Electronic Weapons: Russia Opens Up

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April 28, 2016: In six months (starting in October 2015) Russia put on a live demonstration of its newest weapons and high-tech military gear in Syria and, as expected, the export orders are starting to increase, a lot. One of the less glamorous, but expensive and complex items the Russians showcased in Syria and are now offering for sale are “battle proven” electronic warfare (EW) equipment. This is the stuff developed after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and has been a hard sell until now because Soviet era equipment, although terrific looking and priced to sell never did well in combat against Western, especially American, stuff. That is less the case now as the post 1991 Russians have adopted a lot of Western design concepts and produced much less expensive, and now “combat proven in Syria” substitutes for the Western gear.

Russian EW gear is a special case because before 1991 they were reluctant to export this gear, especially the best of it. Oh there were always “monkey models” of warplanes, tanks and ships for export that left some of the higher tech features. But only the most rudimentary Russian EW equipment was exported and, as expected, did not impress. But in Syria it is rumored (no one likes to discuss details) that the new Russian EW gear caused American and NATO electronic sensors, guided weapons and communications major problems. Then again maybe not but the chance of getting some protection from Western sensor and smart weapon technology is attractive to many nations. The Russians know they can exaggerate and lie quite a bit because if they are later called out because the EW goodies did not perform as advertised when angry Americans showed up with mayhem in mind the Russians can point out that their customer did not buy all the recommended upgrades (which can eventually cost a lot more than the original gear). After all, everyone knows that electronics equipment, be it cell phones or GPS jammers, are constantly evolving.

Also not mentioned much is that the American armed forces have been preparing for a troublesome (to opponents) new generation of Russian EW gear since the late 1990s, when there were some interesting, and little publicized, incidents involving new Russian EW teach. For example the U.S. Air Force has been incorporating more electronic warfare into its Red Flag training exercises. This training attempts to accurately portray what kind of enemy tactics and equipment American pilots would encounter. More and more, however, the fighters are geeks, not pilots. Enemy electronic warfare has been a problem since World War II, but it has come to play a bigger role in combat since then. For example, the air force has spent a lot of time and money dealing with jamming of GPS signals (essential for most smart bombs) as well as jamming, or otherwise messing with, electronic communications and sensors (especially radars.) Exactly what electronic weapons and defenses, are simulated in Red Flag training is secret. Just letting the enemy know what you are preparing to defend against, and how, gives potential foes valuable information. So any details of the electronic side of Red Flag rarely gets any media attention. But the amount of this activity is on the increase, especially in the last decade.

The new Russian offerings included some items Western troops have widely adopted and used extensively since the 1990s; battlefield networking. Russia showed that it has created battlefield networking tech one and that it works in combat. What has not been mentioned was that by using this networking gear where NATO and Israeli electronic monitoring equipment could study new stuff, it became easier to come up with ways to interfere or eavesdrop on the Russian combat networking systems. When it comes to electronics, there is always a catch.

 


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