Electronic Warfare: Russia’s Approach – Foreign Policy Research Institute

Summary

RAll consider electronic warfare (EW) one of the key military capabilities in its ongoing confrontation with the West. The EW provides opportunities for nuclear-free deterrence and helps Russia maintain its status as a great power and strategic autonomy, while taking into account its long-term economic and demographic weakness. Russia has made significant progress in the EW during the 2010s. However, in the early 2020s, Russia still faces technological, technical, industrial, organizational and political challenges that prevent Moscow from gaining the necessary EW capabilities.

Technological problems are related to delays in the development of air and space-based EW facilities, as well as the need to unify EW systems. Technical problems are related to the number of different types of EW systems that need to be serviced, the relatively short service life of different EW systems and the problems of their integration with other combat systems and units. The last point also shows why Russia is struggling to turn its number of EW systems into higher quality combat capabilities. Industrial problems are caused by the volatile dynamics of arms procurement and research and development programs in Russia, as well as the ability of defense corporations to design and manufacture advanced EW systems at reasonable costs. The main organizational problem is that the number of EW troops has already reached its objective limit. Now the EW troops need to be transformed from combat support to combat. Finally, the confrontation between Russia and the West is a political challenge that is a major driver of EW efforts. Russia is unable to compete symmetrically with the United States and Europe, and Russia’s political system does not allow Moscow to carry out a “military revolution” because the centralized system is fighting for a network-centric approach to the armed forces in an effective way. For this reason, Russia has chosen the classic approach of asymmetric warfare in order to disrupt the systems of control and command of the superior enemy.

The next decade promises to be difficult for Russia in terms of electronic warfare. Moscow will need to correct previous EW efforts, pay more attention to the overall quality of electronic warfare rather than the number of EW systems deployed, and close obvious gaps in EW at the tactical, theatrical, and strategic levels. Moreover, after defense spending stabilized and even declined in the late 2010s, Russia was forced to increase its defense budget again. This means that the cost of EW will also increase. Russia will try to fill the gaps in the capabilities of air and space-based EW, while the naval component will continue to play a minor role in Russia’s military planning. It is also possible that Russia will decide to expand its terrestrial EW infrastructure in Belarus by creating a “chain” of EW from Crimea to Kaliningrad.

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