Moscow has made considerable advances in recent years in procuring and developing electronic warfare (EW) capability throughout its branches and service arms in the Armed Forces. One area long neglected is the potential role of EW aircraft, which now appears to be a priority area for future EW development. Pilots and specialist EW personnel recently mastered the Il-22PP Porubshchik, while sources within the domestic defense industry disclosed research and development (R&D) on an upgraded Porubshchik-2, though information on its specifications remains scarce (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, June 8).
During the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a general malaise in the introduction of new platforms or equipment and weapons systems, which also impacted EW capability; this was steadily reversed following the reform and modernization launched in late 2008. The group of defense companies in Russia specializing in EW, or Radioelektronnoy Bor’by (REB), is the Radio-Electronic Technologies Concern or Kontsern Radioelektronnyye Tekhnologii (KRET). KRET has produced advanced Russian REB systems, markedly transforming EW capability throughout the Armed Forces. The advantages offered by these systems are their mobility and their organic presence within the Russian Armed Forces. These include: Krasukha-2.0, Krasukha-S4, Murmansk-BN, Svet-KU, Borisoglebsk-2, Zaslon-REB, Infauna, Dzyudoist, Palantin, Lesochek, Zhitel’, Khibiny, Moskva-1, Vitebsk, Gimalai, Rychag-AV, Rtut’-BM, and the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil, VKS) Il-22PP Porubshchik, and the naval REB TK-25-2, PK-10 Smelyy, TK-28, Prosvet-M, REB MP-405. Moreover, while the United States and its allies focused EW efforts on combating irregular adversaries such as insurgents or terrorists, Moscow concentrated on developing such capabilities to fight a peer adversary (Topcor.ru, March 30).
Following an R&D project initiated in 2011, with intensive testing in 2015, the VKS procured the Il-22PP Porubshchik in 2016, with three platforms entering service. The Porubshchik, similar to the US AWACS aircraft, has a distinct appearance. It cannot be confused with any other aircraft due to the radio-transparent boxes protruding from both sides of the fuselage where the antennas are located. There is also one more antenna opened in flight stretching for several tens of meters. Russian REB specialists claim that the Il-22PP Porubshchik can suppress any radio signals. Its targets are air defense radars, early warning aircraft, air command posts and ground communication centers. It jams the radio traffic of tactical and strategic aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft and UAVs. Also, Porubshchik affects the operation of shipping electronics. Equally, communication channels with space objects that provide target designation or are used for communication can also be suppressed (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, June 8).
The onboard complex conducts reconnaissance of the ether, detecting and identifying signal sources, the work of which must be jammed. Their coordinates are recorded, both ground or surface and in the air. The system then begins to suppress radio signal sources with interference absolutely “symmetrically,” or strictly in the same frequencies. The change in the frequency of their operation is automatically monitored, in the same way the frequencies of interference effects change. Due to the strict frequency selectivity of the Porubshchik complex, the Il-22PP, even being in the midst of its military EW equipment, both air and ground, does not affect the correct operation of its communication channels (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, June 8).
Russia’s General Staff, doubtless buoyed by wider EW advances, appears to want more than three Il-22PPs. Historically, the Il-20 provided reconnaissance and the Il-22 acted as air command posts. In the long term, if the R&D on an upgraded Porubshchik proves to be successful, an alternative platform will be required. In this context, the R&D on Porubshchik-2 has already commenced. No data on the future characteristics of the system are known, only that when it is developed it will target the work of enemy satellites. This is consistent with other systems developed by KRET, such as the Krasukha-4 EW ground complex, which suppresses GPS signals within a radius of 300 kilometers. There are no obstacles to jamming the communication channels used to transmit information. Porubshchik-2 should become an effective EW aircraft system whose characteristics will be somewhat better than those of the existing Porubshchik. The main challenges are rooted in selecting the best air platform for this new system and the required numbers. Viktor Murakhovsky, a member of the expert council of the collegium of the defense ministry, highlighted the issue of numbers: “I think that in order to suppress the signal of the satellite grouping of a potential enemy, we need a squadron for each operational-strategic command, that is, four squadrons of 12 aircraft each” (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, June 8).
Indeed, the choice of a long-term replacement platform will prove to be crucial in the process of developing lasting EW aircraft capability. Following the modernization of the Il-22, these may serve for another decade at best. On this basis, the defense ministry wants to develop an entirely new EW aircraft. Its main requirements for the platform are a long flight duration and a capacity to allow all the necessary EW equipment to be installed onboard. Three planes have been identified as possible contenders. These are the civilian Tu-214, the military transport Il-76 and even the promising military transport aircraft Il-276. Most likely, given the need to land and take off from military airfields, the choice will be made between the two military platforms. The aircraft will occupy an intermediate link between the Il-76 and Il-112, its flight range would be 2,700 kilometers, with the cost somewhere between $35 million and $40 million. According to Russian EW specialists, the equipment installed on this future platform will have to effectively jam not only AWACS aircraft, manned and unmanned aircraft, air defense systems, ground equipment but also signals from the enemy’s satellite grouping. To do this, the Russian VKS would ideally need several squadrons to replace the existing system (Topcor.ru, February 21; Svpressa.ru, February 15).
Moscow’s interest in further enhancing its range and scope of EW aircraft, which is currently minimal, confirms the driving force in its overall EW modernization as centering upon a range of capabilities for use against a peer or near-peer adversary. These future capabilities will not only have implications for Moscow’s ability to conduct operations close to its borders but will extend to cover its involvement in other regions, as evidenced by its ongoing commitment to expanding a military footprint in Syria.