How Russian electronic warfare systems interfere with the US military in Syria

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A publication on April 26 in Vzglyad, the Moscow online analytical website, reveals with open sources, including American ones, how this option would work. This is an unofficial translation into English.

The EW Krasukha systems well-tested in real combat in Syria

By Andrei Rezchikov and Nikita Kovalenko

“Because of the actions of our unidentified enemy today, our military in Syria are in the most aggressive electromagnetic environment on the planet," said the American general. It is clear that such an enemy means Russia, actively using the means of electronic warfare in Syria. What are Russian electronic warfare systems capable of and why are Americans so afraid of them?

General Raymond Thomas, the head of the special operations command of the US armed forces complained at the closed Symposium GEOINT 2018 that “opponents” are jamming the system of American aircraft in Syria. He did not specify which “opponents” he means, but called the current situation in electronic warfare “the most aggressive in the world”. However, the publication Drive, quoting the general, expressed confidence that this is about Russia.

Left: General Raymond Thomas speaking at GEOPOINT 2018, which took place between April 22 and 25. Listen to his speech and read the DRIVE report of April 25 at Right: DRIVE’s published photograph of the Russian Krasukha-4 electronic warfare system.

“They test us every day, suppress our communications, disable our (fire support aircraft) AC-130,” added Raymond Thomas.

Earlier, the NBC TV channel, citing unnamed US officials, reported that Russia has blocked the radio signals of US drones in Syria, which has significantly affected US military operations. The Russian military allegedly began to interfere with US drones “after a series of alleged chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta.”

The editor of the magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland, Alexei Leonov, does not believe that in Syria there was an unprecedented situation in terms of the use of electronic warfare. “In fact, it has not affected the habit of Americans to fight with a weak opponent. After 1991, the United States led all its military conflicts against states whose EW [Electronic Warfare systems] were very weak or not used at all,” he told Vzglyad.

In the assessment of Leonov, the US is now clearly inferior to Russia in the effectiveness of EW systems, primarily for the reason that the Americans stopped paying these technologies due attention. Back in the 1990s, during the first war in the Persian Gulf, the Americans actively used electronic warfare equipment because at the time the Iraqi army was quite developed, and it was necessary not to allow their air defense and intelligence to detect the accumulation of American troops in the main targeting direction, the expert recalled.

But they began to relax, and since then they have developed only one effective electronic warfare system based on the F-18 aircraft to cover aviation units, Leonov said. “Russia did not stand still. And now the Americans, when they have watched our electronic warfare systems, they have recognized that they are among the best in the world”, he added.

“The characteristic of American means of communication is that they work in the K-band. We know this range, so this range was configured in the electronic warfare systems that could be jamming the signal and to catch all the communications,” said Leonov. In addition, Americans in Syria mainly use airborne electronic warfare systems; in Russia they are deployed in ground systems. “Ground systems will always be more powerful and stronger than air ones due to the energy supply,” the source says.

This has long been said by a former head of electronic warfare for the US Army Laurie Buckhout. “Our most serious problem is that we have not fought for several decades in conditions of suppression of communication, so we do not know how to fight. We not only do not have tactics, techniques and procedures for their implementation, but even the preparation for the conduct of hostilities in the absence of communication."

In the Federation Council it was noted after the statements of General Thomas that Moscow has nothing to do with the failure of electronic systems of American aircraft in Syria. “I do not know who they mean by opponents, but Russia has nothing to do with this, these claims are unfounded”, RIA Novosti was told by the first Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, Yevgeny Serebrennikov.

However, the fact that Moscow denies involvement in the impact on US military equipment does not mean that Russia does not use electronic warfare in Syria at all. In particular, to repel the recent raid of drones which tried to attack the Russian airbase at Khmeimim, along with Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile and gun complexes, EW was extensively operated. According to a source of Izvestia in the Main Operational Directorate (GOU) of the General Staff, after detecting the danger at a distance of about 10 km, the electronic warfare system silenced the GPS signal over a certain area, disabling the navigation and control system of the drones.

A British expert on the Russian armed forces Roger McDermott sees the superior effectiveness of Russian electronic warfare in repelling the drone attack. He is convinced that Russia maximizes the ability of electronic warfare, achieving impressive results. According to him, unlike NATO, Russia has integrated military command, communications, intelligence, space, cyber and electronic warfare.

In early January, 13 drones with homemade bombs attacked the Khmeimim airbase and the naval base at Tartus; seven of them were destroyed by Pantsir-S, and another six were intercepted by EW units. Some experts have also assumed that during the recent US missile strike on Syria radio-electronic means of suppression were used to intercept some of the cruise missiles, as a consequence of which many missiles simply did not reach their targets. At the same time, some military experts have questioned this, given the complexity of the signal suppression systems of these Tomahawks.

What kind of electronic warfare means is Russia using in Syria? Detailed information about this is unavailable in the open press because of the increased secrecy surrounding this topic. However, the press has often received fragmentary information, much of it thanks to the activity of Syrian bloggers who have repeatedly photographed examples of Russian weapons. This is how the transfer to Khmeimim was reported of the ground-based jamming system Krasukha, along with Mi-8 helicopters equipped with active interception system Richag-AB. In late March, the Russian Defence Ministry transferred to Syria the latest model of electronic warfare helicopters, Mi-8 MTPR-1.

Official Defence Ministry video presentation of Russian EW equipment:
The Mi8 MTPR-1. For a detailed review from 2015, read this.

About the EW [operations in Syria] too little is known. The Krasukha was unveiled in 2011. Several modifications were created. The most powerful option – Krasukha-4 – ‘silences’ airborne aircraft radars, including drones and cruise missiles. A killer electronics system Richag-AB refers to the latest developments and entered service only in 2016. It disables not only the navigation devices of aircraft, but also drones and cruise missiles.

According to some observers, the EW intelligence complex Moskva-1 is designed for a detection and tracking range of 400 kilometers for overhead sources of radiation at different radio frequency ranges.

In addition, as Vzglyad has reported, EW-equipped SU [Sukhoi] aircraft are deployed in Syria in various modifications. In particular, there is the well-known myth about the suppression of [radar and fire-control] systems of the American destroyer USS Donald Cook by the Khibiny system, which has been designed to block radio-electronic signals. As noted by experts, in fact the capacity of this system is quite limited; it is not enough to ‘stun’ American destroyers.

What, then, can EW really do? Military expert Dmitry Drozdenko in an interview with RT noted that such means muffle the channels of communication, and introduce blockages in the frequencies used by the US military to exchange information. “As a result, information is not received between the control centers and combat units; in fact, the armed forces are blinded. If a radar installation searches for a target and tracks the space around it, it sees not only the real targets, but also a large number of false ones,” he explained.

Lenkov said that all the electronic warfare systems work on one principle: perform the tasks of intelligence, that is, determine the frequency and modes of communication and navigation, and their whereabouts. After that, the signal begins to jam. “The power of the signal is more than the transceiver, and therefore it makes for reliable jamming of communications, intelligence and navigation,” the expert said.

As pointed out by US General Thomas, the AC-130 aircraft is particularly vulnerable to our EW attack. The Lockheed AC-130 is a flying gunship for direct support of land force divisions on the battlefield, based on the transport plane C-130 and equipped with several artillery pieces. This aircraft is very dependent on backup from supporting units, and if you block its communication channels, at night it will not be able to identify its objective, or in the afternoon to distinguish other [hostile] forces from its own. This means that if [the AC-130] can attack, there will be a high risk of hitting the allied forces.

Moreover, according to the general, there is a danger of impact by Russian electronic warfare even on the EC-130H Compass Call. One of the tasks of the EC-130H is to detect the EW suppressors of the enemy and transfer data about them to the allies for counter-strikes. However, the electronic warfare equipment of the enemy is able to crack it in order to lure the American forces to attack their own.

Blocking with the help of EW signal transmitters and GPS receivers can not only make it impossible for aircraft and warships to attack targets, but also create problems with their navigation, said the American. In addition, radio-electronic weapons may interrupt the communication of operators with drones, which can lead to their loss.

In addition, General Thomas stressed that for the time being Russia is not operating EW in Syria at full capacity. If Russia starts [to do that], the United States will lose all its communication in the region. The former head of electronic warfare for the US Army Laurie Buckhout adds that the US does not have such extensive capabilities for electronic warfare as Russia has.

“We have very good radio intelligence, and we can listen to everything. But we do not have one- tenth of their capabilities to disable equipment,” she said.

Where and for what reason do American generals produce such self-criticism and such laudatory notes about the Russian systems? This may well be aimed, for example, at trying to extract additional funds for the military budget. Hearings on that in the Senate, by the way, were just held on Thursday.


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