Russian Comms in Ukraine: A World of Hertz

The use of civilian communications by Russian maneuver units raises an interesting possibility. US sources expressed astonishment after the invasion that Russian EW had not been more intensively used. Again, definitive answers as to why this is so remain scarce. It is reasonable to assume that insufficient EW systems and personnel were deployed in theater. The equipment may be in a poor state of repair. These factors can combine to deter commanders from using electronic effects to their full potential. On paper, the RuAF can jam civilian V/UHF communications, including two-way radios and mobile phone networks. The force’s RB-314V Leer-3 EW system, deployed at the operational/tactical level, can reportedly target cell phone transmissions. V/UHF transmissions can also be targeted by the RP-377U/UA radio electronic defense systems that the RuAF deploys at the tactical level (Grau and Bartles, The Russian Way of War: Force Structure, Tactics, and Modernization of the Russian Ground Forces, 2016, pp. 289–300). Did the Russian EW cadre refrain from more serious electronic attacks to avoid friendly fire against the civilian communications their troops rely on? This theory should be entertained.

The conspicuous absence of COMSEC/TRANSEC is reflected in the HF domain. Unlike V/UHF, HF can conduct communications beyond direct line of sight. This is because it uses the ionosphere to deflect radio transmissions beyond the horizon. RuAF generally places a high premium on HF. It is a favorite mechanism for long-distance backbone communications, having a similar importance to SATCOM in NATO forces. RuAF have access to national military grade SATCOM. However, the preference for HF is said to be due to the fact that HF ​​radio is difficult—if not impossible—to jam (Withington, “Thinking about the Unthinkable,” in Military technology, Issue 1, 2022). Online sources revealed not only that Russian military HF radio transmissions are relatively easy to find, but that they are being made clear without encryption. This seems to ignore the danger of these transmissions being intercepted and used for intelligence. This raises three possibilities. The first is that Russian military HF users may simply not care if there is a wiretapping. The second possibility is that HF ​​is used to intentionally transmit false information; however, anecdotal evidence from the scene in Ukraine suggests that the intercepted traffic is related to Russian tactical actions. The third possibility is that RuAF cannot encrypt its HF traffic. Encryption devices may not have been mass supplied to the forces. Likewise, those that have been delivered may be of poor quality.

Either way, Russian military HF is somewhere on the spectrum. With the right HF COMINT/COMJAM equipment, it can be detected, intercepted and the source of the transmission determined. Although HF jamming is difficult, it is not impossible. Like V/UHF radio, Ukrainian EW cadres could exploit Russian HF networks and jam them to disrupt command and control, or use them as a conduit for false, misleading, and demoralizing traffic. Determining the location of RF transmission sources could also allow Ukrainian forces to determine the position of Russian units. Since HF is used for significant amounts of traffic at the tactical/operational command level and at the operational/strategic level, HF radio detection and location can help give the position of a RuAF command post. Engaging such a target would kinetically help shift the command and control of the RuAF as well as its electronic attack.

Exploitable vulnerabilities

The seemingly poor state of RuAF communications creates an opportunity for Ukrainian forces. Poor communications discipline and insufficient COMSEC/TRANSEC can be exploited by Ukrainian EW cadres. While Ukrainian forces may be outnumbered on the battlefield, they have the ability to be superior in the electromagnetic spectrum. By detecting and locating sources of RuAF radio transmissions, Ukrainian forces can locate, pin down and attack the enemy kinetically and/or electronically. At the same time, through the use of COMINT equipment, Ukrainian forces can exploit Russian intelligence and battlefield deception networks. However, the enemy has a say and it is imperative that Ukrainian troops ensure cast iron communication discipline. This may interest you : Global Military Aircraft Avionics Market (2020 to 2025) – Growth, Trends, and Forecast – The goal should be to preserve Ukrainian use of the electromagnetic spectrum while denying it to their adversaries as much as possible. With the possibility of the war turning into a protracted insurgency if Russia ends its occupation, Ukraine should consider using volunteers with radio, telecommunications and broadcasting expertise and experience. These cadres can be quickly trained in EW techniques and thrown into the EM battle. EW is unlikely to defeat RuAF alone. Regardless, it is a valuable center of gravity that Ukrainian forces should continue to use as a means of attacking Russian battlefield cohesion.

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