As Russia’s invasion and occupation of southern and eastern Ukraine moves into a new phase, counter-battery radar is proving its worth as the artillery battle hots up.
The Russian Army likes artillery. The Soviet Union’s infamous premier Josef Stalin labelled it “the god of war”. Today, the army’s artillery branch has a wide remit. As Lester Grau and Charles Bartles note in their seminal 2016 study The Russian Way of War, it is responsible for nuclear as well as conventional effects. The branch has a wide target set. Its weapons are to be employed against hostile troops and materiel. Red force command and control, reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities are also targeted. Fixed and mobile enemy installations like headquarters will be attacked. Operational and tactical logistics are targets, along with second echelon and reserve units.
Artillery covers open flanks and targets enemy units achieving a breakthrough. Other targets include enemy airpower, primarily airbases, aircraft on the ground, air defence units and supporting infrastructure. The artillery branch is tasked with laying mines, illuminating night-time manoeuvre, providing smoke screen and even using shells to deliver propaganda.
Properly known as the army’s Missile and Artillery Troops, the formation deploys missiles, rockets, self-propelled and towed artillery and mortars. These assets are formed into regiments and battalions, including organic reconnaissance battalions. Russian Army doctrine places a heavy emphasis on artillery. Fires are used to suppress hostile manoeuvre force concentrations to ease the path of the army’s own manoeuvre elements. Artillery units typically remain in their firing position shifting rapidly from one target to another. This is known in Russian doctrine as ‘manoeuvre by fire’. This makes artillery responsive against targets as and when they appear. Meanwhile, fires can be concentrated against one or more specific targets, or fragmented across multiple aimpoints. The disadvantage with this is that the longer artillery units remain in one place, the easier they are for red forces to locate and target with counter-battery fire. Russian logic is that if enough fires are directed against hostile artillery from the start, the less effective counter-battery fire will be.
A Russian Army tank or motorised rifle brigade or division typically has four organic artillery battalions. These comprise two howitzer battalions, a Multiple Rocket Launch System (MLRS) battalion and an anti-tank artillery battalion. Up to 18 Self-Propelled Howitzers (SPHs) will furnish each howitzer battalion. The MLRS battalion will have 18 platforms. Finally, the anti-tank artillery battalion will have six anti-tank cannons and tank destroyers. Each motorised rifle battalion in a formation will have up to eight towed mortars.
The Russian Army makes significant use of so-called Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs). An academic article written by Captain Nicolas J. Fiore of the US Army notes that BTGs were first observed in the Ukrainian theatre during Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. BTGs typically have all the supporting elements of a tank or motorised rifle division or brigade. As Grau and Bartles noted in an April 2022 article entitled Getting to Know the Russian Battalion Tactical Group, most BTGs are built around a motorised rifle battalion, a tank company, air defence platoon, engineer squad and accompanying logistics. Artillery support typically takes the form of one SPH battalion. Each army manoeuvre regiment, brigade and division has between two and three BTGs. Capt. Fiore says the BTGs are a way for the army to address shortcomings in the number of professional (non-conscript) troops available to equip the manoeuvre force.
Artillery Fire Control
Grau and Bartles articulate in their book that targets for the artillery are obtained using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), communications intelligence intercepts, visual observation, sound ranging, ground reconnaissance patrols and radar. Of interest to this article are the counter-battery radars upon which the Russian Army depends to detect incoming fires and determine their point of origin. This process not only warns troops to take cover it also determines aimpoints for counter-battery fire.
Several radars are deployed by the Russian Army to assist the artillery. Primarily designed as a battlefield surveillance radar, the 1RL232-2M SNAR-10M1 (frequency unknown) detects shell detonations at up to 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) range on land and 20km (12.4 miles) range on the sea surface. The 1L120 Kredo-M1 X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz) is a ground-surveillance radar used by anti-tank artillery units to detect targets. Russian documentation claims the radar can detect a tank in open, flat terrain at a range of up to 30km (18 miles). This is almost certainly an exaggeration. A radar with an antenna two metres (six feet) above the ground will have a detection range of circa six kilometres (3.7 miles) in flat, open terrain. Beyond this the horizon risks hiding the enemy tank from the radar’s transmissions.
Two dedicated counter-battery radars deploy with Russian Army artillery units. The 1L219M Zoopark-1M C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) system has a reported output power of 30 kilowatts/kW. It can determine potential launch positions for hostile artillery at ranges of 15km (9.2 miles) for field artillery. Russian literature claims detection ranges of up to 40km (24.9 miles) for tactical ballistic missiles. The Zoopark-1M can determine likely fall of shot for blue force artillery at ranges of 20km (12.4 miles) for field artillery. Fall of shot for tactical ballistic missiles can be determined at a 40km range. Grau and Bartles say that a single Zoopark-1M can ascertain the coordinates of up to 60 batteries per minute. The 1L271 Aistenok Ku-band (13.4GHz to 14GHz/15.7GHz to 17.7GHz) counter-battery radar can determine red force mortar firing positions at ranges of up to 750m (2,460ft) rage. Ground moving targets can be detected at ranges of 200m (656ft).
Russian sources suggest the development of the Zoopark-1M commenced in the 1980s during the latter days of the Soviet Union. The radar was developed to replace the erstwhile 1RL239 Lynx counter-battery radar. It seems the collapse of the USSR intervened causing further development of the Zoopark-1M to atrophy. The radar eventually entered service with the Russian Army in 2008. As a result the basic design of the Zoopark-1M may be relatively antiquated compared to the Western-supplied counter-battery radars in Ukraine. Interestingly, Zoopark-1M radars were also supplied to Ukraine. There is little doubt that Ukrainian engineers are already more than aware of any vulnerabilities which could be exploited vis-à-vis the Russian systems. Moreover, these weaknesses have most probably been shared with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The fact that an upgraded version of Zoopark-1M, dubbed the 1L260, was exhibited in Moscow in 2013 indicates that plans were already afoot to improve the design despite its 2008 service entry. Russian sources have revealed that the Aistenok may have entered service with the army in 2017. It may be a more modern system compared to the Zoopark-1M but lacks the range performance of its larger sibling.
The oryxspioenkop.com website documents that Russian forces supporting the invasion have so far lost three Zoopark-1M systems, two of which have been captured with one destroyed. In early August, the United States Department of Defence (DoD) acknowledged that Raytheon AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) series weapons had been supplied to Ukrainian forces. These may have been supplied for ground-launch against Russian radar targets. It remains unclear whether the Ukrainian Air Force’s (UAF) fleet of Russian- and Soviet-designed combat aircraft have the ability to deploy these weapons. Recent appearances by Northrop Grumman at several defence exhibitions have featured a model of a container-launched AGM-88. Specifically, this has been a ground-launched version of the company’s AGM-88E/G Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) and AARGM-ER (Extended Range) HARM variant. It is unlikely that the Pentagon has supplied the UAF with this state-of-the-art version of the missile. Nonetheless, this does indicate that the basic AGM-88 architecture could be configured for ground launch. This might come at the expense of range, but could still represent a serious threat to Russian radars. Earlier versions of HARM such as the AGM-88B/C can detect radars transmitting on wavebands of two gigahertz up to 18GHz. This encompasses the C-band signals transmitted by the Zoopark-1M.
According to oeyxspioenkop.com, Ukraine has yet to lose any of its counter-battery radars. The country’s army has been supplied with advanced systems following Russia’s invasion. In May, Germany announced the supply of Hensoldt Cobra C-band counter battery radars. According to the specifications of OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en matière d’Armement/Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation) which manages and coordinates pan-European defence projects, the Cobra radar is a qualitative improvement on the Zoopark-1M. Whereas the latter can detect field artillery launch positions at a range of 40km (24 miles), Cobra can determine mortar, rocket and artillery launch points at up to 100km (62 miles) range. That said, Zoopark-1M can locate and classify up to 60 batteries per minute. OCCAR states that Cobra can do this for 20 batteries per minute.
Nonetheless, the ability to detect Russian artillery at such long ranges gives the Ukrainian Army an important advantage. Twelve Krauss-Maffei Wegmann PZH-2000 155mm howitzers have been supplied to Ukraine by Germany and the Netherlands. They have a range of between 30km (18.6 miles) to 67km (41.6 miles) depending on the ammunition. The range of the PZH-2000 compares favourably with the Russian Army’s standard 2S19 Msta SPH. The weapon has an ammunition-dependent range of between 24.7km (15.3 miles) to 36km (22 miles). Despite the PZH-2000’s superior performance, reports in late July said that intensive use was causing wear and tear. Expenditures of 100 rounds-per-day is considered a heavy rate of fire for these weapons with Ukrainian gunners reportedly firing many more rounds than this.
Germany is supplying five Cobras to the Ukrainian Army. Supplies of counter-battery radars have also been forthcoming from the Netherlands. Reports state the country has supplied variants of arguably the most famous counter-battery radar, the Northrop Grumman/Raytheon AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder. The X-band AN/TPQ-36(V) has a detection range of 24km (14.9 miles). The Dutch deliveries join a total of 15 systems delivered by the United States to Ukraine between 2015 and May 2022.
In early June 2022, Russian media reports said Russian airpower had destroyed a single SRC AN/TPQ-50 radar. This L-band (1.215GHz to 1.4GHz) counter-battery radar has a range of 15km (9.3 miles). Armada has found no evidence of the AN/TPQ-50 being supplied to Ukraine. Secondly, reports of this radar’s destruction came directly from the Russian Air Force. As such, these claims should be treated with a scepticism, given the Russian government’s frequent distortion of the truth. There is evidence that the United States deployed a single AN/TPQ-50 for testing to Ukraine in 2015, with pictorial evidence to this effect. There is no evidence that supplies of this system then followed. It seems more likely that the US took advantage of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine from 2014 to evaluate the performance of the AN/TPQ-50 in detecting Russian artillery. These imports are supplemented by domestic systems like Ukraine’s NVK Iskra 1L220UK Zoopark-3. Ukrainian reports say this counter-battery radar was accepted for service in April 2021, with at least ten systems delivered.
The war in Ukraine has changed following the end of the first phase of Russia’s invasion in early April. Attention is now firmly in the south and east of the country. The Russian Army’s historical embrace of artillery has once again come to the fore. Ukraine is now suffering withering artillery barrages. On 25 July the United Nations (UN) released civilian casualty figures for war to date. It calculated that Ukraine had sustained 5,668 casualties. This comprised 2,848 killed and 2,820 injured. The UN concluded that “(m)ost of the civilian casualties recorded (including casualties in Russian occupied areas) were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery”.
The most effective way for the Ukrainian Army to reduce civilian casualties from Russian artillery is to attrit the latter. Destroying as much of the Russian Army’s artillery as possible is dependent in part on accurate Ukrainian artillery fire. This is in turn dependent on accurate counter-battery information obtained by counter-battery radar. Fortunately Ukraine, as illustrated by systems like Cobra and the AN/TPS-36(V), is receiving the advanced systems that are desperately needed. When working with effective artillery systems like the PZH-2000, this combination provides a capability which electronically and kinetically outranges its Russian counterparts. This could yet prove a deadly combination hopefully reducing the effectiveness and weight of Russian artillery. It is imperative that those nations sympathetic to Ukraine’s fight for freedom continue to supply effective counter-battery radars alongside the effective artillery the country so desperately needs.
by Dr. Thomas Withington