Unveiling Significant Capability Gaps
Details have emerged regarding increasing levels of proliferation across the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE) of Electronic Warfare (EW) threats arising out of Eastern Europe.
Despite ongoing concentration of effort in the Middle East by an international coalition determined to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State, a rather difference threat environment is gathering pace along the Ukraine’s border with Russia where the latter continues to drive forward with complex and mature operations across the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS).
Speaking to MT at the EW Europe conference in London on 7 June, senior defence sources described how the ungoverned 400km border between Russia and Ukraine continued to provide extensive real estate for Russian Armed Forces conducting EW operations less likely to be traced and therefore criticised by the international community. Additionally, these types of operation lack the collateral damage associated with more kinetic missions.
According to sources, Russia continues to conduct ‘coordinated, integrated and highly effective non-kinetic EW operations, reliant upon ground-based technology as well as UAVs and ISTAR aircraft.
“This is not local rebels using this equipment but a coordinated effort from [Russia’s] Southern Military Command,” sources explained while highlighting the presence of Russian EW equipment in Lugansk and Donetsk.
Priorities of Russian EW elements include the suppression of enemy UAV deployments by ‘breaking and misleading’ controls; jamming of VHF, UHF and GSM communications; as well as the detection of information leakage channels and their subsequent suppression. Sources explained to MT how Ukrainian Armed Forces continued to suffer from the sudden disappearance in radio communications due to “unknown reasons.”
Additionally, details emerged about the dissemination of SMS text messages to Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel and their families to create fear and concern.
Russian EW infrastructure includes Leer 3 mobile EW system which represented the ‘first openly used’ EW equipment used against Ukrainian Armed Forces. The 6×6 wheeled vehicle possess the capability to block GPS signals and counter UAV operations by opposing forces as well as tactical, operational and strategic C4i networks.
In response to such aggression, the Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to procure undisclosed EW and counter-EW solutions from NATO allies. However, sources at EW Europe highlighted significant capability gaps currently being suffered by Ukrainian Armed Forces, including the capability of such technologies to operate between temperature differentials of -40 and 50C.
Ukrainian Armed Forces EW equipment suffers from reduced battery life in cold weather operations as well as reduced reliability of connectors in low temperatures. However, one anonymous source associated with Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence admitted that it continued to work together with international partners to overcome these issues.
The source also reiterated calls for further assistance from the international community, not only regarding EW but also ISTAR and SIGINT.
Meanwhile, delegates at EW Europe described how the number of threats across the EMS continued to expand ‘exponentially’ across an increasingly complex, contested, connected and congested COE, especially in relation to coalition and joint operating environments.
One defence source highlighted how integral EW operations could become to the fundamental conduct and success of military operations across the board, describing how greater levels of management and deconfliction across the EMS were required than ever before.
The sector is also witnessing the merging of military and commercial communications networks, with so-called near-peer adversaries significantly increasing their EW capabilities.
“We still need the ability to defeat near peer and peer adversaries and requirements to operate against non-state actors will only increase,” another defence source explained while recognising the ‘growing complexity’ of operating across the EMS environment.
Such capabilities will only be enabled by a Whole Force Approach, providing greater levels of interoperability and burden sharing across not only the armed forces but multinational partners, joint environment with other government agencies, industry and academic organisations.
“An ability to work across all environments, particularly the EMS environment, is critical to mission success. Effective cooperation of assets and generation of the necesasry levels of situation awareness to avoid friendly incidents is also important,” one such source added.
This must be ably supported by increased levels in readiness and utility of innovation and technologies in order to meet the current and future challenges across the EMS. In addition, greater levels of research and development must support such progress in order to maintain tactical overmatch of adversaries, be they near-peer or non-state actors.