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Deadly Mysteries: Electronic Warfare Shaped the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Electronic warfare has become a much more important factor in the fierce fighting in the Donbass, but the capabilities of Russia or Ukraine in this area are still unknown.

On the battlefields of Ukraine, the simple act of powering on a cell phone can cause scenes of death. Both the drone’s artillery radar and remote control could invite a hail of shelling.

Electronic warfare has become an important but invisible aspect of conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Military commanders largely avoid discussing the issue, fearing they will jeopardize operations if they reveal secrets, according to an AP article.

Russia’s advantage

Technology Electronic warfare targets communications, positioning, and guidance systems to locate, blind, and deceive enemies and deal direct damage. Electronic warfare is used against artillery, fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, drones and many other weapons. The military also relies on electronic warfare to protect their forces.

This is an area where Russia is said to have a clear advantage in the war. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Russia’s well-known electronic warfare prowess was barely visible in the early stages of hostilities when Moscow’s forces were still aiming to strike near the capital. Kyiv of Ukraine.

Russia’s Krasukha-4 electronic warfare system

wikimedia commons

However, electronic warfare has become a much more important factor in the fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine. This is where Russia can easily move electronic warfare equipment closer to the battlefield thanks to shorter and easier supply routes.

“They are jamming everything that their system can reach,” an official with Aerorozvidka, the reconnaissance team of Ukraine’s unmanned aerial vehicle control force, told AP. “We can’t say they dominate, but they hinder us a lot.”

A Ukrainian intelligence official said the threat from Russia was “quite serious” for disrupting reconnaissance efforts and command-to-soldier communications. He said Russia’s jamming of GPS navigation equipment on Ukrainian drones was particularly intense “on the line of communication”, the boundary between the area controlled by pro-Russian separatists and the area. controlled by the Kyiv government in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine has had some success in countering Russian electronic warfare. They seized a number of important hardware devices and destroyed at least two multimedia mobile electronic warfare units.

However, it is difficult to assess Ukraine’s electronic warfare capabilities. Analysts say Kyiv’s capabilities have improved markedly since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and rebelled separatists in eastern Ukraine, but not without setbacks. Last week, Russia claimed to have destroyed a love center electronic media of Ukraine in the town of Dniprovske, in the southeastern part of the country. The statement cannot be independently verified.

Ukraine has also made effective use of technology and intelligence from the United States and other NATO members. Washington said that the information helped Ukraine sink the Russian cruiser Moskva (Moscow said the ship sank due to a fire.) Allied satellites and spy planes help from nearby airspace, as well as satellite communication networks Starlink of billionaires Elon Musk.

For the first time, Russia publicly announced the number of casualties from the sinking Moscow flagship

Mysterious Battlefield

Electronic warfare has three basic elements: exploration, attack, and defense. First, intelligence is gathered by locating enemy electronic signals. When attacking, “white noise” disables enemy systems, including radio and mobile communications, anti-aircraft radar and artillery. The next step is the “fool” step, and the bullet will miss the target.

“Fighting on the modern battlefield without data is really hard,” retired Colonel Laurie Buckhout, a former U.S. Army electronic warfare commander, told AP. Jamming “can blind and deafen an aircraft very quickly and is very dangerous, especially if you lose your GPS and radar while you are the aircraft flying at 965 km/h”.

Ukrainian Air Force


All of which explains the mystery surrounding electronic warfare.

“This is an extremely secretive area because of its reliance on cutting-edge technologies, where interests lie,” said James Stidham, a security expert who worked as a consultant for the Departments of Homeland Security and the State Department. obtained can be copied and deleted very quickly”.

Ukraine learned valuable lessons about electronic warfare in 2014 and 2015, when Russia overwhelmed Ukraine’s forces with electronic warfare. A Ukrainian officer told Christian Brose, an aide to the late US Senator John McCain, about how soldiers told him that Russia had tricked a commander into calling his mother back. Russia geo-located him in the middle of the call and killed him with a precision-guided missile, Brose writes in the book. The Killing Chain (Sequence of murder).

The US has also “taste” Russian electronic warfare in Syria. In 2018, the US military’s Special Operations chief, General Raymond Thomas, talked about how often US pilots’ communications were “broken down” in Syria, an “evil” electronic warfare site worst” on the planet. Russia’s advanced systems are designed to blind early warning aircraft – the “eyes and ears” of field commanders – as well as cruise missiles and US military surveillance satellites.

Cruel competition

In the current war, electronic warfare has become the site of fierce competition.

Aerorozvidka adapted drones equipped with cameras to pinpoint the exact location of enemies, dropping mortars and grenades. They also “infiltrate” to infect or disable enemy electronics and gather intelligence.

Ukrainian officials say their electronic warfare capabilities have been radically improved since 2015. This capability includes the use of encrypted U.S. and Turkish communications equipment to their advantage. tactical position. Ukraine has even exported some of its technology.

Deadly mystery: Electronic warfare shaped the Russia-Ukraine conflict - photo 3
Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone


Lieutenant Colonel Tyson Wetzel, a researcher at the Atlantic Council, said Russia jammed GPS from Finland to the Black Sea. As a result, a Finnish regional carrier, Transaviabaltica, had to cancel flights of one route for a week. The leader of a company that has satellite ground stations in the region said that Russian jamming has also disrupted television broadcasts in Ukraine.

However, in the early days of the war, Russia’s electronic warfare was less effective and less powerful than anticipated. This may be one of the reasons why Russia did not destroy enough radar and air defense units to gain air superiority. The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

It remains unclear how much of an advantage Russia’s electronic warfare assets can offer. Ukraine’s forces are now more concentrated than they were at the beginning of the war, which could make them easier to target.

James Rands, of the charity military newspaper Jane’s, said much depends on whether Russia’s battalion-level combat groups “are actually configured as they are on paper.” Each group, consisting of about 1,000 troops, is believed to have a single unit. electronic warfare officer, the Pentagon says 110 such groups are in Ukraine.

The Kremlin also claims Russia has more than 1,000 Orlan-10 small multirole drones that it uses for reconnaissance, targeting, jamming and intercepting mobile phones.

Researcher Samuel Bendett, of the Center for Naval Analyses, said Russia lost about 50 Orlan-10s in the war, but “the number they lost may be only a fraction of the number in flight”.

Ukraine’s corresponding UAV power is also unknown, but billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink system is a proven asset. The system’s more than 2,200 low-orbit satellites provide broadband internet to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations. Breaking those connections is one challenge for Russia. Jamming low-orbit satellites is much more difficult than satellites in geostationary orbit.

Quick view: 100 days of military campaign in Ukraine, Russia is determined to continue until the goal is achieved
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