” (, October 28). Furthermore, these units will be composed of contract soldiers (with a rank no lower than sergeant or junior lieutenant), whose specialization will be concerned with EW in general and anti-drone warfare in particular. These troops are obliged to follow the same strict level of information security as that maintained by the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Protective Service (FSO) (see , October 20). Vostrikov has also noted that these units are to put together the best Russian military specialists, wielding “both extensive practical and theoretical knowledge in the domain of EW.” Based on current plans, in the short term no fewer than 20 special units of this kind will appear on the territory of the entire Western MD. The Russian Ministry of Defense suggests that the Kursk EW spetsnaz unit’s first training sessions have already begun (, October 28).
The decision to introduce anti-drone spetsnaz troops should be seen as an integral part of a larger strategy aimed at comprehensively upgrading the Russian Armed Forces’ EW capabilities. Indeed, the continuing integration of new pieces of EW was demonstrated prior to the official commencement of the strategic-level Zapad 2017 military exercises (see , September 8), this past September, as well as during and following the conclusion of these drills. For instance, the Zapad 2017 exercises became a major testing ground for the Bylina automated EW operation system, which was thoroughly tested for the first time ever. The defense ministry specifically contended that the new system demonstrated “superior capabilities,” and serial production of this system can now begin (, September 19). Three other new EW pieces (names have not appeared), tasked with broadcasting fake communication signals as well as accumulating, processing and transmitting information, were also tested (, September 19). And reportedly, during this year’s Zapad war games, Russian EW troops demonstrated the ability to operate in “extremely challenging conditions,” while simultaneously displaying high levels of defensive and offensive capabilities.
Following the conclusion of Zapad 2017, the Western MD has notably undergone a further bolstering of its electronic warfare capabilities, which is reflected in the growing number of various exercises involving EW. Illustratively, on October 30, on the territory of Kursk oblast, EW troops carried out 50 defensive operations, ranging from simulated counter-missile defense and warding off an aviation strike to jamming and disrupting an adversary’s radio channels and sending out fake messages. During these exercises, advanced pieces such as the Moskva, Murmansk and Krasukha-S4 interference stations and complexes (all in all, approximately 30 various pieces) were used. According to the Ministry of Defense, these exercises are an essential milestone in the run-up to next year’s Elektronniy Rubezh 2018—a Russia-wide military competition uniting all EW troops—which is to demonstrate both the general level of preparedness and ascertain the most advanced units within Russia’s EW troops (, October 30).
Plans to enhance the EW capabilities of the Western MD were also recently manifested in another form: the defense ministry announced that within four months, 1,000 fresh military recruits will undergo comprehensive training in Mezhvidov (one of the most important Russian drone centers, located in Tambov). The participants will go through three separate stages of exercises (elementary, general and advanced training) consisting of both theoretical and practical courses on more than 40 EW pieces, including the most advanced systems (, October 11). Alumni of the program are expected to demonstrate particularly high levels of special skills, which will allow them to be promoted (upon completion of the final exam) to higher positions. The most interesting detail is that special emphasis will be placed on night-time actions—an element also extensively trained during a number of Russia’s recent large-scale military exercises, beginning with Slavic Brotherhood 2017, held in June (see , June 26).
These training and preparatory measures in the Western MD are being complemented with new EW equipment acquisition. Namely, units of Russian EW forces stationed in Voronezh, Briansk, Belgorod (close to the border with Ukraine) and Nizhny Novgorod oblasts have all received a number of new EW systems (, October 5). Furthermore, the head of the press service of the Western MD, Colonel Igor Migunov, has stated that, in 2017, the Western MD’s EW forces received more than 30 new UAVs (especially, Orlan-10 and Eleron-3 models). Migunov also highlighted the fact that drones are being employed in both tactical- and strategic-level exercises by various different branches of the Russian Armed Forces, including the Radiological, Chemical and Biological Corps (Voyska Radiatsionnoiy, Khimicheskoiy i Biologicheskoiy Zashity) as well as tactical reconnaissance units (, October 28).
Russian actions aimed at boosting the military’s EW capabilities present a comprehensive and all-encompassing strategy (not a number of loosely connected steps). That strategy is based on four key pillars: First, Russia is implementing measures concerned with increasing both the number of deployed EW pieces as well as the number of personnel specializing in and capable of carrying out EW duties on a day-to-day basis. Second, the Armed Forces are integrating new EW systems to upgrade the qualitative aspect of capabilities in this area. Third, the Ministry of Defense is clearly increasing the tactical-operational capabilities of Russian EW troops (including by creating spetsnaz units). And fourth, Russian military thinking continues to raise the perceived role of EW in the “warfare of the future.” All of these factors will have a profound effect on how Russian Armed Forces fight against potential adversaries.