September 18, 2017

Russia’s Electronic Warfare Capabilities to 2025: Challenging NATO in the Electromagnetic Spectrum

“ICDS’s study could not be more timely. This is a professional work that catalogues the seriousness of the threat without being unduly alarmist. It is fact based, from the detailed descriptions of Russian equipment and investment; through Moscow’s development of organisation and command structure; to accounts of training, tactics and operations. There is also a great discussion of Russian doctrine and how Russian electronic warfare fits into broader questions of cyber and psychological operations and how that convergence will further challenge NATO’s concepts and practices. I highly recommend this important work as the departure point for the Alliance rethinking and reshaping its response to a growing danger. ”
Gen. (ret.) Michael Hayden, former Director of the US National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency

This study examines how and why Russia’s military has turned its attention since the reform initiated in late 2008 to more fully exploiting and developing significant use of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) by employing electronic warfare (EW) assets. This is consistent with the interest in various “force enablers” and in adopting network-centric approaches to military operations as the Russian military becomes further “informationised”.

The report finds that Moscow is stepping up its efforts to renew and modernise the EW inventory, and this effort is complemented by changes to organisation, doctrine, command structure, training and tactics, as well as techniques and procedures. The effect of those changes is evident in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, where EW forms an organic part of Russia’s kinetic and non-kinetic operations—both in support of proxy forces and conducted independently. Further EW capability development will pose a serious challenge to the proper planning and execution of NATO’s defence of the Baltic states, and NATO’s entire Eastern Flank, in the event of a Russian assault. This capability is an integral part of Russia’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) approach and is clearly tailored to target NATO’s C4ISR.

NATO’s planners must also understand that the Russian EW capability extends well beyond air defence or even A2/AD, as it is fielding a wider array of systems to assist, for example, psychological operations (PSYOPS) and cyber operations. Russia’s ability to contest the EMS, combined with its holistic military thinking, means that EW capability will be exploited and effects created well beyond the traditional realms in which NATO’s thinking about EW is rooted. We might witness an ever-growing convergence of Russia’s EW, cyber- and information warfare approaches, which will further challenge NATO’s concepts and practices.

As a result, NATO needs to plan, revise its scenarios, and train to conduct defensive and offensive operations in a fiercely contested EMS battlespace. In their current form, NATO plans to defend its Eastern Flank including the Baltic states might be inadequate as they do not take account of the full spectrum of Russia’s current and future EW capabilities and their uses—as part of A2/AD approach and beyond. NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and further development of its posture in the Baltic area, which might possibly include assets for integrated air and missile defence in the future, will fail to deliver the desired outcome if the Alliance falls behind in the contest for EMS dominance.

Download: ICDS Report – Russia’s Electronic Warfare Capabilities to 2025: Challenging NATO in the Electromagnetic Spectrum (PDF)