Roger McDermott, a visiting senior fellow at the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London, and a recognised expert on Russian military capability, painted a sobering assessment of Russian Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities during the 2018 EW Europe conference being held in the western Swiss city of Lausanne between 5 June and 7 June.
“1999 was the year that Russia’s general staff started to pay much more attention to EW as a result of NATO’s air campaign over Serbia,” Mr. McDermott told delegates. It was also, he remarked, a moment of reckoning for the Russian defence and political leadership, which, “stopped buying into the notion of NATO as a defensive military alliance.” Fast forward to 2018 and “Russia is now thinking about integrated air defence, electronic warfare and A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) in a holistic fashion,” Mr. McDermott remarked, continuing that, “there is an argument that this is underestimated by NATO governments.”
Syria and Ukraine, his presentation added, have both become valuable laboratories for the testing of Russian EW systems and, “Russia has become increasingly confident in its use of EW, and its doctrine is now very much centred on how to combat high-tech adversaries.” To this end, in 2009 several Russian EW concerns were merged under the banner of the KRET state enterprise to develop EW systems which can directly attack NATO command and control capabilities: capabilities which the Russian military establishment believes are essential to the alliance to enable it to perform military operations.
Ukraine has provided some instructive examples regarding how the Russian Army sees EW. For example, Mr. McDermott disclosed that during the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russian Army EW units effectively sealed off the entire peninsula, and deprived Ukrainian Army units in this theatre of communications. Moreover, the bridge linking the Crimean peninsula to Russia is flanked by EW systems on either side, and may also be protected by SHORAD, to deter attack. Nevertheless, not all Russian attempts to use EW in the Ukrainian theatres have been successful: “There is no evidence that (EW enabled) psychological operations have had a tremendous impact on Ukrainian resistance to Russian activities.”