Russia may have deployed a new domestically produced handheld radio into Ukraine. Is it likely to help alleviate some of the Russian land forces’ long-standing tactical communications problems?
One must tread carefully on social media, particularly where warfare is concerned, but occasionally you can discover interesting information. Many aspects of the materiel used by Russian and Ukrainian forces in the ongoing war between the two countries have been chronicled on platforms like Twitter. It was on this platform where details emerged in late October of a new radio believed to be used by Russia’s army.
Tactical communications have been a bugbear for Russia’s land forces since the country commenced its second invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Armada has chronicled the problems Russian land forces’ tactical communications have experienced, particularly concerning interoperability. Details have come to light on the reliance of Russian dismounted troops on civilian standard handheld radios. Such radios can lack military standard Communications/Transmission Security (COMSEC/TRANSEC). These security failings can make them relatively easy to jam and/or eavesdrop upon.
Rumours are now circulating that a relatively new squad radio, known as the Combat-34 Turbo-10, may have been deployed by Russian land forces in the Ukrainian theatre of operations. At the time of writing (late October) Armada was working to confirm whether the Combat-34 had been deployed to Ukraine.
Open sources say the analogue radio uses an ultra-high frequency waveband of 400 megahertz/MHz to 470MHz, producing up to ten watts of power. Channel bandwidths of 12.5 kilohertz/KHz or 25KHz are provided. Russian language sources note that the Combat-34 was not designed from the outset as a military radio. Instead, it has been developed for law enforcement and for outdoor professions like the construction industry. The fishing and hunting market is also targeted by the manufacturer.
The radio uses frequency modulation and has a receiver sensitivity of -122 decibels-per-milliwatt. Up to 32 channels in two groups of 16 can be used by the Combat-34. Precious little information exists regarding the radio’s COMSEC/TRANSEC. Usually, this is considered an important selling point by radio manufacturers. The lack of information seems to suggest that it might be rudimentary or even non-existent. Anyone keen to learn more about the radio’s performance can consult these Russian language manuals.
To what extent could the Combat-34 radio help to reduce Russian tactical communications problems in Ukraine? It is known that Russian dismounted troops routinely use civilian-standard handheld radios produced by companies like Motorola and Baofeng. In March 2022, Motorola announced it was stopping exports to Russia. Nonetheless, Motorola radios will be relatively easy to source from third countries who are still trading with Russia. There is no evidence the Baofeng has stopped exporting to Russia or operating in the country.
It is possible that the Russian military is keen to source a domestic supplier to furnish handheld squad radios. Such a move would adhere to Russia’s prevailing military-industrial doctrine of self-sufficiency. From a military perspective, it is hard to see what advantages deploying a system like the Combat-34 would bring. Replacing one civilian-standard handheld radio with another, even if the latter is made domestically, seems unlikely to provide the COMSEC/TRANSEC it seems Russian dismounted troops need.
by Dr. Thomas Withington