Soviet Radioelectronic Combat

Sept. 8, 2008
We call the Soviet version of command control and communications countermeasures (C3CM) “radioelectronic combat,” or REC for short. It’s a Soviet military doctrine that adds a new dimension to our view of electronic warfare.

The Russian Dictionary of Basic Military Terms enumerates many words and phrases that have a bearing on this Soviet concept of combating an enemy’s use of command control and communications (C3). The basic Russian phrase from which we derive the REC acronym is radioelektronnayabor’ba,“bor’ba” being translated as struggle, warfare, combat, or as our NATO allies prefer, combat support.

During the last decade, military leaders on both sides have made statements reflecting a view that victory in any future war will probably go to the side that can best control the electromagnetic spectrum. As a means toward that end, the Soviet REC doctrine can be described as the total integration of electronic warfare and physical destruction resources to deny an enemy the use of his electronic control systems and, concurrently, to protect friendly electronic control systems from enemy disruption. We believe the Soviets will try to destroy or disrupt at least fifty percent of an adversary’s C3 systems by using REC.

The specific measures to attain these objectives involve gaining good intelligence on the opposing control network. This is a first priority. This means extensive reconnaissance and target acquisition through various means, including electronic intercept and direction-finding (DF). This information-processing phase is then coupled with intensive electronic countermeasures (ECM) jamming and suppressive fire to deprive an enemy full use of his C3 network. Deception and use of electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) comprise the final REC measure aimed at Soviet C3 self-protection.

Reconnaissance and Acquisition

ESM or electronic warfare support measures is a term we use to describe actions taken to search for, intercept, identify, and/or locate sources of radiated electromagnetic energy. In the opinion of some Western observers, Soviet radioelectronic equipment to do that job—be it airborne or ground-based—generally lacks the technical sophistication of the latest Western hardware, but is credited with being rugged, simple, and relatively easy to maintain.

Most of the ground-based REC equipment is truck-mounted for mobility. Some of it still relies on exntensive use of vacuum tubes; others are modern and transistorized.

Various types of mobile directional antenna systems can be used by REC units in the radio direction finding (RDF) role. One of the most common types used by Soviet forces is the Adcock RDF antenna, which is especially effective against VHF tactical communications transmitted from vertically polarized, omnidirectional antennas. Tactical VHF-FM radios set on low power can be picked up by Soviet-equipped RDF units at distances in excess of ten kilometers and high power signals detected at distances of thirty to eighty kilometers. Operational accuracies are usually within +/-3.5 degrees, which is to say a total error of seven degrees for target-plotting purposes.

Semipermanent RDF equipment, usually targeted against HF communications, is located to the rear area, well behind the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA). Although such HF intercept stations are usually not more accurate +/-2 degrees, the greater distance between the target transmitter and the RDF site results in a larger linear error and in a circular error probably (CEP) close to fifty kilometers.

Mobility is also a feature of the forward-area ground radar direction finders, an example of which is the jeep-mounted pole dish antenna system. Due to signal characteristics, ground radars may be located with greater precision than radio emitters, often within fifty to 200 meters.

While knowledge of equipment capabilities was derived from Arab use of Soviet REC equipment during the October 1973 Middle East War, ground systems observed probably did not represent the full range of Soviet REC systems, nor were they necessarily the most modern. Egyptian use of Soviet equipment in the ’73 war showed a well-integrated defense effort. Following the REC concept, radio and radar technical units provided reconnaissance and aircraft early warning through interception and direction-finding of Israeli communications links and through radar detection. In short, Western observers learned that the Soviets have an extensive intercept capability for both radio and radar.

Vozdushnaya razvedka is the Soviet phrase for air reconnaissance, and one of the principal methods includes the use of airborne radio technical facilities. By mounting RDF systems in aircraft like the Il-18-Coot-A, the Soviets enhance receiver ability to intercept radio and radar signals more frequently and at longer distances than ground systems. This airborne electronic reconnaissance platform is aimed at the detection and location of our battlefield radars, command posts, communications centers, and tactical nuclear delivery systems.

The Coot-A ECM or ELINT variant of the twenty-year-old Il-18 transport reportedly appeared in 1978. It has a thirty-three-foot-long under-belly container, which is assumed to house a side-looking airborne radar (SLAR). Another container located along each side of the fuselage contains a door over a camera or other intelligence sensor. Numerous antennas and blisters are located on the underside of the fuselage. The Soviets perform continuous air surveillance with electronic ferreting over broad areas, to aid the targeting efforts of missile and artillery units.

The Antonov An-12 military transport aircraft has also been modified for ELINT duties. Designated by NATO as the Cub-B, this variant has four blister fairings under forward and center fuselage, plus other antennas. Reportedly, it can locate radios eighty kilometers away—twice the distance of some truck-mounted RDF networks.

Air reconnaissance is conducted by separate reconnaissance regiments or squadrons, whether by Coot-A and Cub-B transports or by modified tactical fighter aircraft, like the MiG-21R. (NATO calls it the Fishbed-H, easily recognized by specialized equipment—an external centerline-pylon-mounted pod for forward oblique cameras and infrared sensors or ECOM devices.)

The latest state-of-the-art in tactical air reconnaissance REC support is the MiG-25 Foxbat-B, which reportedly saw operation in Egypt in the early to mid-1970s, carrying out high-speed reconnaissance of the Israeli coastline and the Sinai peninsula. The aircraft carries numerous cameras and is also believed to have a SLAR capability. Given a priority reconnaissance mission and a priority post-mission analysis, some military analysts believe that targets detected in this way might be engaged in about two hours.

Electronic Attack

REC doctrine establishes a requirement to jam Army-Air Force command and control systems and weapon systems communications when they cannot be destroyed by suppressive firepower. As we’ve seen, the Soviets must depend on photoreconnaissance and radio and radar DF as analytical aids in selecting and locating target transmitters. Radio-pomekhi is their term for signal jamming—technical resources used in support of air defense operations to suppress radar bombsights, navigation aids, radio control links, and for jamming in support of ground operations to support our communications, electronic surveillance systems, and missile weapons control links.

The principal systems that Soviet technical writings on electronic warfare cover in detail are radar jamming, electronic jamming of command guidance systems, and radio communications noise jamming of AM and FM signals. They use three main types of noise jamming: (1) spot jamming—to jam certain individual frequencies without affecting adjacent frequencies, (2) barrage jamming—where a high power broad band signal jams adjacent frequencies simultaneously, and (3) sweep jamming—where a narrowband (spot jamming) signal moves up and down a broad band at varying rates, affecting all preset victim radars in the frequency band.

Airborne assets for active radio/radar jamming include another version of the An-12 transport, modified for the ECM function. Designated by NATO as the Cub-C, this jamming platform has a number of electronic pods faired into the forward fuselage and ventral surfaces. It has been photographed in operation with Egyptian insignia.

The Yakovlev Yak-28 Brewer-E model has been called the first Soviet operational ECM escort aircraft. It’s been around for more than ten years and is likely designed to illuminate large areas of US and allied radarscopes, hindering target detection and disrupting radars that have an automatic target-tracking capability.

Rounding out REC jamming support from an airborne standpoint, there is an ECM version of the Mi-4 Hound helicopter. First reported in 1977, the heliborne jammer is designated the C-model, distinguished by multiple communications jamming antennas that protrude from the cabin.

On the ground, the Soviets use special radio jamming (gruppa radiopomekh) equipped with mobile communications jammers to carry out specific assignments generally targeted against our tactical radio nets. Their jammers may be used in concert with RDF techniques to block communications for prolonged periods, causing a traffic backlog—which, when transmitted later, enables refined DF fixes to be obtained.

Soviet radio jamming resources recognize that our Army-Air Force operations require joint planning and synchronized employment—that in the main battle, the synchronized employment—that in the main battle, the Army needs close air support directed against targets in and around the FEBA. We fully expect that jamming against US and allied organs of control would include the tactical air control system, which uses HF radios for immediate air requests, VHF-FM radios to link forward air controllers on the ground with airborne forward air controllers, and UHF radio links for strike control.

Ground-based mobile jammers are also deployed to disrupt the operation of opposing airborne and ground radar systems.

Physical Destruction

We stressed at the outset that REC is built around and integrated with firepower. According to Soviet doctrine, the motorized rifle division or tank division with its attached or supported electronic warfare resources forms the basic element of execution for REC.

The division is the basic maneuver element of the combined arms army (CAA) and represents the lowest echelon capable of performing fully integrated combat. REC plays a significant role in combined arms operations and is, therefore, integrated into division-level tactics. Physical countermeasures capability of the Soviet division includes artillery and rocket forces; motorized rifle or tank forces; and supporting aviation, airborne, and air assault units.

The Soviets also have special operations forces trained for combat sabotage (diversiya) behind enemy lines. Specifically, their mission is to disorganize the rear area—destroying such strategic objectives as nuclear and key governmental and military facilities.

Deception and Electronic Protection

The last component of REC concerns self-protection of Soviet command and control through what they call maskirovka—a complex word for which there is no English equivalent, but which encompasses the elements of active and passive masking, camouflage, concealment, and deception. The Soviets classify it as an art that requires imagination and resourcefulness, tailored for each situation, varying in time, place, and nature.

It embraces traditional forms of artificial camouflage, such as netting to screen communications facilities, equipment, and weapons from air reconnaissance and strike aircraft. This screening method may also extend to the use of metal nets, mats, felled trees, or brushwood between Soviet troops and our sensors. This maskirovka technique tends to negate visual or night-vision instruments as well as radars. Such screens absorb electromagnetic energy and block viewing.

Maskirovka may also be employed by simulating activity where there is none. Through use of dummy and decoy equipment, almost any object—thanks, artillery, aircraft, command posts, even entire dummy installations, such as an airfield—may be constructed and made to appear active.

Another physical protective measure is smoke (dymovya maskirovka). Based on their World War II performance, we can expect the Soviets to use artificial smoke generators to create clouds of smoke or fog to conceal objects and activities, e.g., river crossings. No doubt they are aware that smokescreens may also degrade the effectiveness of antitank guided missiles and laser-guided munitions, as well as interfere with infrared, television, night vision, and night reconnaissance instruments.

Terrain masking (maskiruyushchiye svoystva mestnosti) is another technique used by Soviet troops to provide protection from visual reconnaissance and electronic detection. By plotting fields of invisibility on counter maps, field commanders can pick an appropriate route of march or axis of attack that maximizes the use of natural cover and camouflage.

Electronic deception or antiradar jamming camouflage (maska-pomekha) is accomplished by use of corner reflectors that produce flickering luminous blips on an enemy radar screen. Nearby troops or command control and communications facilities would ideally remain undetected by ground and airborne surveillance radars. Additionally, floating corner reflectors and low-power active emitters may be used to simulate radar echoes of bridges.

Another tactical defensive measure is the use of communications deception. Tied into the combat operations plan, this REC application may be imitative or manipulative. The Soviets call this radiodezinformatsiya (radio deception), carried on to mislead by propagating false information about troop dispositions, intentions, and capabilities. They may intrude on US and allied radio nets with imitative voice transmissions, what we would call nuisance intrusions, or they could simulate radio traffic in their own language for the benefit of our ears—what we call manipulative deception.

Radiomaskirovka, on the other hand, refers to a wide range of operations security techniques—techniques such as counter-reconnaissance and ECCM, directed toward hindering US and allied signals intelligence-collection efforts. While physical destruction of a jammer is regarded as important CM technique, more traditional techniques would include the use of varying signals and call signs, alternate use of different radars, skip echelon communications, and using high-ground and directional or remote antennas to reduce exposure. For example, the use of highly directional VHF antennas for Soviet weapon system command and control permits VHF jamming of an opponent’s emitters without jamming their own. We know that Soviet radio operators are thoroughly drilled in the use of their equipment and its built-in ECCM features; air defense radar operators receive regular training in both chaff and active jamming environments. They seek to minimize the electronic warfare vulnerability of their C3 systems by equipment redundancy, operator enforcement of signal security, and use of alternate subsystems. Radio silence is standard operating procedure. Landlines, couriers, flags, and flares are reportedly emphasized.

In summary, we conclude from various unofficial sources—including Soviet military writings—that Soviet technicians have an excellent grasp of the theory and use of the four main measures of REC; reconnaissance and acquisition, electronic attack, integrated firepower, and the means to protect their own control communications while under attack. To what extent this REC doctrine has been fully translated into today’s deployed systems is only partially known. Western military specialists believe it probably will become fully apparent only with the outbreak of a major war involving the Soviet Union.

Lt. Col. D.B. Lawrence is currently a specialist in radioelectronic combat applications at Hq. Electronic Security Command, San Antonio, Tex. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Cornell University and a master’s in business administration from Webster College, St. Louis, Mo. A long-time student of Soviet military affairs, he has served in a variety of assignments in Vietnam, Hawaii, Korea, and Washington, D.C.