Russia Gives Lessons in Electronic Warfare

By Collins, Col Liam | Army, August 2018 | Go to article overview

Russia Gives Lessons in Electronic Warfare


Collins, Col Liam, Army


It's a nightmare scenario. An enemy unmanned aerial vehicle monitors the cellphone signals of troops below, identifies their location and sends the coordinates to a headquarters, which launches an artillery strike against the unsuspecting troops.

This is the capability Russia brings to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine's Donbass region. And it's a capability the U.S. Army has not had to contend with during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the Army has much to learn-and in some cases, relearn-about electronic warfare. Observing how the Russians use electronic warfare in Ukraine to produce kinetic effects offers the best opportunity to do so.

DoD defines electronic warfare as "military action involving the use of electromagnetic and directed energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum or to attack the enemy." It consists of electronic attack, electronic protection and electronic warfare support.

Electronic attack involves "the use of electromagnetic energy, directed energy, or antiradiation weapons to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment with the intent of degrading, neutralizing, or destroying enemy combat capability and is considered a form of fires," according to DoD.

Electronic protection involves "actions taken to protect personnel, facilities, and equipment from any effects of friendly or enemy use of the electromagnetic spectrum that degrade, neutralize, or destroy friendly combat capability," DoD says.

And electronic warfare support includes "actions tasked by, or under direct control of, an operational commander to search for, intercept, identify, and locate or localize sources of intentional and unintentional radiated electromagnetic energy for the purpose of immediate threat recognition, targeting, planning and conduct of future operations."

Threat to U.S. Limited

In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the electronic warfare threat was limited. The extent to which the Army thought about electronic warfare was primarily restricted to electronic attacks to defeat enemy IEDs, primarily by using jammers. As such, units could establish large, static tactical operations centers with giant antenna farms, rely exclusively on GPS for navigation and rely on blue force tracker and constant communications for command and control. Concepts such as radio discipline, camouflage and "jumping the TOC" were largely forgotten. A generation of soldiers grew up without thinking about the vulnerability of the Army's reliance on the electromagnetic spectrum.

In its five-day war with Georgia in 2008, Russian electronic warfare capability was limited. Its air force was unable to suppress Georgian air defense systems, which resulted in the loss of numerous Russian aircraft. Russia learned from its experience, invested in electronic warfare over the past decade and now uses the conflicts in eastern Ukraine and Syria as laboratories to test and refine those capabilities.

In Ukraine, Russia's extensive electronic warfare activities use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ground systems to conduct electromagnetic reconnaissance and jamming against satellite, cellular and radio communication systems along with GPS spoofing and electronic warfare attacks against Ukrainian UAVs. The Russians are adept at identifying Ukrainian positions by their electrometric signatures. While a tenuous cease-fire exists, every day sees dozens of violations. Daily casualties result largely from sniper and artillery fire, but electronic attack and electronic warfare support by Russian-led separatist forces contribute to these casualties by identifying Ukrainian positions.

'Pinpoint Propaganda'

Russian forces also combine electronic warfare and cyberwarfare to support their information operations campaign. Ukrainian forces deployed to the combat region have received text messages designed to undermine unit cohesion and troop morale. Nancy Snow, a professor of public diplomacy at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies in Japan, described this as "pinpoint propaganda. …

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