Russia is widening the gap in EW

Two wars over the last decade-and-a-half have hollowed out parts of the U.S. military, including apparently its ability to wage and counter electronic warfare.

Since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and moved into eastern Ukraine, several reports and military assessments have warned of growing Russian EW capabilities. These include airborne jammers that reportedly disabled electronics on a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea, radar jamming of aircraft, GPS jamming of drones and disruption of military communications in Ukraine.

The latest alarms about Russia's growing EW prowess follow reports last summer that U.S.-NATO military exercises revealed difficulty in maintaining secure communications among western allies.

The Army's EW chief told ForeignPolicy.com last fall that force structure cuts would make it difficult to buy new EW equipment, refurbish existing gear or train a shrinking force confronting relatively modern Russian EW capabilities—capabilities that have now been tested on the battlefield.

The Russians "have companies, they have battalions, they have brigades that are dedicated to the electronic warfare mission,” Church told the publication.

Observers note that Russia is using its EW capabilities as a tool of asymmetric warfare, countering expensive weapons like a U.S. Navy destroyer with cost-effective jammers and other EW systems. According to an unconfirmed account published in a Russian newspaper, a Russian SU-24 fighter using the new Khibiny EW system was able to turn off key elements of the U.S. destroyer's Aegis Combat System, including its radar and data transmission network, during an April 2014 engagement.

While expressing skepticism about the incident, first published in a Kremlin-sponsored newspaper, the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/OEWatch/201412/Russia_08.html concluded: "Russia does indeed possess a growing EW capability, and the political and military leadership understand the importance of technical advances in this type of warfare. Their growing ability to blind or disrupt digital communications might help level the playing field when fighting against a superior conventional foe."

The Army’s analysis also suggested the Black Sea incident could be part of a larger Russian information warfare operation.

Reports also have surfaced about the jamming of drones used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The unmanned aircraft used to monitor the fighting in eastern Ukraine have been subjected to "military-grade GPS jamming," presumably by Russian-backed forces in the region, the agency reported.

Meanwhile, U.S. commanders are worried that Russian forces in Ukraine could intercept, jam or decode NATO transmissions. Ukraine actively sought help last year with electronic warfare weapons from the United States and other western nations.

Lawmakers have taken notice of the growing EW gap. Earlier this month, Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation aimed at speeding the acquisition of EW systems and giving the Pentagon more flexibility in countering emerging EW threats from Russia and China.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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