Any future invasion of Ukraine will see the Russian Army manoeuvring aggressively in the electromagnetic spectrum against a Ukrainian Army knowing what to expect.
“Music, vilest insults and disturbances of all kinds are heard daily. It’s a shame what’s going on.” The Region 1 Monitoring System’s newsletter of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) did not mince its words. The IARU represents the world’s radio hams at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Region 1 encompasses Africa, Europe, the Middle East and northern Asia.
The monitoring system keeps watch on intrusions and unauthorised use of frequency bands allocated to radio hams by the ITU. The November 2021 newsletter was referring to shenanigans in High Frequency (HF) wavebands. The above-mentioned interference was recorded on frequencies of 7.050 megahertz/MHz, 7.055MHz and several other wavebands. This was occurring in and around the Ukrainian Theatre. As the newsletter’s assessment shows, the information war between Russia and Ukraine in the radio spectrum continues.
It may intensify in the coming weeks. As this article was being written in the final fortnight of December, the Russian government had massed troops in the Ukrainian Theatre. On 6th December, the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) published its Russian Troop Movements and Tensions Along the Ukrainian Border report. This stated that, as of early December, 75,000 Russian troops had been deployed to the Crimea region of southern Ukraine occupied by Russia in March 2014. They were also deployed to Russia’s side of her border with Ukraine.
This has raised fears in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is planning a second invasion of Ukraine. Tensions between Russia and the West have deteriorated amidst Russian concerns over NATO’s eastward expansion. In mid-December, Moscow released a list of demands to this effect. Russia also requested that no NATO assets be deployed in countries which joined the alliance after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She also requested NATO not to deploy bombers or warships outside their nations’ airspace and territorial waters. These demands are almost certainly impossible for NATO to meet.
The CRS report stated elements of Russia’s 8th, 20th and 41st Combined Arms Army (CAA) have been deployed. This includes the 8th CAA’s 20th and 150th Motorised Rifle Brigades. The 20th CAA has deployed its 3rd and 144th Motorised Rifle Divisions. Meanwhile the 41st CAA has deployed its 4th Tank Division and 2nd Motorised Rifle Regiment.
Each of these CAAs and regiment, division and brigade manoeuvre formations are believed to possess organic Electronic Warfare (EW) units. For example, the 20th CAA has the 15th and 16th Independent Electronic Warfare Brigades. The manoeuvre formations are thought to each have one EW Company. The Independent EW Brigades provide operational level electronic warfare with tactical level EW provided by the companies.
A single EW brigade and EW company includes an impressive number of assets. Open sources say that one brigade typically has five specific systems. These include a single KRET Murmansk-BN HF Communications Intelligence (COMINT) and Communications Jamming (COMJAM) system. This jams theatre-level HF communications. The Murmansk-BN could be the source of annoyance for the region 1 radio hams. Other assets include a single Special Technological Centre (STC) RB-341V Leer-3 COMINT/COMJAM system. One task of the RB-341 Leer-3 is to jam GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) protocols. GSM frequencies inhabit wavebands of 900MHz to 1.9 gigahertz/GHz. Additional EW brigade assets include the KRET 1L269 Krasukha-2 which jams S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) airborne radars. The KRET 1RL257 Krasukha-C4 performs a similar function for X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz) and Ku-band (13.4GHz to 14GHz/15.7GHz to 17.7GHz) radars. A KRET 1L267 Moskva-1 passive radar also forms part of the brigade.
Open sources say that a similarly wide array of EW assets is deployed at the company level. These include two Sozvezdie R/RP-330K headquarters units. They are joined by two squads each equipped with a Sozvezdie R-378B Borioglebsk-3 HF COMJAM system. Two additional squads perform VHF COMJAM across wavebands of 30MHz to 100MHz using two R-330B jammers. GSM, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Radio Frequency (RF) fused weapons are targeted by nine squads using an array of systems. GNSS signals across wavebands of 1.1GHz to 1.6GHz are attacked by one squad using a KRET R-330Z Zhitel jammer. Two squads have KRET SPR-2 Rtut jammers for RF fused weapons on wavebands of 30MHz to 420MHz. GSM signals are targeted by six squads each deployed with KRET RP-377LA Lorandit backpack jammers. Airborne radio communications are targeted by one squad equipped with a KRET R-934B jammer. These attack airborne radio communications across a 100MHz to 400MHz waveband. RP-377LA/UV systems are also deployed by two additional squads tasked with jamming RF-activated landmines. In addition, these squads target miscellaneous Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF) radio across 20MHz to two gigahertz wavebands.
Judging by the Russian Army units deployed to the Ukrainian Theatre so far, the force could have up to six EW companies and two EW brigades ready to support any invasion of Ukraine.
As Armada reported in the past, Ukrainian forces have experienced problems caused by Russian electronic warfare. This was largely the result of the Ukrainian Army’s reliance on legacy analogue tactical communications. These were highly susceptible to geolocation and jamming. Moreover, the army’s use of civilian cellphones for tactical communications and fire control created vulnerabilities. In early December we reported that Russian cyber warriors successfully implanted malware on smartphones used by Ukrainian artillery. Russian EW was also adept at manoeuvring physically, ensuring EW units regularly changed location to frustrate Ukrainian targeting.
Not everything went the Russian Army’s way. Ukrainian Army sources revealed to Armada that the Russian Army would suffer significant electromagnetic fratricide. Not only did Russian Army EW units jam Ukrainian radios but the jamming would affect its own forces. Russian EW efforts were also unable to jam encrypted SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) V/UHF tactical radios. These had been supplied to the Ukrainian Army by the US.
There is no doubt that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would see significant EW and cyber warfare before and during the offensive. Ukrainian forces would have to oppose heavy and aggressive electromagnetic manoeuvre by the Russians.
Fortunately for the Ukrainian Army it has experienced Russian EW before. It will know what to anticipate, and will understand Russian EW doctrine. By ensuring that Ukrainian forces practice electromagnetic discipline Russian electromagnetic manoeuvre may be blunted. The complaints of the IARU’s Region 1 Monitoring System look like the prelude to what may be a far more aggressive electronic war.
by Dr. Thomas Withington