Translated official Russian documents seen by Armada provide an insight into how tactical communications are deployed by Russia’s army on the battlefield.
In April 2022, just one month into Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine, Armada published details of the radios the Russian Army was using in the theatre of operations. Using social media sources corroborated by sources in theatre, we noted the army had deployed its latest R-187P Azart handheld radio. Members of the Azart radio family cover wavebands of 27 megahertz/MHz to 520MHz. Azart radios were deployed in Ukraine alongside the P-168 Akveduk multiband system. The P-168 provides high frequency (three megahertz to 30MHz) and Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF: 30MHz to three gigahertz) communications. The latter radio is thought to be deployed with Russia’s airborne forces which are a separate service. Whether the P-168 and P-187 radios share interoperable waveforms is not detailed in the public domain.
The documents seen by Armada say that the Combined Arms Armies (CAAs) providing land forces operational command use static V/UHF links to connect with the division/brigade command. CAA command posts are notionally equipped with P-187BV V/UHF radios. Static masts at these posts typically provide V/UHF links at ranges of 40 kilometres/km (25 miles). These carry data at rates of between 2,048 kilobits-per-second/kbps and 8.192kbps. The documents mention that uninhabited aerial vehicles can provide radio relays at ranges of up to 54 nautical miles (100km).
Brigade and Battalion
A division/brigade command post will also have P-187BV radios and static masts. The division/brigade command uses these to link with subordinate battalion commanders also equipped with P-187BVs. These links have a similar performance to the CAA-to-brigade links. Roger McDermott’s seminal work Russia’s Path to the High Tech Battlespace says a typical motorised rifle brigade/division deployment area is circa 10,000 square kilometres (3,861 square miles).
Data rates reduce significantly to twelve kilometres (7.5 miles) when battalion commanders link to their subordinate platoons. This is the consequence of needing to remain mobile using vehicle-mounted antennas which lack the height to get similar lines-of-sight to brigade-CAA/brigade-to-battalion links. Likewise, data rates reduce to between 16kbps and 256kbps.
Platoon and Squad
The documents say that the handheld P-187P and P-187N radios are deployed at platoon and squad levels. It is possible that the P-187P is a multichannel system for commanders linking up to the battalion and downwards to squad commanders. The P-187N could be a single channel/single band radio for use by squad soldiers. Data rates reduce to between 16kbps and 32kbps at these echelons. All these radios are capable of mesh networking. This extends their ranges to 300km (186.5 miles) for the P-187P/N and 1,000km (623 miles) for the P-187BV.
On paper at least, the Russian Army’s manoeuvre force is promised a modern, standard tactical communications architecture courtesy of the Azart family. The reality seems different. President Vladimir Putin launched his second invasion in the midst of the Russian military’s overarching modernisation. As Armada chronicled in the past the result was the army going to war with a mix of new and legacy radios. These seemingly do not share common waveforms preventing them from securely communicating with each other. Unencrypted links are often the only way that intra- and inter-echelon communications can be performed, yielding the Ukrainians vital intelligence.
Too little too late?
On 21st December, Mr. Putin gave a televised address from Moscow promising to give the military anything it needs to continue the war in Ukraine. This is an implicit admission that the military has not had everything it requires to date. Perhaps this promise may include the tactical communications networks promised on paper but seemingly impossible to deliver in theatre?
by Dr. Thomas Withington