Russia’s Armed Forces are continuing to develop and strengthen their Electronic Warfare (Radioelektronnaya Borba—REB/EW) capabilities. The General Staff sees this as an essential element in its efforts to adopt Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) competencies, as well as a force enabler and force multiplier. In turn, the political-military leadership and defense industry value EW as a tool primarily fashioned for use against a near-peer adversary. As these advances proceed, with special emphasis placed upon the development of EW systems to target C4ISR assets of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), all Russian service arms and branches are benefiting from the constant drive to boost this vital area of the country’s warfighting capability. In recent months, new systems have been moved into Kaliningrad, such as a coastal variant of the Samarkand EW complex (see EDM, December 11, 2018). And the latest reportedly cutting-edge technology will allegedly provide added EW capability for the Russian navy with the introduction of 5P-42 Filin (“Eagle Owl”) stations (Izvestia, February 2).
In early February, the press service of the holding company Roselektronika, part of Rostec, reported on the new 5P-42 Filin and the defense ministry’s plans to equip Russian naval surface vessels with this latest EW system. The Filin is described as a visual-optical interference system, designed to “blind” enemy systems and disorientate adversary forces. The new EW systems have already been placed onboard the Admiral Gorshkov and Admiral Kasatonov Project 22350 frigates. In the near future, two additional ships of this class, currently under construction at the Severnaya Verf plant, will be fitted with the system (Izvestia, February 2). Russia’s Armed Forces have highly trained EW specialists present throughout the arms and branches of service; the naval EW centers will most likely provide EW personnel for service onboard the surface ships carrying the Filin system as well as oversee its introduction.
According to Roselektronika, the Filin uses low-frequency fluctuations in the brightness of light radiation to attack the optic nerves of enemy personnel causing “temporary reversible disorders” of vision. It has a variety of potential uses against enemy surface ships and can also confuse and incapacitate forces operating in coastal areas using small arms and sniper weapons (Lenta.ru, February 2).
In terms of its practical application as an EW support system, the stations deployed onboard naval platforms can reportedly cause temporary blindness and even hallucinations among enemy personnel. Furthermore, the Filin functions as a jamming station, and is designed to also operate at night, suppressing both visual-optical and optical-electronic observation channels. It is specifically aimed at targeting enemy night-vision devices, laser range finders, and the targeting systems of anti-tank guided missiles at distances of up to 5,000 meters (2.69 nautical miles). The Filin, as noted, also has an application against forces using small arms, including sniper weapons, since it causes such levels of disorientation. The manufacturers stress that it is a non-lethal system, and they have plans to produce a miniaturized variant for non-military security forces (Topwar.ru, February 3).
Reportedly, the testing of the new EW system appears to confirm these stated capabilities, and its potential naval application. These tests also serve to indicate the type of ranges involved in its use during maritime operations. Assessments and efforts to confirm the reliability and safety of the system were carried out, inter alia, at the Natalia Bekhtereva Institute of the Human Brain in Moscow. Volunteers were tested in their ability to maintain accuracy in firing small arms and sniper weapons, in response to the use of the Filin EW system. Up to 20 percent of the individuals reported experiencing hallucinogenic effects, describing a spot or spots floating in front of their eyes, while 45 percent complained of a variety of exposure symptoms including dizziness, nausea and disorientation. It was unclear, however, as to how long these symptoms persisted during these tests. According to Roselektronika, the range of the Filin is up to 5,000 meters. But the effects of its use against small arms and sniper usage seems more restricted, at around 2,000 meters. Given its testing against such targets, it is probable that it is viewed partly as an EW system for support during naval infantry coastal operations and to counter enemy coastal defense. Based on these trials, the Filin appears to be an effective EW suppression and jamming system that provides for non-lethal ways to reduce the accuracy of enemy firepower locally, as well as to interfere with the movements of enemy forces (Argumenty i Fakty, February 2).
Roselektronika will also develop a miniature version of the 5P-42 Filin for use by counter-terrorist forces in the National Guard (Rosgvardia) and other law enforcement agencies. The company claims its prototype will be ready in 2019 and is said to have an effective range of up to 700 meters, with an impact sector of 10–15 degrees. Roselektronika has been keen to promote both the naval and security forces’ versions of the Filin systems but offers no information on the precise size and specifications of these stations. While stating that the naval variant functions at ranges of up to 2.69 nautical miles, it is unknown whether this is a fixed or mounted system, or if it can also be made mobile for more flexible use by naval infantry. (Topwar.ru, December 20, 2018).
Some Russian media reports speculate that the technology used in the Filin EW stations draws upon experimental prototype technology that may have been used in attacks against US diplomatic personnel in Cuba. It may also be part of an attempt to catch up with similar developments in China’s EW capabilities. Whether there is any factual basis to this remains unclear. Yet the aims of the technology appear similar—to attack enemy optical nerves, among other additional targets in the electromagnetic spectrum (Gazeta.ru, February 2, 2019).
While the 5P-42-Filin is certainly a new EW system, the naval variety, as opposed to the smaller security forces system currently in development, targets maritime forces at the high-technology end of modern conflict. So far, the new system has only been introduced to a limited number of surface vessels; nonetheless, this seems consistent with further trialing and experimentation, prior to future wider procurement. The introduction of such EW systems, coupled with Russian use of EW in support of its operations in Syria, certainly suggests that any future conflict with NATO, however limited in scope, will be marked by a heavily contested electromagnetic spectrum operational environment.