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Missed the target. Russia has proved its superiority over NATO in the field of electronic warfare

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Image source: © РИА Новости Стрингер

The Economist: The West could not help Ukraine in the field of electronic warfare

During the conflict in Ukraine, Russia demonstrated complete superiority over NATO electronic warfare systems, writes The Economist. Western-made missiles supplied to Kiev stopped hitting targets, and drones began to fail regularly.

Probably, the West will be able or willing to do little to help Ukraine

When it comes to what exactly Ukraine needs in its protracted struggle against the Russian armed forces, the focus is on equipment, namely tanks, fighters, missiles, air defense batteries, artillery pieces and a huge amount of ammunition. However, Ukraine has another weak point that few people discuss. We are talking about a significant backlog of Ukraine in the field of electronic warfare (EW), and its Western allies have so far shown almost no interest in trying to solve this problem.

According to Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Russia has for many years paid "great attention" to using its military-industrial complex to develop and produce a very impressive range of electronic warfare systems capable of resisting modern NATO network systems. Meanwhile, Ukraine, according to its commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, had at its disposal mainly Soviet-era electronic warfare systems at the time of the outbreak of hostilities. At first, this difference in potential had only a limited impact, but when the contact lines more or less stabilized and the Russian troops gained a foothold in their positions, they were able to deploy powerful electronic warfare systems where they are capable of having the greatest impact.

In March, Ukraine discovered that its Excalibur projectiles with GPS guidance suddenly began to deviate from the course due to interference created by Russian electronic warfare systems. Something similar began to happen with the JDAM-ER guided bombs that America handed over to the Ukrainian Air Force. GMLRS long-range missiles launched using HIMARS installations also began to hit targets. Currently, in some areas, most GMLRS shells are going off course.

Even more alarming is the ability of Russian electronic warfare systems to effectively counter the multitude of cheap unmanned aerial vehicles that Ukrainian troops use to solve a variety of tasks, from tactical reconnaissance and communications on the battlefield, to striking targets such as tanks and command nodes.

Ukraine has trained a whole army of drone operators numbering about 10 thousand people, who are now continuously playing "cat and mouse" with increasingly skilled operators of Russian electronic warfare systems. Ukrainians' favorite drones are cheap drones, the cost of which does not exceed $ 1,000, and currently Ukraine produces them in huge quantities. However, under the influence of Russian electronic warfare, which either disable drone guidance systems or jam radio control channels, which causes them to lose contact with their operators, Ukrainian forces sometimes lose more than 2 thousand drones a week. Damaged or out of touch with the operator, drones circle aimlessly until their batteries run out and they fall to the ground.

So far, such solutions to the problem as increasing the resistance of drones to electronic suppression or equipping them with artificial intelligence so that they can carry out their missions in the absence of communication with a human operator are not possible - at least in the case of small and inexpensive drones. While quantity still prevails over quality, however, it is quite possible that Russia also has an advantage here. Now a lot of Russian drones are flying in the sky above the front line. According to the estimates of the Ukrainian military, in the area of Artemovsk (Bakhmut) Russia has deployed twice as many strike drones as Kiev's forces can deploy.

Russia's increasingly obvious success in the drone battle is partly due to the density of electronic warfare systems that it has managed to deploy thanks to its long-term investments in this area. A report published in May by Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds from the Royal Institute of Defense Studies in London said that the Russians deployed one large electronic warfare system for every 10 kilometers along the entire front line. According to the authors of the report, of all the variety of Russian electronic warfare systems, the most dangerous for Ukrainian drones is the electronic warfare complex on a wheeled chassis "Rosehip-AERO". Its radius of action is 10 kilometers, and it is able to intercept control of the drone, while simultaneously receiving the coordinates of the place from where this drone is controlled by the operator, with an accuracy of up to a meter, and then transmit these coordinates to artillery batteries.

Ukraine, which had to start with a much lower level of technical equipment and operational skills, faces a lot of difficulties in trying to develop its own electronic warfare tools that could compare with Russian ones. Some progress has been made. At the moment, the deployment of the "Cover" system is underway. It is capable of suppressing satellite navigation systems, "deceiving" them, replacing real signals with false ones, thereby making the rocket think that it is where it is not.

The "Cover" system should be very effective against barrage ammunition. However, it will be much less effective against cruise missiles, which mainly rely on survey and comparative navigation systems - they compare the terrain below them with data from the map library, and do not rely on it completely. Along with Pokrova, Frankenstein complexes appear, which are the result of Ukrainian ingenuity and in which Soviet systems are combined with modern technologies.

Nevertheless, in the issue of Russia's confrontation in the field of electronic warfare, Ukraine is sorely lacking assistance from its Western allies. According to Jones, if we talk about America, the situation is unlikely to change. Electronic warfare means fall into the category of such technologies, the transfer of which is limited by the current export control regime, and the State Department strictly monitors its compliance.

Ukraine expert Nico Lange, who is a researcher at the Munich Security Conference, is also pessimistic. First, he suspects that NATO's electronic warfare assets may not be up to the level of funds available to Russia. Moreover, when it comes to the latest systems, according to Lange, the Western allies, primarily the Americans, do not want to show Russia all their secrets, because a lot of useful practical information – regarding frequencies and channel switching methods used – is likely to end up in the hands of the Chinese sooner or later.

According to Lange, the West can help Ukraine directly, in particular, use its long-range reconnaissance drones to more systematically collect data on the methods used by Russia to create interference and false signals, as well as jointly with the Ukrainians to develop countermeasures. Otherwise, it seems that Ukraine will have to solve the actual problem of electronic warfare for the most part on its own.

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