Author: McDermott, Roger N.
Project director: Jermalavičius, Tomas
Publication date: September 2017
Keywords: Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD), Capabilities & Capability Planning, Command & Control, Electronic Warfare, Defence Acquisition, Defence Industry, NATO, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Georgia
- Russia’s Armed Forces’ electronic warfare (EW) capability development will pose a serious challenge to the proper planning and execution of NATO’s defence of the Baltic states, and NATO’s entire Eastern Flank, in the event of a Russian assault. This capability is an integral part of Russia’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) approach and is clearly tailored to target NATO’s C4ISR.
- Russia’s growing technological advances in EW will allow its forces to jam, disrupt and interfere with NATO communications, radar and other sensor systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other assets, thus negating advantages conferred on the Alliance by its technological edge. Be it in the air, maritime, land or cyber domains, NATO will encounter an increasingly capable adversary focused on developing and deploying a vast array of EW systems as “force enablers and multipliers”. Many of those systems are being introduced in units across all services stationed in Western Military District (MD) adjacent to NATO’s borders.
- Moscow’s interest in boosting EW capabilities vis-à-vis NATO has its origins in seeking to asymmetrically challenge the Alliance on Russia’s periphery and maximise its chances of success in any operation against NATO’s eastern members. Russia has consistently invested in EW modernisation since 2009, with modernised EW systems entering service across strategic, operational and tactical levels to augment capabilities of all service branches and arms. Modernisation of the EW inventory is set to continue in the State Armaments Programme up to 2025, which means Russia’s military will benefit greatly from further advances in EW capability.
- Moscow is stepping up its efforts to renew and modernise the EW inventory, and this effort is complemented by changes to organisation, doctrine, command structure, training and tactics, as well as techniques and procedures. The effect of those changes is evident in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, where EW forms an organic part of Russia’s kinetic and non-kinetic operations—both in support of proxy forces and conducted independently.
- Russia is actively developing a “total package” of EW systems to include a broad frequency range and other systems; these seem advanced and capable. In addition to such systems covering surveillance, protection and countermeasures (jamming), they cover measures to protect Russia’s own usage of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). These systems also offer countermeasures against “Western” civilian and military usage of the EMS. Many of these Russian EW systems are highly mobile, including small systems deployable by UAVs, making targeting and neutralising them more complex and challenging.
- NATO must understand that Russia’s interest in and use of EW is part of a wider effort by Moscow to adopt and strengthen its network-centric capability, which focuses upon C4ISR integration. Russia is already fielding automated command and control (C2) systems that are feeding into EW capability. For example, the Baikal-1ME brigade/regiment-level automated system is interoperable with systems used by EW units. Moreover, these are highly mobile, rendering them difficult to locate. Such developments allow, for instance, Russian forces to establish a highly integrated air defence network and thus improve response times, promote situational awareness and enhance coordination between force elements.
- NATO’s planners must also understand that the Russian EW capability extends well beyond air defence or even A2/AD, as it is fielding a wider array of systems to assist, for example, psychological operations (PSYOPS) and cyber operations. This capability deployed against Ukrainian government forces and enabling access to soldiers’ means of communications aims to undermine and degrade troops’ morale. Russia’s ability to contest the EMS, combined with its holistic military thinking, means that EW capability will be exploited and effects created well beyond the traditional realms in which NATO’s thinking about EW is rooted. We might witness an ever-growing convergence of Russia’s EW, cyber- and information warfare approaches, which will further challenge NATO’s concepts and practices.
- As a result, NATO needs to plan, revise its scenarios, and train to conduct defensive and offensive operations in a fiercely contested EMS battlespace. In their current form, NATO plans to defend its Eastern Flank including the Baltic states are inadequate as they do not take account of the full spectrum of Russia’s current and future EW capabilities and their uses—as part of A2/AD approach and beyond. The Alliance must strengthen those plans to take account of advances in and possible future evolution of Russian EW capability, and this is more vital and pressing than efforts to boost the Alliance’s cyber- and information warfare capability. NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and further development of its posture in the Baltic area, which might possibly include assets for integrated air and missile defence, will fail to deliver the desired outcome if the Alliance falls behind in the contest for EMS dominance.
- The Alliance could also help the armed forces of the Baltic states—which are “tech-savvy” and eager to learn and develop their national capabilities—over how to counter EW measures and operate successfully in a highly contested EMS battlespace. There should be more support for enhancing their technical competence, developing concepts and doctrines, facilitating technology transfers, acquiring capabilities and training the forces. The Baltic states could work more closely with Israel, as its defence forces and industry have greatly benefited from their relationship with the United States and developed the posture, competence and capability required to cope with the EW challenge.