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Russian Operations, Exercises Have Better Integrated Electronic Warfare

Promotional photos of the Murmansk-BN system. Sputnik Photo

Russia has integrated electronic warfare and offensive and defensive electromagnetic spectrum capabilities into its operations and strategies, in a way not seen from NATO forces in Europe, a leading expert on the Kremlin’s armed forces said Monday.

Roger McDermott, a senior research fellow in war studies at King’s College London, said “the Russians learn by doing” and that they are taking lessons learned in Syria and Ukraine to heart. Citing their recent response to a drone swarm attack on a Russian air base and naval facility in Syria, he said, “all were brought down” by conventional air defense or jamming using electronic warfare tools.

In Ukraine, small electronic warfare units have previously crossed the border to jam the Kiev government’s communications or enhance the fire control of the separatists’ artillery, before pulling back to their own territory shortly after, McDermott said while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

For the Kremlin, “there is an EMS [electro-magnetic spectrum] narrative” in southeastern Ukraine military operations. “They are gaining operational experience.”

In his recent report on electronic warfare, McDermott noted that Moscow had already begun the integration of its electronic warfare capabilities with conventional military hardware and software when it seized Crimea and Ukraine in 2014. Already in place in each motorized rifle brigade was an EW unit of 150 to 180 non-conscript soldiers engaged in planning and executing missions. In addition, each of the country’s five military districts had an EW element assigned to their headquarters, as do each of the armed forces.

McDermott said the United States and NATO do not have their armed forces organized in that way.

The idea, he said, is to integrate C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], A2/AD [anti-access/area denial], space, cyber and electronic warfare for offensive and defensive military effect. The Russian military has been at this reform in strategic thinking since 2008.

“What [President Vladimir] Putin did, he gave stability to the Russian armed forces” in funding, and has done so “consistently for the last few years.” This has allowed the armed forces to move promising projects out of research and development “to get these systems up and running.” He specifically mentioned an anti-communications satellite project that includes a strike system as one of the outgrowths of steady financing from the Kremlin.

Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA who also spoke at the CSIS event, said the Russians are “also investing in capacity and how they can spread it across the force” when it comes to EW, as well as harnessing new capability in force development, thought and future warfare strategy.

A screenshot from a Russian propaganda video of a Black Sea incident between a Su-24 Fencer and USS Donald Cook (DDG-74).

McDermott said the Russians are not 10-feet tall in this arena. He used the buzzing of destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) by a Sukhoi-24 in the Black Sea in 2014 as an example of exaggerating Russian prowess. Initial news accounts said that, not only did the aircraft come dangerously close to the vessel, but through a new electronic warfare system the Su-24 knocked out the destroyer’s radars and left its Aegis system inoperable.

“That’s mythology that built up,” he said.

Two years later, when the facts became much clearer, the Russian company that builds the electronic warfare system in question said it had never been mounted on a Su-24.

In the same light, McDermott said large military Russian exercises, the Zapad series, shouldn’t be viewed as training for an invasion of the Baltic nations or Poland; instead, it should be seen as what the Russian military would do in the event of NATO meddling in Belarus.

An undated photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin Russian Presidential Press and Information Office Photo

“When they look, they see an unpredictable actor [in NATO with] this appetite to intervene” outside of its area, McDermott said. The Zapad exercises are training to respond to that challenge from the West across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The question for Russian military planners, Kofman said, becomes “how do you achieve superiority” in situations like that. The answer: the Russians are working on asymmetric responses to expected challenges, McDermott added.

Later in the event, McDermott noted that NATO does not conduct any training on that scale, nor does it routinely include EW in its exercises.

“On its periphery, Russia has escalation dominance,” he said.

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    “What [President Vladimir] Putin did, he gave stability to the Russian armed forces” in funding, and has done so “consistently for the last few years.” This has allowed the armed forces to move promising projects out of research and development “to get these systems up and running.”

    Well nobody can accuse the US congress of doing this, can they?

    • PolicyWonk

      Sadly, no one can accuse the incompetently led HoRs of responsible leadership.

      When you combine the grotesque and staggering lack of economic and financial responsibility that used to be in the wheelhouse of the Republican Party, combined with a lack of national budget resulting from irresponsible leadership that puts party above the good of the nation and its national security, then you’ve got a problem.

      The GOP used to be party of fiscal discipline – now they’re the party of economic idiocy. The real fiscal conservatives have been pushed out and replaced with ideologues more prone to hallucination than reality.

      But that isn’t the entire problem: If you look at the DoD acquisition system as a whole, they don’t purchase weapons based on any integrated threat analysis or purchasing strategy. Instead, each service branch does its own analysis, buys their own weapons, and having them integrated with the other branches is more of an afterthought. Hence – tons of redundant programs, gold-plating of stuff whether it needs it or not, and huge holes in the system – EW and MCM warfare being good examples of whats been ignored – because the service branches would rather buy gear for the war they want to fight, instead of the ones we’re likely to fight.

      This ensures the US taxpayer gets the lousiest deal for defense dollar spent.

      • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

        Would you like a Littoral ship?

        • PolicyWonk

          No thanks: the USN’s “littoral combat ship” PEO has already wasted $36B on these ultra expensive utility boats (that they’re still trying to justify the existence of).

          • D. Jones

            Blaspheme not the mighty LCS, lest you incur the wrath of Duane.

          • El Kabong

            Cue the Little Crappy Ship cheerleader Duaney in 3…2…1…

      • David Oldham

        Nice fantasy there excusing the Senate where the GOP may have a majority but it takes 60 votes to pass most legislation hence the Democratic party is holding the whole thing up. Sorry to burst you little bubble but the HoRs has passed budgets only to die in a Senate held hostage by hyper partisan radical progressive Democrats.

        • DaSaint

          The Senate can change the rules for a simple majority, any time they want.

        • PolicyWonk

          Hyper-partisan radical progressive Democrats? They’re the only fiscal conservatives this nation has at this point, because what is still called but no longer resembles the Republican Party has dropped every major policy position that made it the political powerhouse it used to be – and probably won’t be much longer.

          Today’s GOP would be unrecognizable to Reagan, Eisenhower, Ford, and for that matter – either Bush. Now the loonies are running the asylum, and idiotic economic and fiscal policies that caused the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression are now back on tap.

          Trying the same, failed policies again that compromised our national security, economic well being, and ruined the lives of millions isn’t good policy: and I don’t blame the democrats for standing in the way of irresponsible GOP “leadership”.

      • NavySubNuke

        I realize you are a democrat and so you will go out of your way to blame the Republicans for anything and everything but you should realize it takes away from the overall credibility of your response when you are so blindly partisan.

        • PolicyWonk

          I voted for a real Republican – John Kasich – not the current incumbent – because I considered him incompetent and have yet to see him do anything to change my mind.

          I’m a traditional republican – not these pretenders that sacrificed every tenet of the GOP – including fiscal conservatism. Now they are the party of economic idiocy.

          These aren’t republicans. The clowns passing themselves off as today’s republicans have far more in common with pre-war German politicians than America values.

          As a fiscal conservative, I don’t buy their BRAVO SIERRA for an instant.

          • D. Jones

            Kasich is as much a Republican as deBlasio/Warren Wilhelm.

            Ever watch the tape of Kasich trashing the Ohio cop, and Ohio LE later releasing the video of the Kasich traffic stop? That cop exemplified professionalism, while the postman’s kid exemplifies everything that is dishonest about politicians. Plus he eats like a wildebeest at Golden Corral.

            Search “kasich traffic stop”. The videos speak volumes. I’d vote for an all-LCS Navy before I’d vote for that prevaricator.

          • IssacBabel

            Kasich is like a Republican LBJ, many character flaws, but an actual
            politician who might get some stuff done. These days getting stuff done
            seems to be rated as a character flaw too, not sticking to one principles, etc.
            The HyperPartisanRadical Repubcrats have formed a defacto party and are trying
            to kill off the Republican and Democratic parties. Who needs a center ?

          • pismopal

            While you are on the subject of..uhh..getting things done. Maybe you should mention the guy whose father was not a postman but he is getting a lot done.

  • IssacBabel

    GSFG had division level EW units back in the 1980s, so this is not exactly news.
    Now if the Tsar starts adding back in the corps level CBW units that would be interesting.
    Happy Days are here again, but this time the Poles are an official part of NATO.

    • WRBaker

      And at least a little before, too. The Forward Area was an interesting place back then – we didn’t seem to take it much to heart though, did we?

  • D. Jones

    “Escalation dominance” is a unique term. One can almost envisage Bob Dole doing an E.D. commercial for this new menace.

    • NavySubNuke

      Putin certainly appears to be trying to compensate for something – I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he was also a customer of such treatments.

  • kye154

    If the Iranians could use its electronic warfare capabilities to capture 3 of our drones since 2011, don’t you think the Russians would have this capability too? America is so far behind the power-curve on electronic warfare.

    • El Kabong

      Which three?

      Care to chat about the F-4’s the USAF scared off with an F-22?

  • SamIam

    Where’s the Fleet Admiral spittle-ing on and on about the superiority of the LCS? If he was here he’d said, “This would never have happened to the LCS because it has the most powerful radar and up to date ESM in the fleet, the Burkes are just old rusty sailing ships that belong in a museam.”