Electronic warfare, a crucial factor in future conflicts


MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev, for RIA Novosti)

In Soviet times, electronic warfare systems were used to jam foreign shortwave radio broadcasts. Nowadays, electronic warfare has become a serious military activity with numerous applications.

Electronic warfare systems can effectively change the flight paths of enemy missiles, misinform enemy administrative and troop control divisions, as well as paralyze entire armies.

In effect, electronic warfare denotes a series of well-coordinated operations to destroy or suppress electronic troop control systems and weapons, and to protect similar friendly unit systems.

In the past, electronic warfare was called radio warfare, anti-radar operations and radio direction finding. The assertion of electronic warfare confirms the dialectical law of unity and struggle of opposites, implying that the invention of new weapons and other military systems simultaneously facilitates the creation of other systems for offsetting their threat.

The Red Army started actively using electronic warfare systems and methods, namely, radio reconnaissance, suppression of radio broadcasts, misinformation and destruction of enemy troop control centers, after inflicting a number of crucial defeats on Axis forces in late 1942 and onwards, at a time when it became clear that the tide of war had turned in Moscow's favor.

Unfortunately, special radio units were disbanded after the war. However, the Kremlin was later forced to prioritize electronic warfare, which proved its worth during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The Soviet Government ordered the relevant agencies to standardize electronic warfare equipment and the required operational plans for controlling electronic warfare units and resources. Purposeful personnel training programs were also launched. The Soviet Army adopted new generation electronic warfare systems. Active radar jamming stations were introduced.

New passive jamming systems, namely, multi-wave dipole reflectors (chaff), automatic chaff-scattering devices and radar wave absorbing materials for reducing combat equipment visibility, were developed.

Electronic systems were first used against all enemy troop control divisions and systems. In some cases, this was the only way to effectively counteract enemy forces.

All armed services, primarily air force and air defense units, conducted mutual electronic warfare during the 1965-1973 Vietnam War and Middle East conflicts. Successful electronic defenses reduced aircraft losses by five to seven times.

At the same time, anti-radar missiles and high-precision weapons considerably reduced the durability of surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems with active radars.

The same trends were shown during armed conflicts in Libya, Yugoslavia and Iraq. In 1986, U.S. forces completely jammed Libyan air defenses and subsequently launched air strikes against the country.

Electronic warfare systems were actively used during the North Caucasian counter-terrorist operation, primarily for obstructing insurgents' telecommunications networks and destroying remote-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The United States also tried to influence the outcome of counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in the North Caucasus. For instance, Russian helicopter pilots suddenly discovered that their GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers stopped operating above the Terek mountain range.

GPS receivers also provided greatly inaccurate data during more active combat operations in the region. Although such receivers calculate coordinates with a margin of error of just several meters, such errors sometimes exceeded 800 meters.

Other systems can be used to distort navigation satellite data. Experts from the Moscow-based AviaKonversia Co. exhibited GPS jammers during the MAKS-97 international aerospace show in Zhukovsky near the Russian capital. Such devices cause GPS receivers to malfunction and to display the last coordinates calculated prior to jamming. This Russian invention caused quite a stir all over the world and terrified military users.

It became obvious that no navigation satellite system can be effectively employed over "enemy" territories, and that GPS jammers are the most efficient and economical suppression systems.

This was confirmed in 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S. military often proved unable to explain why their Tomahawk cruise missiles were straying off course. GPS jammers, the main culprit, were wiped out by subsequent carpet-bombing. As a result, the United States no longer faced any similar problems.

Electronic warfare will play an increasingly greater role in future conflicts. The belligerents will use numerous reconnaissance, target-acquisition and telecommunications satellites, which will have to be destroyed or suppressed.

Smart hi-tech weapons, due to be adopted by many countries, will also become an attractive target for electronic warfare systems. The United States has maintained an electronic warfare force for many decades, while China is now moving to create a force of its own.

The U.S. electronic warfare force has special units for suppressing the work of military and civilian administrative divisions. It appears that the Russian military have started copying this example.

Russia's electronic warfare systems developed in the 1980s are, in fact, highly effective multi-role complexes, making it possible to quickly assess the radio-electronic situation on battlefields, to jam enemy reconnaissance, troop control and weapons control systems.

In some cases, Russian electronic warfare systems perform better than their foreign equivalents. These systems along with smart weapons can effectively disorganize troop control systems, possessing a number of advantages over other means of warfare.

Russian electronic warfare complexes can emit powerful electromagnetic impulses to disable any electronic device ranging from cell phones to fifth-generation fighters' avionics and weapons control systems.

Scientists in Siberia have developed small prototype impulse generators that can fit inside a car trunk and can disable the power grid of a small country or an entire region in just a few minutes.

Just like weapons of mass destruction, electronic warfare systems can have the same devastating impact on enemy weapons and military equipment. However, Russia has downsized their production over the last 15-20 years. Its Armed Forces also have fewer electronic warfare units. Consequently, radio-electronic warfare planning will remain a highly important issue in this country for quite some time.

A couple of years ago, the Government discussed the issue of establishing an electronic warfare force. Well-informed sources say the Defense Ministry had drafted all the required documents and coordinated them at top military-political level. The new military branch was designed to obstruct enemy electronics in the air, on land and at sea, as well as in space, and to shield Russian military installations and government facilities.

These plans were thwarted, however, by yet another army reform, a decision to adopt new military uniforms, and the present-day financial and economic crisis. This is rather lamentable, as electronic warfare units will become an indispensable asset during a hypothetical conflict with any powerful enemy.

In the final analysis, electronic warfare will decide the outcome of future military conflicts.

Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser with the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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