Ukraine: the absent Russian Electronic Warfare (EW)

The Russian doctrine favors rapid employment of nonlethal effects, such as electronic warfare (EW), to paralyze and disrupt the enemy in the early hours of conflict. There was an expectation that a full-size Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a massive utilization of electronic warfare from the start.

In the afternoon on the first day of the Russian invasion, the 24th of February, it became apparent that the Russians faced significant command and coordination issues, as there was no effective electronic warfare against Ukrainian communications.

The rationale for the absence of Russian electronic warfare can have different origins; the Russians could have assumed marginal Ukrainian resistance and not deployed their EW capabilities. There was no tangible Russian EW engagement on day five of the invasion after stiff Ukrainian resistance. So if the Russian held back their EW early, the EW should be operational on day five, so the other explanation stands. The Russians can’t get their EW together.

In my view, that indicates that the Russians have failed to synchronize the EW, spectrum management, and the activities between different military formations to ensure functional, friendly communications; meanwhile, the Ukrainians are under Russian EW attack.

After this conflict, the Russian Ukrainian War, the Russians have learned from their failures and any potential adversary that studied the Russian Ukrainian War. The core problem of successfully doing EW is not the hardware; management and operational integration are the challenges.

Any potential adversary will adapt to the Russian Ukrainian War experience and focus on operational integration, but there is a risk for US status quo bias and unwillingness to invest in EW “because apparently, EW doesn’t work.”

The spurious assessment that EW doesn’t work and is not critical for the battlefield becomes the rationale for continuing the current marginal EW investment.

The last almost thirty years, American electronic warfare capabilities have been neglected because the spectrum was never contested in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was neither an enemy ability to detect and strike at electromagnetic activity, allowing for US command post radiating electromagnetic signatures and radiation from radios and data links with no risk of being annihilated when least expected.

During these decades, the other nations have incrementally and strategically increased their ability to conduct electronic warfare by denying and degrading spectrum and detecting electromagnetic activity leading to kinetic strike. Over the last years, the connection between electromagnetic radiation and kinetic strikes has been repeated along the frontlines in Donbas, where Russian-backed separatists shelled Ukrainian positions. In 2020, we witnessed it in the second Karabakh War Armenian command posts were located by their electromagnetic signature and rapidly knocked out in the early days of the war.

American forces are not prepared to face electronic warfare that is well-integrated and widely deployed in an opposing force.
For a potential future conflict, it is notable that the potential adversaries have heavily invested in the ability to conduct electronic warfare (EW) throughout their force structure. In the Russian Army, each motorized rifle regiment/brigade has an EW company, the division has an EW battalion, and within the Corps and Army structure, there are additional units to allocate to the direction of the thrust in the ground offensive. The Russians appear not to use it effectively, but they will learn and adapt.

At the doctrine level, the Russian ground forces are designed to be offensive and take the initiative from the first round is fired, where denial-of-spectrum access is a part of their strategy.
In theory, EW enables forward-maneuver battalions to engage and create disruption for the enemy and an opportunity for exploitation. The Russians benefit from decades of uninterrupted prioritization and development of EW, so they have the hardware, but it appears to be the integration that lacks.

Electronic warfare is a craft, a skill, and potential adversaries’ EW/signal officers are EW/signal officers their entire careers. Naturally, the potential adversaries’ junior and mid-career officers lack experience from the other Army branches and units, but they know the skills required in EW. In my view, it gives the potential adversaries’ an advantage in Electronic Warfare, compared to the US warrior-scholar that are shuttled around in a system of constant change of duty station, schools, and tasks.

The DOPMA “Defense Officer Personnel Management Act” has been discussed to undergo a significant revision, and it is essential to take into account the need for time and stability to gain craftmanship in EW, which is both technical and hands-on, which need officers to narrow down their specialization without career penalties or forced out of the force. The requirements for winning a war must prevail over a career flow chart driven by obsolete Taylorism and the belief that everyone is interchangeable. Not everyone is interchangeable, and uniquely talented leaders can ensure mission success through spectrum warfare. In the future fight, the EW units will have a far more active role and face constant targeting due to the EW units’ impact on the battlefield. This development requires leadership and decision-making by leaders who know EW craftmanship.

The Russian aggression in Ukraine is evidence that a more extensive ground war is possible. Our potential adversaries will learn and adapt their EW from the Russian Ukrainian war. Meanwhile, it is long overdue to accelerate the US investment in fielded and integrated EW. The current state of intermittent integration through formations and undersized EW capabilities compared to the battlefield needs has to change.

Every modern high-tech weapon system is a dud without access to the spectrum; that realization should be enough to address this issue.

Jan Kallberg

These opinions are my private viewpoints and do not reflect the position
of any employer. 

 

 

What is the rationale behind election interference?

Any attempt to interfere with democratic elections, and the peaceful transition of power that is the result of these elections, is an attack on the country itself as it seeks to destabilize and undermine the core societal functions and constitutional framework. We all agree on the severity of these attempts and that it is a real, ongoing concern for our democratic republic. That is all good, and democracies have to safeguard the integrity of their electoral processes.

But what is less discussed is why the main perpetrator — Russia, according to media — is seeking to interfere with the U.S. election. What is the Russian rationale behind these information operations targeting the electoral system?

The Russian information operations in the fault lines of American society, seeking to make America more divisive and weakened, has a more evident rationale. These operations seek to expand cleavages, misunderstandings, and conflicts within the population. That can affect military recruiting, national obedience in a national emergency, and have long-term effects on trust and confidence in the society. So seeking to attack the American cognitive space, in pursuit of split and division in this democratic republic, has a more obvious goal. But what is the Russian return on investment for the electoral operations?

Even if the Russians had such an impact that candidate X won instead of candidate Y, the American commitment to defense and fundamental outlook on the world order has been fairly stable through different administrations and changes in Congress.

Naturally, one explanation is that Russia, as an authoritarian country with a democratic deficit, wants to portray functional democracies as having their issues and that liberal democracy is a failing and flawed concept. In a democracy, if the electoral system is unable to ensure the integrity of the elections, then the legitimacy of the government will be questioned. The question is if that is the Russian endgame.

In my view, there is more to the story than Russians just trying to interfere with the U.S. to create a narrative that democracy doesn’t work, specially tailored for the Russian domestic population so they will not threaten the current regime. The average Russian is no free-ranging political scientist, thinking about the underpinnings of legitimacy for their government, democratic models, and the importance of constitutional mechanisms. The Russian population is made up of the descendants of those who survived the communist terror, so by default, they are not so quick to ask questions about governmental legitimacy. There is opposition within Russia, and a fraction of the population would like to see a regime change in the Kremlin, like many others. But in a Russian context, regime change doesn’t automatically mean a public urge for liberal democracy.

Let me present another explanation to the Russian electoral interference, which might co-exist with the first explanation, and it is related to how we perceive Russia.

The Russian information operations stir up a sentiment that the Russians are able to change the direction of our society. If the Russians are ready to strike the homeland, then they are a major threat. Only superpowers are major threats to the continental United States.

So instead of seeing Russia for what it is, a country with significant domestic issues and reliant on massive extraction of natural resources to sell to a world market that buys from the lowest bidder, we overestimate their ability. Russia has failed the last decades to advance their ability to produce and manufacture competitive products, but the information operations make us believe that Russia is a potent superpower.

The nuclear arsenal makes Russia a superpower per se. Still, it cannot be effectively visualized for a foreign public, nor can it impact a national sentiment in a foreign country, especially when the Western societies in 2020 almost seem to have forgotten that nukes exist. Nukes are no longer “practical” tools to project superpower status.

If the Russians stir up our politicians’ beliefs that the Russians are a significant adversary, and that gives Russia bargaining power and geopolitical consideration, it appears more logical as a Russian goal.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

A new mindset for the Army: silent running

The adversary in the future fight will have a more technologically advanced ability to sense activity on the battlefield – light, sound, movement, vibration, heat, electromagnetic transmissions, and other quantifiable metrics. This is a fundamental and accepted assumption. The future near-peer adversary will be able to sense our activity in an unprecedented way due to modern technologies. It is not only driven by technology but also by commoditization; sensors that cost thousands of dollars during the Cold War are available at a marginal cost today. In addition, software defined radio technology has larger bandwidth than traditional radios and can scan the entire spectrum several times a second, making it easier to detect new signals.

//I wrote this article together with Colonel Stephen Hamilton and it was published in C4ISRNET//

In the past two decades, the U.S. Army has continually added new technology to the battlefield. While this technology has enhanced the ability to fight, it has also greatly increased the ability for an adversary to detect and potentially interrupt and/or intercept operations.

The adversary in the future fight will have a more technologically advanced ability to sense activity on the battlefield – light, sound, movement, vibration, heat, electromagnetic transmissions, and other quantifiable metrics. This is a fundamental and accepted assumption. The future near-peer adversary will be able to sense our activity in an unprecedented way due to modern technologies. It is not only driven by technology but also by commoditization; sensors that cost thousands of dollars during the Cold War are available at a marginal cost today. In addition, software defined radio technology has larger bandwidth than traditional radios and can scan the entire spectrum several times a second, making it easier to detect new signals.

We turn to the thoughts of Bertrand Russell in his version of Occam’s razor: “Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.” Occam’s razor is named after the medieval philosopher and friar William of Ockham, who stated that in uncertainty, the fewer assumptions, the better and preached pursuing simplicity by relying on the known until simplicity could be traded for a greater explanatory power. So, by staying with the limited assumption that the future near-peer adversary will be able to sense our activity at an earlier unseen level, we will, unless we change our default modus operandi, be exposed to increased threats and risks. The adversary’s acquired sensor data will be utilized for decision making, direction finding, and engaging friendly units with all the means that are available to the adversary.

The Army mindset must change to mirror the Navy’s tactic of “silent running” used to evade adversarial threats. While there are recent advances in sensor counter-measure techniques, such as low probability of detection and low probability of intercept, silent running reduces the emissions altogether, thus reducing the risk of detection.

In the U.S. Navy submarine fleet, silent running is a stealth mode utilized over the last 100 years following the introduction of passive sonar in the latter part of the First World War. The concept is to avoid discovery by the adversary’s passive sonar by seeking to eliminate all unnecessary noise. The ocean is an environment where hiding is difficult, similar to the Army’s future emission-dense battlefield.

However, on the battlefield, emissions can be managed in order to reduce noise feeding into the adversary’s sensors. A submarine in silent running mode will shut down non-mission essential systems. The crew moves silently and avoids creating any unnecessary sound, in combination with a reduction in speed to limit noise from shafts and propellers. The noise from the submarine no longer stands out. It is a sound among other natural and surrounding sounds which radically decreases the risk of detection.

From the Army’s perspective, the adversary’s primary objective when entering the fight is to disable command and control, elements of indirect fire, and enablers of joint warfighting. All of these units are highly active in the electromagnetic spectrum. So how can silent running be applied for a ground force?

If we transfer silent running to the Army, the same tactic can be as simple as not utilizing equipment just because it is fielded to the unit. If generators go offline when not needed, then sound, heat, and electromagnetic noise are reduced. Radios that are not mission-essential are switched to specific transmission windows or turned off completely, which limits the risk of signal discovery and potential geolocation. In addition, radios are used at the lowest power that still provides acceptable communication as opposed to using unnecessarily high power which would increase the range of detection. The bottom line: a paradigm shift is needed where we seek to emit a minimum number of detectable signatures, emissions, and radiation.

The submarine becomes undetectable as its noise level diminishes to the level of natural background noise which enables it to hide within the environment. Ground forces will still be detectable in some form – the future density of sensors and increased adversarial ability over time would support that – but one goal is to make the adversary’s situational picture blur and disable the ability to accurately assess the function, size, position, and activity of friendly units. The future fluid MDO (multi-domain operational) battlefield would also increase the challenge for the adversary compared to a more static battlefield with a clear separation between friend and foe.

As a preparation for a future near-peer fight, it is crucial to have an active mindset on avoiding unnecessary transmissions that could feed adversarial sensors with information that can guide their actions. This might require a paradigm shift, where we are migrating from an abundance of active systems to being minimalists in pursuit of stealth.

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy. Col. Stephen Hamilton is the technical director of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an academy professor at the U.S. Military Academy. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy, or the Department of Defense.

 

 

When Everything Else Fails in an EW Saturated Environment – Old School Shortwave

( I wrote this opinion piece together with Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton and Capt. Kyle Hager)

The U.S. Army’s ability to employ high-frequency radio systems has atrophied significantly since the Cold War as the United States transitioned to counterinsurgency operations. Alarmingly, as hostile near-peer adversaries reemerge, it is necessary to re-establish HF alternatives should very-high frequency, ultra-high frequency or SATCOM come under attack. The Army must increase training to enhance its ability to utilize HF data and voice communication.

The Department of Defense’s focus over the last several years has primarily been Russian hybrid warfare and special forces. If there is a future armed conflict with Russia, it is anticipated ground forces will encounter the Russian army’s mechanized infantry and armor.

A potential future conflict with a capable near-peer adversary, such as Russia, is notable in that they have heavily invested in electromagnetic spectrum warfare and are highly capable of employing electronic warfare throughout their force structure. Electronic warfare elements deployed within theaters of operation threaten to degrade, disrupt or deny VHF, UHF and SATCOM communication. In this scenario, HF radio is a viable backup mode of communication.

The Russian doctrine favors rapid employment of nonlethal effects, such as electronic warfare, in order to paralyze and disrupt the enemy in the early hours of conflict. The Russian army has an inherited legacy from the Soviet Union and its integrated use of electronic warfare as a component of a greater campaign plan, enabling freedom of maneuver for combat forces. The rear echelons are postured to attack either utilizing a single envelopment, attacking the defending enemy from the rear, or a double envelopment, seeking to destroy the main enemy forces by unleashing the reserves. Ideally, a Russian motorized rifle regiment’s advanced guard battalion makes contact with the enemy and quickly engage on a broader front, identifying weaknesses permitting the regiment’s rear echelons to conduct flanking operations. These maneuvers are generally followed by another motorized regiment flanking, producing a double envelopment and destroying the defending forces.

Currently, the competency with HF radio systems within the U.S. Army is limited; however, there is a strong case to train and ensure readiness for the utilization of HF communication. Even in EMS-denied environments, HF radios can provide stable, beyond-line-of-sight communication permitting the ability to initiate a prompt global strike. While HF radio equipment is also vulnerable to electronic attack, it can be difficult to target due to near vertical incident skywave signal propagation. This propagation method provides the ability to reflect signals off the ionosphere in an EMS-contested environment, establishing communications beyond the line of sight. Due to the signal path, the ability to target an HF transmitter is much more difficult than transmissions from VHF and UHF radios that transmit line of sight ground waves.

The expense to attain an improved HF-readiness level is low in comparison to other Army needs, yet with a high return on investment. The equipment has already been fielded to maneuver units; the next step is Army leadership prioritizing soldier training and employment of the equipment in tactical environments. This will posture the U.S. Army in a state of higher readiness for future conflicts.

Dr. Jan Kallberg, Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton and Capt. Kyle Hager are research scientists at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and assistant professors at the United States Military Academy.

Spectrum Warfare

 

Spectrum sounds to many ears like old fashioned, Cold War jamming, crude brute electromagnetic overkill. In reality though, the military needs access to spectrum, and more of it.

Smart defense systems need to communicate, navigate, identify, and target. It does not matter how cyber secure our platforms are if we are denied access to electromagnetic spectrum. Every modern high tech weapon system is a dud without access to spectrum. The loss of spectrum will evaporate the American military might.

Today, though, other voices are becoming stronger, desiring to commercialize military spectrum. Why does the military need an abundance of spectrum, these voices ask. It could be commercialized and create so much joy with annoying social media and stuff that does not matter beyond one of your life-time minutes.

It is a relevant question. We as an entrepreneurial and “take action” society see the opportunity to utilize parts of the military spectrum to launch wireless services and free up spectrum space for all these apps and the Internet of Things that is just around the corner of the digital development of our society and civilization. In the eyes of the entrepreneurs and their backers, the military sits on unutilized spectrum that could put be good use – and there could be a financial harvest of the military electromagnetic wasteland.

The military needs spectrum in the same way the football player needs green grass to plan and execute his run. If we limit the military access to necessary spectrum it will, to extend the football metaphor, be just a stack of players not moving or be able to win. Our military will not be able to operate effectively.

We invite people to talk about others to talk about justice, democracy, and freedom, to improve the world, but I think it is time for us to talk to our fellow man about electromagnetic spectrum because the bulwark against oppression and totalitarian regimes depends on access.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

NDU Publication: China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era

NDU Press just published:

http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/1651760/chinas-strategic-support-force-a-force-for-a-new-era/

From the Executive Summary:

“In late 2015, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) initiated reforms that have brought dramatic changes to its structure, model of warfighting, and organizational culture, including the creation of a Strategic Support Force (SSF) that centralizes most PLA space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities. The reforms come at an inflection point as the PLA seeks to pivot from land-based territorial defense to extended power projection to protect Chinese interests in the “strategic frontiers” of space, cyberspace, and the far seas. Understanding the new strategic roles of the SSF is essential to understanding how the PLA plans to fight and win informationized wars and how it will conduct information operations.”

 

The Fight for Spectrum

An EC-130H Compass Call aircraft is parked at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan Sept. 12, 2014. The aircraft is configured to execute worldwide information warfare tactics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez/Released)

Spectrum sounds to many ears like old-fashioned, Cold War jamming, crude brute electromagnetic overkill. In reality though, the military needs access to spectrum and more of it.

Smart defense systems need to communicate, navigate, identify, and target. It does not matter how cyber secure our platforms are if we are denied access to electromagnetic spectrum. Every modern high tech weapon system is a dud without access to spectrum. The loss of spectrum will evaporate the American military might.

Today, though, other voices are becoming stronger, desiring to commercialize military spectrum. Why does the military need an abundance of spectrum, these voices ask. It could be commercialized and create so much joy with annoying social media and stuff that does not matter beyond one of your lifetime minutes.

It is a relevant question. We as an entrepreneurial and “take action” society see the opportunity to utilize parts of the military spectrum to launch wireless services and free up spectrum space for all these apps and the Internet of Things that is just around the corner of the digital development of our society and civilization. In the eyes of the entrepreneurs and their backers, the military sits on the unutilized spectrum that could put be good use – and there could be a financial harvest of the military electromagnetic wasteland.

The military needs spectrum in the same way the football player needs green grass to plan and execute his run. If we limit the military access to necessary spectrum it will, to extend the football metaphor, be just a stack of players not moving or be able to win. Our military will not be able to operate effectively.

The electromagnetic space is no wasteland, it is a space ready to be utilized, at computational speed, and it serves as a deterrent in the same way as the ICBM in the silo. It exists, it can be utilized, and our adversaries understand. The military needs its electromagnetic space to ensure that they can operate in a degraded environment when our adversaries seek to limit the American might through electronic warfare, we should be able to fully operate and execute our operations to the extent of our abilities.

We invite people to talk about others to talk about justice, democracy, and freedom, to improve the world, but I think it is time for us to talk to our fellow man about electromagnetic spectrum because the bulwark against oppression and totalitarian regimes depends on access.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

/I originally wrote this as an opinion text for c4isrnet.com in 2015. Its relevance has increased with the shifted focus on peer and near-peer adversaries.