Espreso. Global

Ukraine and Russia wage war in electromagnetic spectrum - NYT

20 November, 2023 Monday

Ukraine's fight against Russia has extended into the unseen realm of electromagnetic warfare, with radio signals becoming a key battleground. This cat-and-mouse game, involving tactics such as jamming and spoofing, is attracting global attention, with the United States, China, and others taking notes

The New York Times writes about it. 

In the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, electromagnetic warfare has become a pivotal factor and evolved into a critical aspect of military strategy.

“Electronic warfare has impacted the fighting in Ukraine as much as weather and terrain,” Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the NYT, adding that “every operation in the conflict now has to take into account enemy moves in the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Electronic warfare isn't new; it dates back over a century. From mimicking signals in World War II to the Cold War's electronic weapons race, nations have sought an advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum. Recent conflicts saw the U.S. disrupting radio signals in Iraq, while Israel confused GPS signals to counter drone and missile threats.

EW in the Russia-Ukraine war

Russia's war against Ukraine stands out as the first major conflict in which both sides extensively employed and evolved electronic warfare techniques in real-time. Previously exclusive to experts, these technologies are now in the hands of frontline troops, forcing constant adjustments by Ukrainian drone pilots and turning the war into a testing ground.

Electronic warfare techniques include jamming signals, spoofing, and locating the origin of radiation beams. The devices emit electromagnetic waves that target sensors, communication links, and precision-guided systems.

  • Jammers disrupt communications by sending powerful signals on frequencies used by walkie-talkies and drones. 
  • Spoofing involves sending fake signals, such as mimicking a satellite link. This deceives drones or missiles, leading them off course with false coordinates. Some spoofers imitate missile or plane signals, tricking air defense systems into detecting non-existent attacks.
  • Tools that track radiation beams locate and target drone pilots. 

Ukraine’s initiatives

Ukraine's innovative approach, using start-up methods, aims to swiftly produce and deploy electronic warfare solutions to counter Russia's century-old expertise in this domain.

Initially, Russia demonstrated proficiency with powerful jammers and decoy missiles, disrupting Ukrainian air defenses. However, as the conflict progressed, Russia adapted with smaller, mobile electronic weapons.

Ukrainian companies, in a Silicon Valley-style initiative, are developing anti-drone guns and tiny jammers to counter Russian electronic interference. Companies like Kvertus and Himera are producing compact jammers and resilient $100 walkie-talkies to withstand Russian interference.

At Infozahyst, a major Ukrainian electronic warfare contractor, engineers are focused on tracking and identifying Russian air defense systems. Yaroslav Kalinin, the company's CEO, sees disrupting Russia's anti-aircraft radars as a potential turning point in the war. "Once we control the sky, then Russia fails hard," he emphasized.

Call for change

This summer, a Quantum executive, Oleksandr Berezhny, and a top Ukrainian drone pilot briefed NATO in Germany, revealing that 90% of US and European systems sent to Ukraine struggled with electronic warfare. This revelation sparked a call for change.

The war has become a testing ground, closely observed by global powers like the United States, Europe, and China, for insights into the future of electronic warfare.

As Ukraine provides valuable lessons on countering electronic attacks, the U.S. and its allies are taking steps to enhance their electronic warfare capabilities. Ukraine's evolving anti-jamming techniques are now influencing the US and its allies, with smaller systems being fielded.

Yet, for Ukrainian frontliners, improvements can't come fast enough. Despite making drones nearly invisible, the signal from controllers and antennas remains detectable. “It’s not possible to hide completely,” a Ukrainian soldier told the NYT.

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