Following rumours – never confirmed and possibly false – that Russian electronic warfare systems jammed the guidance systems of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles the US launched at Syria on 6th April 2017, supposedly causing 36 of the missiles to miss, the Russians have provided an unusual amount of information about their normally highly secret Electronic Warfare (EW) systems.
The ostensible reason for doing this is that Russia celebrated EW workers’ day on 15th April 2017. However that does not really explain why the Russians should be producing this information now, four days after that day.
As with the recent publication of the details of the test of the new hypersonic Zircon anti-ship missile, it is difficult to avoid the impression that this sudden flood of information about Russia’s EW system is intended as a warning to the US. Specifically, the Russians are warning the US not to try the same sort of missile strike that they recently carried out against Syria against Russia.
Presumably the delay in publishing details of the systems was caused by the need to obtain permission to declassify some details of the systems for publication, whilst continuing to conceal others. Given the highly classified nature of this material it is likely this would have needed approval at a very high level within Russia’s government, conceivably from President Putin himself.
The Russians have also confirmed that their EW systems are present in Syria and have been used operationally there. This should not however be taken as any sort of confirmation that they were used to jam the Tomahawk missiles that the US launched against Al-Shayrat air base.
Confirmation that Russian EW systems have been used operationally in Syria was made a month ago, on 17th March 2017, well before the US missile strike on Al-Sharyat air base, by Igor Nasenkov, who is the deputy CEO of Russia’s Radio-electronic Technologies Group (KRET), which is an affiliate of Russia’s giant state owned electronics company Rostec
The equipment was tested. I won’t say what was tested and how. It proved combat-ready and demonstrated the expected tactical and technical parameters. We were able to see for ourselves that all terms of reference we had received from the Defense Ministry have been met. First and foremost this concerns radio-electronic warfare means
As a matter of fact it is know that Russia has deployed the very advanced Krasukha-S4 EW system to Syria (see below), and presumably Nasenkov’s comments refer in part to this system.
As with the details of the Zircon test, details of Russia’s current EW systems have been provided in a lengthy article carried by TASS, the Russian government’s official news agency. TASS has in fact provided a veritable smörgåsbord of information about various Russian EW systems, though the true extent of their capabilities remains of course classified. They are as follows:
(1) Vitebsk System – carried by SU-25 ground attack aircraft, MI-28 and KA-52 helicopter gunships, and MI-26 heavy lift helicopters amongst others, intended to protect aircraft from surface to air missiles. This system is known to be routinely used by these aircraft operating in Syria.
(2) Rychag-AV – apparently a new system operated by a specialised EW version of the evergreen MI-8 transport helicopter. TASS says this about it
Rychag-AV is capable of fully ‘blinding” the enemy within a radius of several hundred kilometers and suppressing several targets at a time. The helicopter’s jamming deprives enemy air defense missile systems and airborne interceptors of the possibility to detect any targets and guide air-to-air, surface-to-air and air-to-surface missiles towards them while the survivability and the combat efficiency of friendly aircraft increase considerably.
(3) Khibiny – carried by SU-24 and SU-30 fighter bombers and operational since 2013. This was the system which was used to jam the radar systems of the US navy destroyer Donald Cooke in a notorious incident which took place during the peak of the Crimean crisis in 2014. TASS has provided the first semi-official account of what happened
The data appearing on the warship’s radars put the crew at a loss: the aircraft would now and then disappear from radar screens or suddenly change its location and speed or create electronic clones of additional targets while the destroyer’s information and weaponry control combat systems were actually disabled
(4) Gimalai – a more advanced version of the Khibiny system being developed for the new SU T50 fifth generation fighter.
Ground Based Systems
(1) Krasukha-S4 – this is the system which is known to have been deployed to Syria. TASS describes its capabilities this way
The Krasukha-4 is designed to provide protection for command posts, force groupings, air defense means, important industrial facilities from aerial radar reconnaissance and precision weapons. The system’s broadband active jamming station is capable of effectively fighting all modern radars used by various aircraft, and also cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.
(bold italics added)
In light of the US missile attack on Al-Shayrat air base in Syria on 6th April 2017 the reference to cruise missiles in this paragraph is probably not accidental. However this paragraph should not be treated as confirmation that the Russians used the Krasukha-S4 system to jam the guidance systems of the Tomahawk missiles which the US launched against Al-Shayrat air base. For one thing the Tomahawk cruise missile has a range of guidance methods and it is not clear which one was used by the Tomahawk missiles which carried out the attack.
(2) Krasukha-20 – this is a system specifically designed to jam US AWACS aircraft.
(3) Moskva-1 – TASS’s description of this system suggests that it is intended as a back-up for the radar systems used by Russian surface to air anti-aircraft systems such as the S-400. It entered service last year and from TASS’s description seems to be very advanced
The system is designed for radar reconnaissance (passive radiolocation), interaction and information exchange with command posts of air defense missile troops and radio-technical forces, air direction centers, the provision of target acquisition data and control of jamming units and individual electronic suppression means.
The Moskva-1 comprises an intelligence module and a post of control of jamming units (stations). The system can:
- conduct electromagnetic intelligence at a distance of up to 400 km;
- classify all radio emitting means by the degree of their danger;
- provide en-route support;
- assign targets and reflect all information;
- ensure feedback control of the operational efficiency of EW units and individual means it manages.
The Moskva systems debuted in joint tactical drills of air defense forces and aircraft in the Astrakhan Region in south Russia in March 2016.
(4) Infauna – this appears to be a system intended to provide protection to ground troops from certain types of close-quarter anti-armour weapons including anti-tank missiles such as the US Javelin and TOW.
The system, which has been developed by the United Instrument-Making Corporation, provides electronic intelligence and radio suppression, the protection of manpower, armored and motor vehicles against targeted fire from close combat weapons and grenade launchers, and also against radio-controlled mines.
The broadband radio intelligence equipment considerably increases the radius of protecting mobile systems from radio-controlled mines. The possibility of creating aerosol screens helps shelter military hardware from precision weapons with video and laser guidance systems.
At present, these EW systems mounted on the unified K1Sh1 wheeled chassis (based on the BTR-80 armored personnel carrier) are serial-produced and supplied to various units of the Russian Army.
(5) Borisoglebsk-2 – this also appears to be a system intended to provide support for ground troops, in this case by jamming the enemy’s communications systems. It is in some respects the most traditional of the systems discussed by TASS and may be the most commonly used EW system in operation with the Russian ground troops.
Before discussing these systems I should say that one of the major problems faced by designers of modern weapons systems for surface warships is to ensure that the electronic systems of the various weapons on a warship complement each other and do not interfere or jam each other.
As systems become more complex and more powerful this is becoming an increasing challenge given the close proximity of various electronic and weapons systems on a warship. Almost certainly it is problems of ensuring compatibility of various electronic and weapons systems which has delayed entry into service of Russia’s futuristic new Admiral Gorshkov frigate.
What is known about Russian surface warships suggests that they have very extensive and comprehensive EW systems of various types. The TASS article however provides little information about them, confining itself to a discussion of only two systems, which suggests that the classification level of Russia’s naval EW systems is very high.
(1) TK-25E – intended for large warships, TASS says this about it
The TK-25E generates impulse deceptive interference, using digital copies of signals for warships of all the basic classes. The system can simultaneously analyze up to 256 targets and provide effective protection for a warship.
(2) MP-40E – this seems to be the equivalent system for smaller warships. The TASS description suggests that it operates in a different and more limited way
It is capable of preempting detection, analyzing and classifying the types of emitting radio-electronic means and their carrier by the degree of danger, and providing electronic suppression of all of an enemy’s modern and advanced reconnaissance and weapon systems.
Back in the 1980s a senior British army officer told me that Soviet EW systems had the potential to reduce communications in modern battlefields to the level of the 1914-1918 war, and that NATO was completely unprepared for this threat. I presume he was exaggerating, but there is no doubt the Russians take Electronic Warfare extremely seriously, and there seems to be a general consensus that they hold a wide lead over the West in this area. Indeed the TASS article says as much
According to Russia’s Electronic Warfare Force Commander Major-General Yuri Lastochkin, modern Russian military technology surpasses Western rivals by a number of characteristics, including the range of its operation. This is achieved through the use of more powerful transmitters and more effective antenna systems.
Obviously, during a time of heightened international tension, with the US having launched a missile strike against Syria, and threatening to launch a further strike against North Korea, someone in Moscow has decided that it is time to send the US a reminder of this fact.