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Modern Russian Electronic Warfare

While we fought what we considered to be a relatively unsophisticated threat in the Middle East, we took our eyes off of the Russian “sleeping bear.” As events unfolded in the Ukraine and Syria, however, it has become increasingly clear that not only did it not slumber, but Russia has continued to modernize and grow its already formidable Electronic Warfare (EW) capability.  It was powerful during Cold War days – today it is no less than awe-inspiring.

ukraine sign

U.S. Vulnerabilities: During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Army invested an enormous amount of resources in spectrum-using C4ISR capabilities – our ground forces are Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS)-enabled with wireless devices such as never before. Every Soldier and vehicle is a sensor and a multiple emitter.  

We have “eyes” and “ears” that reach from ground platforms to aerostats to Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. All of these platforms are networked via terrestrial radio or SATCOM. Every element in a combat theater, from an RF logistics tag on a crate of parts to a Stryker to a Command Post, is dependent upon the spectrum.  “The U.S. has placed increasingly significant importance on information superiority as one of the keys to prevailing in conflict against other forces throughout the world. That superiority is built upon the sensing of ISR assets, the ability to communicate what these sensors see to all required elements of the fight, the geographic and temporal coordination of military forces, and using all of that to outmaneuver the actions of potential adversaries. The dependence on information has not gone unnoticed in the rest of the world,”a 2015 Defense Science Board report concluded.[1]

Early Soviet EW: During the Cold War, the former Soviet Union recognized the importance of Electronic Warfare (EW) and made a major investment in electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM), as well as lethal and nonlethal countermeasures. Soviet writings on EW are included under broader topics such as security, command and control, reconnaissance, air defense, and camouflage. This treatment of electronic warfare in the context of routine operations indicates that the Soviets consider EW to be integral to all combat actions.[2]

Rebuilding Capability: The post-Soviet collapse of the Russian economic base caused the quality of the Russian armed forces to decline as well. The Georgian Conflict in 2008 was a wake-up call for Russian forces.  The Soviet armed forces had a highly developed EW capacity, but this Soviet legacy had been squandered over the years.  The ineffectiveness of Russian EW systems, during the military operations in Georgia, was later acknowledged by the General Staff. Although “a Russian victory was predestined because of the Russian forces” overwhelming numerical advantage,[3] weaknesses in Russian EW were obvious. Even before the brief Georgian conflict, Russia had begun the process of creating independent EW troops directly under the General Staff - complete with modern Russian tech­nology and organization.[4] Although the Russian air campaign was largely unsuccessful because of an inability to overcome Georgian air defense radars, [5] unmodernized Russian ground EW systems were still able to successfully shut down Georgian Army C2. Nodar Kharshiladze, a former Georgian defense official, said that he considered communications the single weakest spot in the Georgian army, “Our military... did not know how to switch to another channel, when the Russians started to jam our radio waves.”[6]


Modernization: As activities in the Ukraine and Syria continue to unfold, we are seeing the results of Russia’s decade-long, intensive modernization of EW forces. According to a 2011 report in the respected publication, Global Security, “Electronic countermeasures (ECM) have been noted in all Soviet forces. Ground forces continue to introduce new jammers, as well as a new series of improved signals intelligence (SIGINT) vehicles. The air forces have numerous aircraft devoted to EW as escort and standoff jammer platforms. Also since 1979, there had been increased emphasis on Russian offensive, penetrating air forces equipped with ECM and accompanied by dedicated EW aircraft. Strategic fixed jammers were located throughout the Soviet Union.”[7]

The Ukraine: Russian forces in the Ukraine have been able to ground Ukrainian UASs – rendering them incapable of providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).  They are jamming air defense radars and they are nullifying command and control efforts.  These capabilities were on display from the very start of the Russian incursion into Crimea in the spring of 2014. Shortly after Russian forces began rolling into the region, Ukrainian troops began to find that their “radios and phones were unusable for hours at a time. Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an international conflict-monitoring group, has consistently reported that its drones watching the conflict in eastern Ukraine have been subject to military-grade GPS jamming,’ forcing monitors to scrub missions taking stock of the war below.”[8]

Doctrine: The Russians now have a full Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership & Education, Personnel, and Facilities (DOTMLPF) Electronic Warfare Capability, based around the doctrine of Radio Electronic Combat (REC). “REC combined signals intelligence, direction finding, intensive jamming, deception, and destructive fires to attack enemy organizations and systems through their means of control. The purpose of REC is to limit, delay, or nullify the enemy's use of his command and control systems, while protecting Russian systems by electronic counter-countermeasures. An estimated goal of the system is to destroy or to disrupt a majority of the enemy's command, control, and weapon system communications, either by jamming or by destructive fires,” Global Security reported.[9] REC targets include:

  • Artillery, rocket, and air force units that possess nuclear projectiles or missiles and their associated control system.
  • Command posts, observation posts, communications centers, and radar stations.
  • Field artillery, tactical air force, and air defense units limited to conventional firepower.
  • Reserve forces and logistics centers.
  • Point targets that may jeopardize advancing Russian forces, e.g, dug-in tanks, antitank guided missile emplacements, bunkers, and direct fire guns. [10]

Technology: Russian forces combine a variety of equipment and platforms to achieve these effects.  The single most important thing to note is that Russian EW forces have the capability to degrade or defeat US Ground Force C4 capabilities, including GPS/Position-Navigation and Timing (PNT) capabilities, and air defense and fires radars – all US Army spectrum using emitters from fires control systems to SATCOM radios to cellphones are targeted and can be affected.

Equipment includes UASs as well as rotary and fixed-wing aviation equipped with Electronic Attack (EA) capabilities, designed to be able to detect and suppress electronic command-and-control systems as well as the radars of surface-to air and air-to-air missiles.[11] Ground platforms can be Soldier or platform-based, mounted on BTRs (Russia’s amphibious personnel carrier) or other vehicles. Russian EW also includes large, powerful and highly versatile ground-based systems located in military districts for the purposes of homeland defense.[12]


By 2020, Russian Electronic Warfare forces plan to update more than 60 percent of their equipment. Russian EW improvements include electronic warfare systems addressing the full spectrum of threats, “from NATO ships to missiles to future hypersonic weapons," according to Sputnik News.[13] Igor Nasenkov, first deputy director general of the Radioelectronic Technologies Concern (KRET), a subsidiary of the Russian state corporation Rostec, stated that the Rychag-AV active jamming station mounted onboard provides collective protection for fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, land vehicles and surface ships within an area of several hundred kilometers. This station can suppress various targets simultaneously and can be installed both on helicopters and on ships, fixed-wing aircraft, and land vehicles.[14]

In looking at Moscow’s capabilities, the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office assessed this year that Russia “does indeed possess a growing EW capability, and the political and military leadership understand the importance” of such warfare. “Their growing ability to blind or disrupt digital communications might help level the playing field when fighting against a superior conventional foe.”[15]

The bear isn’t sleeping any longer…


[1] (Defense Science Board, 2015)

[2] (Global Security, 2011)

[3] (Tor Bukkvoll, November-December 2009)

[4] (Tor Bukkvoll, November-December 2009)

[5] (Westerlund, 2009)

[6] (Menabde, 2014)

[7] (Global Security, 2011)

[8] (McLeary, 2015)

[9] (Global Security, 2011)

[10] (Global Security, 2011)

[11] (Novichkov, 2015)

[12] (Sputnik News, 2015)

[13] (Sputnik News, 2015)

[14]  (Novichkov, 2015)

[15] (McLeary, 2015)


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