A forensic investigation concludes that a Russian "electronic bomb" attack on a U.S. Navy ship was nothing more than information warfare.
Since its origins over the skies of Europe during World War II, electronic warfare has always been a cat-and-mouse game. Now, it appears, Russia is adding another key element: Dezinformatsiya.
According to a detailed post-mortem released this week, the alleged April 2014 "electronic bomb" attack by a Russian fighter aircraft on the Aegis-class destroyer USS Donald Cook was a hoax. The Digital Forensic Research Lab, an arm of the Washington-based Atlantic Council, unmasked the apparent deception as part of a Russian information warfare campaign.
At issue in the days after the incident in the Black Sea were unsubstantiated claims in Russia print and social media that a Su-24 aircraft "equipped with the latest electronic warfare complex, Khibiny," had managed to jam and shut down the Cook's radars along with other electronic systems. Among other findings, the researchers discovered that the Khibiny is not installed on Russian Su-24 aircraft.
According to no less than the manufacturer of the Russian EW system, known as the Concern of Radio-Electronic Technology, which is part of state enterprise Rostech, the system is only installed on Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft.
"The Khibiny manufacturer itself had already debunked the story," the U.S. researchers concluded. "This is either a disastrous failure of due diligence, or deliberate deception." Most experts agree it was the latter.
Indeed, U.S. military analysts had earlier cast doubt on claims that the Russian EW system had disabled the U.S. ship's radar and electronics.
While expressing skepticism about the buzzing incident, the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office noted that 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."
However, the Army’s analysis also suggested the Black Sea incident was part of a larger Russian information warfare operation. The title of the Army analysis was: "Russian EW or IW?"
Based on the latest findings that the Russian EW attack was a hoax, the majority of western military analysis indicates information warfare. Moreover, the apparent Russian electronic bomb deception may be more accurately described as maskirovka, or military deception, another Russian specialty.
The researchers led by Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for information defense at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, stressed that the "electronic bomb" ruse underscores how Russian state media "deliberately reported a total fabrication in order to glorify Russia (and its electronic warfare specialists) and mock the United States" even after the story was debunked.
Illustrating the growing use of information warfare, the researchers noted that the fake news story also "suggests that the Kremlin may not be as confident in its high-tech military as it frequently boasts," the researchers added.
The incident also highlights the role of western media in spreading fake news that serves Moscow's information warfare aims. Reports from British tabloids, they concluded, were "the main driver of the recycled fake’s penetration in the West."
(Our report on the 2014 Black Sea incident noted that the original reports were first published in a Kremlin-sponsored newspaper and that the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office viewed those and western reports with considerable skepticism.)