KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On Ukraine’s battlefields, the simple act of powering up a cellphone can beckon a rain of deathly skyfall. Artillery radar and remote controls for unmanned aerial vehicles may also invite fiery shrapnel showers.
This is electronic warfare, a critical but largely invisible aspect of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Military commanders largely shun discussing it, fearing they’ll jeopardize operations by revealing secrets.
Electronic warfare technology targets communications, navigation and guidance systems to locate, blind and deceive the enemy — and direct lethal blows. It is used against artillery, fighter jets, cruise missiles, drones and more. Militaries also use it to protect their forces.
It’s an area where Russia was thought to have a clear advantage going into the war. Yet, for reasons not entirely clear, its much-touted electronic warfare prowess was barely seen in the war’s early stages in the chaotic failure to seize Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
It has become far more of a factor in the current fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, where shorter, easier-to-defend supply lines let Russia move electronic warfare gear closer to the battlefield.
A Ukrainian intelligence official called the Russian threat “pretty severe” when it comes to disrupting reconnaissance efforts and commanders’ communications with troops. Russian jamming of GPS receivers on drones that Ukraine uses to locate the enemy and direct artillery fire is particularly intense “on the line of contact,” he said.
Ukraine has had some success countering Russia’s electronic onslaught. It has captured important hardware — a significant intelligence coup — and destroyed at least two multi-vehicle mobile electronic warfare units.
Ukraine’s own electronic warfare capability is hard to assess. Analysts say it has markedly improved since Russia seized Crimea and instigated a separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine has also made effective use of technology and intelligence from the United States and other NATO members, helping it sink the battle cruiser Moskva. Allied satellites and surveillance aircraft help from nearby skies, as does Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite communications network.
Electronic war has three basic elements: probe, attack and protect. First, intelligence is gathered by locating enemy electronic signals. On attack, “white noise” jamming disables and degrades enemy systems, including radio and cellphone communications, air defense and artillery radars. Then there is spoofing, which confuses and deceives. When it works, munitions miss their targets.
“Operating on a modern battlefield without data is really hard,” said retired Col. Laurie Buckhout, a former U.S. Army electronic warfare chief. Jamming “can blind and deafen an aircraft very quickly and very dangerously, especially if you lose GPS and radar and you’re a jet flying at 600 miles an hour.”
All of which explains the secrecy around electronic warfare.
“It is an incredibly classified field because it is highly dependent on evolving, bleeding-edge technologies where gains can be copied and erased very quickly,” said James Stidham, a communications security expert who has consulted for the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments.
Ukraine learned hard lessons about electronic warfare in 2014 and 2015, when Russia overwhelmed its forces with it. The Russians knocked drones out of the sky and disabled warheads, penetrated cellphone networks for psychological ops and zeroed in on Ukrainian armor.
One Ukrainian officer told Christian Brose, an aide to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., how Russian info warriors tricked a commander into returning a wireless call from his mother. When he did, they geolocated him in mid-call and killed him with precision rockets, Brose wrote in the book “The Kill Chain.”
In the current war, electronic warfare has become a furious theater of contention.
Russia has engaged in GPS jamming in areas from Finland to the Black Sea. A regional Finnish carrier had to cancel flights on one route for a week as a result. Russian jamming has also disrupted Ukrainian TV broadcasting, said Frank Backes, an executive with California-based Kratos Defense, which has satellite ground stations in the region.
Yet in the war’s early days, Russia’s use of electronic warfare was less effective and extensive than anticipated. That may have contributed to its failure to destroy enough radar and anti-aircraft units to gain air superiority. Some analysts believe Russian commanders held back units fearing the units would be captured. At least two were seized.
Russian commanders may have also limited the use of electronic warfare early in the conflict out of concern ill-trained or poorly motivated technicians might operate it poorly.
“What we’re learning now is that the Russians eventually turned it off because it was interfering with their own communications so much,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former U.S. Army commander for Europe. The problems were evident with many Russian troops talking on insecure open radio channels, easily monitored by outsiders.
Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to questions for this article.
It’s unclear how much of an edge its electronic assets may now offer. Ukraine’s forces are now more concentrated, which could make them easier to target.
Much depends on whether Russia’s battalion tactical groups “are configured in reality as they are on paper,” said James Rands, of the Jane’s military intelligence think tank. Each group is supposed to have an electronic warfare unit. The Pentagon says 110 groups are in Ukraine.
The Kremlin also claims to have more than 1,000 small, versatile Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles it uses for reconnaissance, targeting, jamming and cellphone interception.
The U.S. and Britain are providing jamming gear. How much it helps is unclear. Neither country has offered details.
Musk’s Starlink is a proven asset. Its more than 2,200 low-orbiting satellites provide broadband internet to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations. Severing those connections is a challenge for Russia. It is far more difficult to jam low-earth orbiting satellites than geostationary ones.
Musk has won plaudits for at least temporarily defeating Russian jamming of those ground stations with a quick software fix. But he has warned Ukrainians to power them down when possible — they are vulnerable to geolocation — and worried on Twitter about redoubled Russian interference efforts.
Bajak reported from Boston. AP correspondent Lolita C. Baldor contributed from Washington.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA) condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pledged to further sanction Moscow and concluded that corruption is a key element in Russia’s strategic toolkit.
NATO Parliamentary Assembly warned that corruption is one of Russia/s strategic toolkits, and a security challenge for the Alliance. (Photo: NATO, License)During its four-day Spring Session in Vilnius, Lithuania, that ended on Monday, the PA also pointed out that the collapsing corrupt institutions in Afghanistan represent a substantial security challenge for the Alliance.
Corruption “enables terrorist and criminal networks both by providing vehicles for these groups to finance their operations and by weakening the hand of the states that they oppose,” British lawmaker Harriett Baldwin emphasized in her Strategic and Economic Challenges Posed by Corruption draft report.
“Corruption forges links between political elites and organized criminal groups − some of which may be tied to terrorist groups engaged in drug, arms and human trafficking,” she said.
Baldwin said she believes that the problem is worse in nations with poor democracy and is endangering stronger democracies at the same time.
A special problem, according to Baldwin’s report, is when corruption is institutionalized, when “it becomes a means by which ruling parties and elites consolidate their hold over the state and the electoral process itself.”
That enables the corrupt to retain power, collect public wealth, and dodge legal penalties for their theft, according to the draft document, which further stressed that Russia perfectly illustrates that phenomenon.
This is why NATO governments must adopt “a set of watertight, comprehensive and powerful sanctions against the kleptocratic state of Russia” she said.
More than 200 parliamentarians from 30 member nations unanimously passed a declaration “Standing with Ukraine,” that denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the harshest possible terms.
In another declaration, on “Confronting Russia’s Threats,” the PA encouraged NATO states to tighten sanctions, including the suspension of energy supplies, until Russia withdraws all of its troops from Ukraine.
The PA also urged members to substantially increase supplies of military equipment to Kyiv and impose “massive, crippling and sustained” sanctions on Russia.
“Putin and his enablers must know that the price they pay for their reckless and maniacal war of choice will only continue to increase,” U.S. Congressman Gerald E. Connolly, President of the NATO PA, said.
NATO lawmakers also discussed relations with China, strategic trade challenges, climate change mitigation and adoption, the future of warfare or the strengthening of the Alliance’s science and technology resilience.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it had hoped to overtake the country in a blitz lasting only days or a few weeks. Many Western analysts thought so, too.
As the conflict marked its third month Tuesday, however, Moscow appears to be bogged down in what increasingly looks like a war of attrition, with no end in sight and few successes on the battlefield.
There was no quick victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s powerful forces, no rout that would allow the Kremlin to control most of Ukraine and establish a puppet government.
Instead, Russian troops got bogged down on the outskirts of Kyiv and other big cities amid stiff Ukrainian defenses. Convoys of Russian armor seemed stalled on long stretches of highway. Troops ran out of supplies and gasoline, becoming easy targets.
A little over a month into the invasion, Russia effectively acknowledged the failure of its blitz and pulled troops back from areas near Kyiv, declaring a shift of focus to the eastern industrial region of the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
To be sure, Russia has seized significant chunks of territory around the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow annexed eight years ago. It also has managed to cut Ukraine off completely from the Sea of Azov, finally securing full control over the key port of Mariupol after a siege that prevented some of its troops from fighting elsewhere while they battled diehard Ukrainian forces.
But the offensive in the east seems to have bogged down as well, as Western arms flow into Ukraine to bolster its outgunned army.
Russian artillery and warplanes relentlessly pound Ukrainian positions, trying to break through defenses built up during the separatist conflict. They have made only incremental gains, clearly reflecting both Russia’s insufficient troop numbers and the Ukrainian resistance. Russia recently lost hundreds of personnel and dozens of combat vehicles while trying to cross a river to build a bridgehead.
“The Russians are still well behind where we believe they wanted to be when they started this revitalized effort in the eastern part of the country,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday, adding that small towns and villages were changing hands every day in the Donbas.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces have methodically targeted Western weapons shipments, ammunition and fuel depots, and critical infrastructure in hopes of weakening Kyiv’s military and economy.
But in trying to gain ground, Russian forces have also relentlessly shelled cities and laid siege to some of them. In the latest example of the war’s toll, 200 bodies were found in a collapsed building in Mariupol, Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday.
The Kremlin appears to still harbor a more ambitious goal of cutting off Ukraine from the Black Sea coast all the way to the Romanian border, a move that would also give Moscow a land corridor to Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed.
But Russia seems to know that this objective is not currently achievable with the limited forces it has.
“I think they’re just increasingly realizing that they can’t necessarily do all of it, certainly not at one go,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who heads Sibylline, a strategic advisory firm.
Moscow’s losses have forced it to rely increasingly on hastily patched-together units in the Donbas that could only make small gains, he said.
“It’s a constant downshifting of gear toward smaller objectives that Russia can actually achieve,” Crump said. “And I think on the biggest scale, they’ve actually downsized their strategy better to match their their ability on the ground.”
Two top officials appeared to acknowledge Tuesday the advance has been slower than expected. Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said it “is not chasing deadlines,” and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the pace was deliberate to allow civilians to flee, even though forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets.
Many in Ukraine and the West thought Putin would pour resources into the Donbas to score a decisive triumph by Victory Day on May 9, when Moscow celebrates its defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Russia has falsely called the war a campaign to “denazify” Ukraine — a country with a democratically elected Jewish president who wants closer ties with the West.
Rather than a massive campaign, however, the Kremlin opted for tactical mini-offensives, aimed at steadily trying to encircle Ukrainian forces.
“The Russian leadership is urging the military command to show at least some gains, and it has nothing else to do but to keep sending more troops into the carnage,” said Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military expert at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think tank.
Many in the West expected Putin to declare a broad troop mobilization, with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace saying he might do it on Victory Day. That never happened, with Russia continuing to rely on a limited force that was clearly insufficient.
A massive mobilization would likely foment discontent in Russia, fuel antiwar sentiment and carry political risks. Authorities opted for more limited options, with lawmakers drafting a bill to waive the current age limit of 40 for those willing to sign up for the military.
The lack of resources was underlined last week by an abrupt Russian withdrawal from areas near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that has been bombarded since the war began. Some of those forces apparently were redeployed to the Donbas, but it wasn’t enough to tip the scales.
“They really had to thin out the troops they had around Kharkiv, simply because they’re trying to hold to too much of a line with too few troops,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
The Donbas fighting has increasingly become artillery duels, and “it might go on for quite a long time without much movement in the lines,” he said.
“So it will be a more of a positional battle at that point, O’Brien added, with success going to whoever “can take the pounding.”
Ukraine, meanwhile, continues to get a steady flow of Western arms, including U.S. howitzers and drones, tanks from Poland and other heavy gear that is immediately sent into combat.
“Ukraine’s plan is simple and obvious — wear down the Russian forces in the nearest months as much as possible, win time for receiving Western weapons and training how to use them, and then launch a counteroffensive in the southeast,” said Sunhurovskyi, the Kyiv-based military expert.
He said Ukraine hopes to receive even more powerful Western weapons, such as U.S. HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, anti-ship missiles and more potent air defense weapons.
Russian hard-liners warn that Moscow can’t win if it doesn’t conduct a large mobilization and concentrate all of its resources in a decisive attack.
Igor Strelkov, a former security officer who led the separatists in 2014, denounced what he described as the Kremlin’s indecision, saying it could lead to defeat.
“For Russia, the strategic deadlock is deepening,” he said.
Ukrainian authorities are increasingly emboldened by the slow pace of the Russian offensive and growing Western support. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reaffirmed last week that pushing the Russians back to pre-invasion positions would represent a victory, but some aides declared even more ambitious goals.
Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine isn’t interested in a cease-fire “until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories,” a bold statement that appears to reflect hopes for reclaiming the Donbas and Crimea.
Russia, meanwhile, apparently aims to bleed Ukraine by methodically striking fuel supplies and infrastructure while grinding out military gains. The Kremlin may also hope the West’s attention will shift elsewhere.
“Their final hope is that we will lose interest completely in the conflict in Ukraine by the summer,” Crump said. “They’re calculating the Western audiences will lose interest in the same way as Afghanistan last year. Russia thinks that time is working in its favor.”
Danica Kirka in London, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration says it will send Ukraine a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems, a critical weapon that Ukrainian leaders have been begging for as they struggle to stall Russian progress in the Donbas region. The rocket systems are part of a new $700 million tranche of security assistance for Ukraine from the U.S. that will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more, two senior administration officials said Tuesday. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the weapons package that will be formally unveiled on Wednesday. The U.S.
BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday that his country will supply Ukraine with modern anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems, stepping up arms deliveries amid criticism that Germany isn’t doing enough to help Kyiv fend off Russia. Scholz told lawmakers that the government has decided to provide Ukraine with IRIS-T missiles developed by Germany together with other NATO nations. He said Germany will also supply Ukraine with radar systems to help locate enemy artillery. The announcement comes as Ukrainian forces are engaged in a grinding battle for the eastern industrial region of the Donbas. Following a series of setbacks in the weeks after their invasion, Russian troops switched their focus to the Donbas and are bent on capturing the parts of the region not already controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
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