Ukraine seeks to neutralize Russia's invisible killer

Ukraine is looking for ways to deal with the Russian electronic warfare system, which is likened to an “invisible killer” that disables a large number of their UAVs.

To be able to scout and ambush Russian forces on the front line, the Ukrainian military mainly relies on civilian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Ukraine’s explosive-laden UAVs used to do a lot of damage to infantry and enemy weapons, but their effectiveness diminished as Russia adapted and increased its electronic warfare measures.

Ukrainian UAVs often use common radio frequencies to control, so they are very susceptible to interference by Russian electronic warfare groups, causing them to lose connection with the operator and fall or be forced to land.

A report by the British Royal Research Institute for Defense and Security (RUSI) stated that Russian electronic warfare forces had downed up to 90% of Ukrainian UAVs in the early stages of hostilities. This is one of the reasons why Russian electronic warfare systems are likened to “invisible killers” on the battlefield.

However, the situation seems to have changed, and Russia’s ability to jam and control UAVs has decreased significantly as Ukraine applies new technological solutions that are considered more sophisticated to deal with the air defense systems’ enemy electronic warfare system.

Russia's Krasukha-S4 electronic warfare complex on the battlefield on July 13.  Photo: Russian Defense Force

Russia’s Krasukha-S4 electronic warfare complex on the battlefield on July 13. Photo: Russian Defense Force

During the first year of the war, Russia used powerful jammers to suppress UAVs that were tasked with indicating targets for artillery or dropping grenades into trenches.

A Ukrainian soldier who operates a UAV said that by the end of 2022, their UAV can fly 6 km deep behind enemy lines. However, during the campaign to protect Bakhmut earlier this year, the Ukrainian UAV only flew over the front line one kilometer, even unable to pass.

Other Ukrainian soldiers told similar stories. Ukrainian Colonel Serhiy Ogerenko said in March that the UAVs in his unit only last half a day, while the longer-range artillery drones “can last for a month”.

According to a May report by RUSI, Ukraine loses up to 10,000 UAVs a month, mainly due to Russian electronic warfare forces. Without a target-indicating UAV, Ukrainian artillery is much more difficult to hit the target.

Both Russia and Ukraine have recently sent more jamming complexes to the battlefield to counter the threat of enemy UAVs. Russian jammers not only disable Ukrainian UAVs, but also US- aided JDAM guided bombs and Excalibur guided artillery shells.

However, in the past few weeks, Ukraine has significantly increased the use of UAVs in counterattacks to indicate targets for artillery, attack trenches and bring down Russian combat vehicles. Western experts were surprised by Ukraine’s ability to fight UAVs on the Russian front lines.

Russian servicemen patrol near the deployment site of the Krasukha-S4 electronic warfare complex on July 13.  Photo: Russian Defense Force

Russian servicemen patrol near the deployment location of the Krasukha-S4 electronic warfare complex on July 13. Photo: Russian Defense Force

Mykola Volokhov, a soldier operating a Ukrainian UAV, said that the problem of connecting to the aircraft due to long-term suppression by Russia has been overcome. “We have certain secrets, but I can’t reveal them,” Volokhov said.

Ukrainian soldiers also found a way to modify the control software to disable the navigation feature of DJI drones and their operators. Ukrainian engineers have designed a device called Olga, which can be plugged into a USB port on a DJI drone to automatically load modified control software. After system intervention, instead of transmitting the actual coordinates, the UAV will display the position of latitude 0, longitude 0 to ensure confidentiality.

Anti-interference is more difficult to do, but not impossible. The militaries of some countries have applied the solution of using antenna clusters to set up a highly directional transmitting station that can filter out interference.

This filter is capable of blocking the interference waveband that is not sent by the operator, preventing the risk of UAV interference. The smart receiver can also convert frequencies to find frequencies that are free from interference.

Thomas Withington, an expert on electronic warfare, said Ukraine may have figured out how to deal with Russian jamming for some time. However, this expert warned that any countermeasures by Ukraine are not a long-term solution.

“Electronic warfare is a constant race, each countermeasure will have a countermeasure in the never-ending game of cat and mouse,” Withington said. “In a military conflict, the process is even faster.”

Another solution of Ukraine is hard suppression, which means using missiles and rockets to ambush and destroy Russian electronic warfare equipment.

Typically, electronic warfare systems with strong jamming capabilities will have large base stations. This makes them easy to locate and at high risk of being hit by shells or missiles. They can also be attacked by jamming drones, a low-cost version of the US-made AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile.

Volokhov and other Ukrainian soldiers believe they can continue to use civilian drones to attack Russian forces. These UAVs may be disabled by Russian electronic warfare forces in the future, but for now they are still effective and give Ukraine an advantage.

Via: Forbes