More details have emerged regarding the Russian Army’s use of tactical communications in the Ukraine theatre of operations.
On 24th March social media video emerged of a Russian R-187P1 Azart handheld radio using the TETRA waveform. The R-187P1 is the army’s new handheld radio for squad/platoon leaders covering a 27 megahertz/MHz to 520MHz waveband. The radio also equips dismounted troops as part of the Russian Army’s Ratnik (Warrior) infantry soldier system.
As Armada reported recently deliveries of these new radios across manoeuvre units appear patchy. Some elite formations, like naval infantry and airborne troops do have the radio. Other units are relying on legacy equipment. In some cases dismounted troops seem to be using civilian standard handheld radios.
Sources speaking on conditions of anonymity have shared with Armada that this hotch-potch of radios has detrimentally affected interoperability between manoeuvre units. It does not appear that common military-grade waveforms exist which can be used across the force. This would let units communicate irrespective of the radios they using provided these radios can house the waveform.
The Trans-European Trunked Radio (TETRA) protocol is used throughout Europe primarily by first responders but also by public transport operators like rail companies. Open sources say that Russia has been using TETRA since 2008. The protocol is used by Russia’s emergency services, civil defence and transport organisations, and some energy utilities.
The R-187P1 has the TETRA waveform loaded as standard. This is not surprising. Russian soldiers may be called upon to work closely with civil authorities during disaster recovery for example. It makes sense that the military would have the same waveform as the first responder and civil defence communities. In Russia, TETRA communications are known to use a waveband of 410MHz to 430MHz.
It may be possible to load TETRA software into some of the Motorola and Baofeng handheld civilian radios observed as being used by Russian dismounted troops in Ukraine. Having TETRA installed in these radios alongside the P-187P1 would give some tactical communications commonality. A local TETRA network could host users with disparate radios, provided they all use TETRA software. The social media example cited above may illustrate that TETRA is being used in this fashion.
While TETRA would help overcome interoperability challenges experienced by Russian manoeuvre units this would not be cost free. TETRA does support encryption although this is unlikely to be as robust as the communications and transmission security protocols one finds on a military radio. Secondly, TETRA uses an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) waveband of 380MHz to 430MHz. Only users equipped with UHF radios could use a TETRA network. Thirdly, TETRA’s data rates of circa 28 kilobits-per-second are unsuitable for heavy traffic like still imagery or video.
It appears the Russian Army has experienced problems regarding communications interoperability during ongoing operations in Ukraine. The apparent use of TETRA suggests that attempts are being made to address these problems. However, the extent to which this has been successful remains to be seen.
by Dr. Thomas Withington