Armada has learned that Russian land forces have deployed several electronic warfare units to the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
South Ossetia is in the central northern region of Georgia. The area is recognised as Georgian territory by the United Nations (UN). South Ossetia is currently occupied by Russia and considered Russian territory by that country along with Nauru, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela. Abkhazia is in the extreme northeast of Georgia. Like South Ossetia, Abkhazia is occupied by Russia which claims this territory with the same four nations recognising Russian sovereignty. The UN considers Abkhazia to be Georgian territory.
Russia maintains a sizeable military presence in both areas which includes the deployment of Electronic Warfare (EW) units from the 58th Combined Arms Army, itself part of the Southern Military District (SMD). Armada has been told that elements of the 74th Radio Engineering Regiment and 14th Separate Electronic Warfare Battalion have deployed to these disputed regions. When not deployed, both these units are based in the city of Vladikavkaz, in the southern Caucuses, north of the Russo-Georgian border. EW units deployed to Abkhazia and South Ossetia are split into two companies. We have learned that one is based the southwest of the town of Tskhinvali, just north of the de-facto border between South Ossetia and Georgia.
These EW units regularly deploy to areas close to this de-facto border. Such deployments are almost certainly intended for the collection of Communications Intelligence (COMINT) from inside Georgia. The units often take advantage of elevated terrain to extend their COMINT collection line-of-sight into Georgian territory. Signals of interest probably include radio traffic from Georgian military, border police and law enforcement units on the south of the de-facto border. Russian EW units may also have some interest in civilian communications in border areas. For example, EW units have deployed to the town of Dzvileti, southwest of Tskhinvali, and Adzvistavi to the southeast. Russia’s FSB Federal Security Service is thought to have a base in the latter which is a mere 400 metres (0.2 miles) from the de-facto border. Details of the locations of Russian land forces EW deployments to Abkhazia are sketchy due to a lack of supporting imagery intelligence.
Armada’s sources have identified four EW platform types which have deployed to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These systems include the R-330Zh Zhitel, RB-531B Infauna and R-381 Taran. Either, or both, elements of the Krasukha system, chiefly the 1L269 Krasukha-2 and 1RL257E Krasukha-4, may have also been deployed. The R-330Zh reportedly detects emissions across frequencies of 100 megahertz/MHz to two gigahertz/GHz. These wavebands comprise the lion’s share of frequencies used by civilian and military radio communications. The R-330Zh is said to only be capable of jamming signals transmitting on frequencies of 1.2276GHz to 1.9GHz. Zhitel can detect and jam surface targets at ranges of up to 15 kilometres/km (9.3 miles) and airborne targets at up to 108 nautical miles/nm (200km) using ten kilowatts of output power. The RB-531B is traditionally deployed with Russian airborne forces’ organic EW companies. The 58th CAA has an airborne unit in the form of the 7th Guards Air Assault Division. It is possible that the RB-531Bs may have been drawn from this formation and seconded to the EW companies in Georgia. Infauna detects and jams frequencies across a waveband of 25MHz to 2.5GHz. Unlike the R-330Zh this system has a solely tactical orientation and typically detects and jams communications emitters at a maximum range of six kilometres (3.7 miles). The R-381 has no electronic attack role and is a COMINT gathering asset covering frequencies of 1.5MHz to one gigahertz. Sources claim a 40km (25 mile) detection range for ground targets can be achieved by the R-381. Finally, both Krasukha systems detect and jam airborne emitters. The 1L269 covers frequencies of one to two gigahertz with the 1RL257 covering frequencies of eight to 18GHz. Both are thought capable of generating 2kW of jamming power and achieving ranges of between 81nm (150km) and 216nm (400km) for airborne targets. Krasukhas are deployed at operational/strategic levels with Russian Army EW brigades and Russian Air Force EW battalions. Krasukhas deployed to Georgia may have been seconded from the Russian Army’s 19th EW Brigade and/or the Russian Air Force’s 504th Independent EW Battalion. Both these formations form part of the SMD’s order of battle.
Armada has seen pictures of two Russian EW vehicles we have not previously encountered. Sources in Georgia say these systems, both equipping BTR wheeled armoured vehicles, are used for cellphone traffic COMINT. The sources continued that the BTR-based systems are deployed by GRU military intelligence units. Unmarked civilian vehicles are known to be operating in Russian-occupied areas carrying the Artikul-M COMINT system. Artikul-M is probably used for covert cellphone traffic COMINT collection.
Sources have told Armada that the COMINT gathered by these assets is fed into the Russian government’s overall intelligence picture of the parts of Georgia it controls, and areas within range across the de-facto borders. Some jamming has also been performed by these EW units. For example, the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) has experienced disruptions to its communications in the past. The EUMM monitors the September 2008 EU-mediated ceasefire which ended the Russo-Georgian War that same year.
While most of Russia’s land forces’ EW elements remain deployed to Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, the news from Georgia shows there is a residual capability to deploy at least some of these to other theatres. Russia clearly has EW elasticity as these units could deploy to Ukraine should any EW ‘surge’ be required. The Georgia deployment also underscores that Russian military EW units are used as general intelligence collection assets for the country’s spy agencies.
by Dr. Thomas Withington