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Intelligence brief: Russia’s electronic warfare capability in Ukraine

by Rob O'Gorman

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Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have significant advantages over Ukrainian forces in the area of electronic warfare (EW).

Russia has been making good use of its brigade-level EW assets in Ukraine, particularly with the barrage (noise) jamming of tactical radio nets, cell phone emitters and satellite downlink targets. This capability was most recently demonstrated by the electronic warfare company of 18 Guards Motor Rifle Brigade during its deployment in Ukraine (both Crimea and eastern Ukraine). With its own jammers (R-330ZH ‘Zhitel’), it was able to effectively nullify the Ukrainian communications and GPS signals in the regions it was deployed to.

Such jamming can typically affect opposing forces up to 30-40 kilometres back from the frontline, and seriously deteriorates the Ukrainian’s command and control (C2). As such, Western supporters of Kiev might consider supplying the Ukrainian armed forces with defensive capabilities, including electronic countermeasures. Furthermore, the strong jamming signals are ordinarily glaringly obvious on a spectrum analyser screen. If Ukraine’s own EW assets can detect such powerful signals, these can be geolocated with their direction finder assets. At that point, the jammers could be attacked by aircraft, artillery or even special forces. For their part, Russian and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine are able to use artillery, particularly multiple rocket launchers, against any threat emitters they identify.

The advantages the Russians are enjoying in this area are directly contributing to the losses suffered by the Ukrainian armed forces.

The Russian Army (and that of the Soviet Union before it) has a long history of electronic warfare or Radio-Electronya Borba (REB). It now deploys REB assets down to the brigade/division level, which allows them the full-spectrum of EW capabilities, including the interception, location and jamming of radio communications and non-communications (i.e. radars of various types and GPS). Russia also has dedicated EW companies within the reconnaissance battalions of the new motor rifle and tank brigades. The document below prepared by Open Briefing senior analyst Rob O’Gorman provide more detailed information on this.

While Western militaries are now fusing EW with various cyber resources, the Russian Army has not yet begun a wholesale move in this direction. However, its brigade/division-level deployments give Russia a robust EW capability at the tactical level of operations, which it is using to devastating effect in Ukraine.

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