Russia’s Electronic Warfare Force: Blending Concepts with Capabilities

Russia has plans to disorganize a foe’s command and control system (planning exists down to the brigade level) with electronic warfare (radio-electronic or REB capabilities in Russian) means.

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Russian Major General Yuriy Lastochkin, who is in charge of the Defense Ministry’s radio-electronic warfare (REB) force, believes REB capabilities will permit his forces “to decide the fate of all military operations” in the near future. They will be arrayed against what Russia considers a major Western weakness, the latter’s numerous links to space assets. There is certainly ample evidence to suggest that a significant REB capability is under development. Appendix A at the end of the report lists many capabilities of the ground force, aviation, and naval REB equipment.

There are several key items in the report that require Western consideration. First, while the West worries about Russian A2AD concepts, it is more likely that Russia is putting together a program that will cause chaos in Western control systems. They are working on methods to disorganize an adversary’s command and control capability. The Russians also are now expanding the use of REB as an independent branch, experimenting with REB maneuver units, and focusing on developing a disorganization plan for use in each REB brigade. In 2018, Lastochkin stated that the disorganization of enemy troop and weapons command and control and the reduction of the effectiveness of the conduct of reconnaissance and weapons employment by them “is the primary goal of the conduct of electronic warfare.”

Second, Russia appears to be experimenting with the disorganization of command and control (C2D) in live engagements, such as the attempts to disrupt the Trident Juncture NATO exercise. It is working on using C2D to protect its Northern Sea Route and access to vital resources there with its Murmansk-BN system, which is designed to interfere with communication systems and the navigation and control systems of ships along this route. These live engagements are helping turn theory into practice.

Third, Western specialists need to become more aware of how REB could be integrated with deception techniques to create fake targets, another issue being practiced in local exercises. Finally, there are a number of actual REB systems that require close study for their potential tactics and techniques. They can be easily placed in specific functional categories if properly analyzed. Reconnaissance, jamming, distorting navigational fields, suppressing radio-controlled mines, and obtaining bearings of electronic wave emission sources (drones, UAVs, missiles, etc.) are all potential capabilities that could be, among others, placed in specific categories.

This paper will initially discuss Western concerns about Russian REB and the latter’s focus on Western weaknesses and capabilities. It then covers the claims of Lastochkin and another Russian officer that REB is the key to controlling future operations before highlighting prominent military discussions from 2015-2018 of REB by both active and retired officers.