The development of electronic warfare (EW) capabilities is a strategic priority for Russia (see EDM, July 19). And Moscow’s preparations for the upcoming Zapad 2017 war games (September 14–20) have reconfirmed this observation. Over the past several months, Russian forces have carried out a series of preparatory, exercises involving EW forces and tactics, in three major theaters (West, South, East). As such, two of the major Russian objectives for Zapad 2017—which will mainly take place across Russia’s Western Military District and in Belarus—will be the deployment and integration of advanced EW technology as well as testing new operational-tactical methods of warfare employing those means.
In the scope of the first objective, the following advanced Russian EW systems are worth pointing out:
- The RB-341В Leer-3 complex, the R-330Zh Zhitel automated jamming station, and the RB-301B Borisoglebsk-1 and Borisoglebsk-2 as well as the Lava-PR radar and radio jamming machines (Nrnews.ru, August 11). Incidentally, many of these pieces have been tested in Ukraine during 2014–2016 (see EDM, May 24).
- The Р-149АKSh-1 armored utility car, which allows for securing a steady connection with land- and air-based objects up to 1,000 kilometers away and for maintaining a connection through closed Internet channels. The P-149AKSh-1 can also conduct topographical operations using various satellite systems (Voenno Promyshlennyy Kurier, August 22).
- The Р-439МD2 satellite radio station, which secures telephone connections in the field (News.rambler.ru , August 18).
- The Р-441LМ satellite modem, which allows for maintaining phone and telegraph connections with the mainland and for directly communicating with Moscow (Tvzvezda.ru, August 18).
According to Russian sources, the last three of the aforementioned EW pieces have never been tested before.
In pursuit of the second objective, between July 11 and August 14, the Russian Armed Forces conducted five major exercises that together assembled approximately 5,000 military personnel and specialists as well as more than 1,100 pieces of EW equipment. The most remarkable feature of these EW-focused exercises was the combination of actions in the air, sea and land.
The main objectives of this series of drills were:
- The collection and analysis of information (HF and VHF radio waves) through spoofing and the disruption of an adversary´s radio connection (Tvzvezda.ru, August 11).
- The training of offensive capabilities, including the suppression of radio, microwave and satellite radio connections as well as the enemy’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) (Tvzvezda.ru, July 11).
- The rapid deployment, maskirovka (deception) and defense of EW units and tactics (Tvzvezda.ru, July 11).
- The rapid re-deployment of EW brigades from their permanent bases to “unfamiliar terrain” and immediate conduct of offensive operations. Namely, a brigade of EW troops marched from Kursk to Tambov Oblast (Tvzvezda.ru, August 17).
Among the above-mentioned exercises, one deserves special attention. In early August, a signals brigade from the Western Military District carried out a major field exercise in which it managed to establish “a common informational network” connecting brigades and military units located in the area Kaliningrad–Nizhny Novgorod–St. Petersburg–Voronezh (Tvzvezda.ru, August 13). In practical terms, this means de-facto the creation of a “military web” to secure steady connection and information exchange between troops deployed in a huge area covering the Northwestern, Central and Volga Federal Districts. Moreover, video conferences between the heads of various units, brigades and divisions located anywhere on the territory of the Western Military District will, reportedly, also be possible.
Information available prior to Zapad 2017 suggests that the “electronic” component will play an instrumental role in the approaching strategic-level war games. In particular, the Russian side is concerned with developing offensive EW capabilities and the automation of internal information exchanges. At the same time, the rapid development of EW capabilities is to have a profound effect on Kaliningrad as a key element of Russia’s western-facing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone.
And recent Russian EW activities were not limited to readying for Zapad 2017: important developments have taken place in other areas as well. Notably, a series of war games and special training sessions were also conducted in the Southern Military District. On August 10, the forces of the 49th Army (located in Stavropol/Maikop) trained both offensive and defensive operations, with the EW component being allocated a crucial role. Incidentally, during these exercises, the 1L267 Moskva-1 (a ground-based passive radar system and one of the most up-to-date Russian EW pieces currently fielded) was tested. All in all, 20 various means of EW were employed (Tvzvezda.ru, August 10). Days later, on August 14, at the Prudboi military base (Volgograd oblast) the Russian Armed Forces trained for offensive EW operations. The range of tasks during this exercise varied from the suppression of the enemy’s radio and satellite connections at various frequencies and anti-UAV/UCAV actions, to electronic attacks against the communication centers of a potential adversary (Tvzvezda.ru, August 14).
Regarding recent EW exercises in the Eastern Military District, the following aspects are worth highlighting:
- The impressive geographic scope of the EW-focused exercises over the past several months, which covered eastern Siberia and the Far East. Apparently, this was done to conceal some key operational elements that the Russian side is not keen to demonstrate yet to external spectators.
- The emphasis on “the suppression and liquidation of small diversionist-reconnaissance groups” (“diversionno-razvedovatelnaja gruppa”) (Topwar.ru, July 31)—an element that will also be an integral part of the Zapad 2017 war games.
- The goal of the exercises. Russian troops extensively relied on EW while training for “traversing of contaminated [sic—meaning not explained by Russian military sources] areas” (Garnizon13.ru, July 13). This could mean that the Russian side is considering operations in areas that have been subjected to some type of chemical (or even nuclear) fallout.
- Testing new types of warfare. On August 15, at the Trehrechye training area (Amur oblast), Russian armed forces conducted large-scale tactical war games specifically concerned with eliminating adverse armed forces. Russian sources claim that during these exercises, the Russian military managed to trick the opposing army into entering a “fire trap,” supposedly by EW means, including by using a modernized version of the Takhion UAV system (Tvzvezda.ru, August 15).
Having conducted this series of exercises all over the country since the summer, Moscow has re-confirmed its ability to militarily operate across massive swathes of the Eurasian landmass. But perhaps even more importantly, those exercises suggest that EW capabilities are beginning to occupy a growing and qualitatively new role in Russia’s military-strategic thinking after the start of its involvement in Ukraine and Syria.