Ukrainian troops found an unidentified shipping container at an abandoned Russian command post outside Kyiv a month after Russian forces began an offensive in Ukraine. They did not know what was inside it. But what was known after opening that container, it should not be surprising. The container left behind by Russian soldiers contained one of Russia’s most advanced electronic warfare systems. The war had lasted only a few days. At that time, the Ukrainian army claimed that the discovery of such a weapon was the biggest intelligence achievement.
Inside the container abandoned by the Russian military was the Krasuka-4, one of Russia’s most advanced electronic warfare (EW) systems. Russia has been using this electronic weapon since 2014. ‘Electronic Warfare’ or EW system means the integrated use of different types of hardware and software. The Krasuka-4 is considered a key tool in Russia’s strategic electronic warfare. It is designed to jam X and KU band airborne and satellite-based radars. It is mainly used alongside another EW system called Krasuka-2. Kraska-2 primarily works to disable short-wavelength S-band reconnaissance radars. Such radars can disable the radars of the US E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) and Airborne Warning and Control System or AWACS fighter radars.
Russia has long been believed to have advanced electronic weapons. Last March, the Kraska-4 was handed over to Ukraine and its allied Western military alliance, NATO, which provided an opportunity for better observation and analysis. A report on the Russian military’s electronic weaponry and its impact on the Ukraine war was recently published in Spectrum, the publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), an international organization of electrical engineers. According to the report, the EW systems were of little use at the beginning of the attack by the Russian forces. But now this technology is turning the tide of war toward Russia.
According to the report of the technology website The Verge, in the face of the Russian attack, the Ukrainian troops are putting up a strong resistance, but they are not coping well due to the advanced electronic weapons. Analysts say that as the war in Ukraine drags on, Russia’s military is gaining an advantage in the field thanks to various electronic warfare techniques. Many observers of the war say that Russia’s electronic warfare (EW) systems are now playing a bigger role on the battlefield than they did in the early days of the invasion.
It was unthinkable before last March that the Russian military would abandon such a valuable EW system as the Kraska-4. At that time, the Russian army was very successful in occupying different areas of Ukraine. He was even threatening to occupy Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. But five months into the war, it appears that those early Russian advances have suffered a major setback. The fact that systems like Krasuka-4 have been left by the wayside is proof of that. The abandoned Krasuka-4 system became a symbol of the Russian military’s spectacular failure in the first few months of the invasion. EW had little influence early in the war. So the question arose, will this famous electric weapon system of Russia really be able to affect the outcome of the war?
The war in Ukraine entered its sixth month. At least three of Russia’s five electronic warfare brigades are now deployed in Ukraine. Now NATO-supplied radio signals are easily detected by experienced Russian EW drivers. Past experience helps them in this work. Previously, Russian EW drivers have accumulated their experience in Syria. It is now being used on the soil of Ukraine. Experts say that electronic weapons are a very important part of modern warfare. The military relies on radio, radar, and infrared detectors to coordinate operations. Electronic methods are also used to locate the enemy. In addition to disrupting the electromagnetic spectrum of enemy forces, EW is seen to be used to control their own spectrum and protect their own communications.
Due to the short distance from Russia to the battlefields in eastern Ukraine, the Russian military can easily bring specialized EW equipment closer to the battlefield. Ukrainian officials have admitted that its use reduces the effectiveness of drones. In addition, EW capabilities have made it easier for the Russian military to locate and attack Ukrainian forces. Russia has also succeeded in intercepting Ukrainian military communication channels. Using EW technology, Russia has managed to disrupt the radar communications of Ukrainian drones. As a result, the location of the Russian forces was not detected by the Ukrainian forces.
Russian electronic weapons system
US military experts refer to EW as a joint coordinate system of electronic attack (EA), electronic protection, and electronic support (ES). Jamming is the most common form of electronic attack. In this case, radio or radar waves are disturbed. An example is the Russian R-330 ZH Zittel Jammer. It can jam GPS, satellite communications, and mobile networks in the VHF and UHF bands within 10 km. Distracting the enemy is also a part of EA. This system may send its own signal instead of the expected radar or radio transmission. Earlier in 2014, the Russian military used the RB-341V Lear-3 system to hijack local mobile networks in eastern Ukraine and disseminate its own fake instructions. Apart from this, they can expand the network by using Lear-3 through Orlan-10 drones.
Another part of the electronic attack system is the electronic support (ES) system. It is used to indirectly detect and analyze the adversary’s communication system. ES is essential for understanding the potential vulnerabilities of an adversary’s radar or radio. ES capabilities are included with most Russian EA systems. Russian soldiers were able to quickly identify potential jamming targets. In addition, it can detect the location of enemy radio and cellular communication and provide information there to its own troops, so that they can quickly launch shelling or rocket attacks there. ES is specifically added to some Russian systems. This includes Moscow-1. It can perfectly pick up TV and radio signals. It helps to target ships or warplanes.
Russia uses specialized electronic-warfare units to conduct EA and ES operations. Its ground forces consist of EW brigades of several hundred soldiers assigned to the five Russian military districts West, South, North, Central, and East. It aims to disrupt enemy surveillance radars and satellite communications networks over hundreds of kilometers. The EW brigade has the Krasuka-2, 4, Lear-3, Moskova-1 and Murmansk-BN systems. In addition, members of the brigade are trained in the use of the smaller R-330ZH Zittel. On the other hand, the Russian army is using the Electronic Protection (EP) system as a defense system to prevent the enemy’s EA and ES. EP incorporates special techniques and technology to prevent radio transmissions from being detected or jammed.
Russia’s EW system at a glance
Krasuka-4: Targets X-band and KU-band radars. It is especially used to disrupt the communications of warships, drones, missiles and low-orbit satellites.
Krasuka-2: Targets S-band radars. It specifically detects vulnerabilities in various platforms in the sky. It is used with Krasuka-4.
Lear-3: Military radios, can cut off cellular communications. It can jam the network for hundreds of kilometers.
330 ZH ZTel: The jammer can block GPS and satellite communications up to 10 km. It can also be operated from the truck command post.
Murmansk–BN: Used in long-range communications detection and military radio jamming.
R934-B and SPN 2, 3, 4: Capable of jamming wireless communications and air-to-surface guidance control radars.
Repellent-1: Antidrone System.
Moskva-1: Can locate enemy ships and warplanes.
Experts have long called Russia the most experienced and best-equipped EW unit in the world. Immediately after the start of the attack on Ukraine on February 24, many people assumed that the Russian army would quickly take control of Ukraine. The EW has been an important part of the Russian military since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russian separatists have been using Lear-3 and Orland-10 drone systems in the Donbas region for a long time. The separatists were using them to detect the radio communications of the Ukrainian forces and launch rocket attacks on them. But since the beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the widespread use of this device has not been seen. On the other hand, using anti-drone systems supplied by the United States, Ukrainian forces have destroyed hundreds of Russian drones by jamming their GPS signals. Soon after, the Russian military increased its use of EW. Began to detect Ukrainian warplanes using Lear-3.
The question is, what lies ahead? The Kremlin’s fortunes have now improved. Russian troops are fighting from Russian-held territory in eastern Ukraine. Now instead of dispersing they are attacking the positions of Ukrainian troops with the help of EW and moving forward. Instead of large brigades, troops were divided into smaller groups to speed up the attack. They are called Battalion Tactical Group (BTG). In the hands of these groups, short-range enemy position detection systems like R-330ZH Zitel have been handed over. This system can jam the GPS signal of Biracter TB2S and DJI Mavic drones. The R-934B VHF and SPR-2 jammers in possession of the BTG are also capable of disrupting the communications of the Ukrainian forces. On the other hand, the Ukrainian military has a weak Singkors radio signal. Apart from this, they have to rely on vulnerable cellphone and radio networks. But the ‘counter-drone system’ from the US is giving them some success. Ukraine also received the EW system from the US. They have also started to increase their use.
The big lesson of the Ukraine war over EW is that winning the war of waves does not mean winning the war. The reason why Russian troops are ahead in the wave war is that they can quickly occupy different areas and move forward. But the situation may change. If Western-backed Ukraine could take control of airspace and disrupt Russian shipments of electronic and other military equipment, the tide could turn.