Major General Borys Kremenetskyi, Ukraine’s defence and air attaché at the country’s London embassy shares his thoughts on the use of EW by Russia’s armed forces in the Ukrainian theatre.
Gen. Kremenetskyi emphasised that Russian forces deployed there since 2014 have chiefly used electronic attack against Very High Frequency (VHF: 30 megahertz/MHz to 300MHz) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF: 300MHz to three gigahertz) tactical radio communications and cellphone transmissions. They have jammed the RF (Radio Frequency) links used to control Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and, to a lesser extent, against GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Signal) transmissions across wavebands of circa 1.1GHz to 1.6GHz. Russian forces have also gathered Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) regarding Weapons Locating Radars (WLRs) used by the Ukrainian Army.
From the outset of hostilities Gen. Kremenetskyi stated that Russian Communications Jamming (COMJAM) caused problems for the Ukrainian Army. This was chiefly because the army was still largely reliant on analogue tactical communications. This created difficulties as it hampered the army’s ability to quickly change frequencies when a particular waveband was attacked. He continued that Russian forces manoeuvred electromagnetically with élan. They would jam one set of frequencies, and then another continually moving through V/UHF wavebands and would vary the location of their jamming equipment. Open sources note that the Russian Army deployed a plethora of EW systems into Ukraine to support their operations. These include the 1L269 Krasukha-2 designed to jam S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) radars used by airborne early warning and control aircraft, the 1RL257 Krasukha-C4 (see below), the RB-314V Leer-3 employed for hacking/jamming cellphone transmissions and networks, and the RP-377LA Lorandit capable of jamming a waveband of three megahertz to three gigahertrz. Several, perhaps all, of these systems are thought to have been developed by Russia’s KRET electronic warfare house.
This ‘jam and scoot’ tactic frustrated the Ukrainian Army’s ability to geo-locate and then kinetically engage the source of the jamming. That said Ukrainian forces also gathered Communications Intelligence (COMINT) and performed COMJAM against Russian communications. To this end the Ukrainian Army is believed to have deployed several EW systems in theatre. Although not revealed by either Gen. Kremenetskyi or the Ukrainian Army these are thought to have included the CARI Liman-SP1/2 COMINT system covering a waveband of 225MHz to 1.215GHz, the Topaz MANDAT-81E COMINT/COMJAM system covering a one megahertz to one gigahertz waveband. The latter maybe deployed at the operational level. Meanwhile, the Topaz JSC Kolchuga-M Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) gathering and radar jamming system covers a 100MHz/130MHz to 18GHz waveband, according to open sources. This equipment can jam airborne fire control radars, and the semi-active/active radar homing seekers used by air-to-surface missiles to protect key targets, such as surface-to-air missile batteries, against attack, the manufacturers continue.
Gen. Kremenetskyi stated that Russian forces placed a high priority on jamming UAV RF links. He noted that Russian forces deployed the Protek R-330ZH Zhitel truck-mounted jamming system. This covers a waveband of 100MHz to two gigahertz allowing the system to not only attack military and civilian communications, but also to jam V/UHF UAV RF links in addition to GNSS signals. In 2015 and 2016 Gen. Kremenetskyi says that three UAVs were downed using this equipment. In addition to jamming UAV RF signals, the Russian Army performed electronic attack against WLRs; between 2015 and 2016 the United States supplied six Raytheon AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz) weapons locating radars to the Ukrainian Army. The deployment of Russian ELINT systems such as the 1RL257 which is capable of detecting and geo-locating X-band transmissions meant that radars like the AN/TPQ-36 could fall foul of jamming: “We deployed US counter-battery stations which can be switched on for only one or two minutes because the Russians can track these very fast, and then try to jam them.”
Nonetheless, the electronic war in Ukraine has not entirely gone Russia’s way. The Ukrainian armed forces’ own COMINT gathering methods as discussed above have allowed them to observe Russian electronic attack. “We can see how they move, what they are trying to achieve and then we can judge what they are going to do,” Gen. Kremenetskyi expands. One interesting aspect of the electronic war observed by the Ukrainian armed forces is that the Russian armed forces have experienced electronic fratricide as a result of their jamming actions: “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.” He says that this was particularly noticeable when Russian forces were trying to jam UAV GNSS signals: For example Russian UAVs use satellite signals transmitted by the country’s GLONASS GPS constellation using a waveband of 1.589GHz to 1.6GHz. In such cases Russian forces could sometimes end up jamming their own UAV GNSS signals.
Despite the Ukrainian armed forces being a constituent part of the armed forces of the Soviet Union prior to the latter’s collapse in 1991 and thus sharing the same EW doctrines, the intervening years witnessed some important doctrinal divergences between the Ukrainian and Russian militaries: “We shared the same doctrine as part of the Soviet Union, and we have similar equipment.” Nevertheless, “at the same time, during the years in independence, we tried to change some approaches, and upgrade some equipment.” This doctrinal divergence has received added impetus as Russia has fielded new EW systems in the intervening years designed to attack NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) platforms and subsystems reliant on the electromagnetic spectrum. Not only have the Russian armed forces developed their EW doctrines, but they have been adept at learning lessons from recent conflicts, and adapting their systems accordingly, notes Gen. Kremenetskyi: “The speed with which the Russians have adapted their EW tactics has been very quick.” Some of the systems they used during the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008 received significant upgrades in the wake of that conflict, he continued, which added new capabilities. This resulted in the Russian Army only needing to deploy a comparatively small number of EW systems to support their operations in Ukraine, while still having an effect.
While the Ukrainian theatre has been a valuable laboratory for the Russian armed forces vis-à-vis the EW systems and doctrines they have deployed, it has also allowed NATO and allied nations to get a feel for how Russia may use EW in future conflicts, particularly in support of ground manoeuvre. This should help to inform NATO EW doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures while informing current and future electromagnetic system design and upgrades regarding how such challenges can be mitigated and avoided should confrontations with Russia characterise the battlefields of tomorrow.