The Ukrainian armed forces could face a monumental challenge as it can no longer rely on the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) missiles and Excalibur artillery shells as the Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems are now reportedly leading them astray.
The advancement in the EW means that Ukraine would need new weapons to replace the American missiles or make adjustments to overcome the Russian EW system. Ukraine is set to acquire GLSDB munitions for the first time in the Ukraine war.
The American M982 Excalibur-guided artillery shells, fired from the M777 Howitzers, displayed remarkable precision in hitting Russian positions. The smaller size of these projectiles posed a challenge for Russian air defense systems and made it hard for Russian forces to counter them effectively.
The US has donated 39 HIMARS to Ukraine. The wheeled rocket launchers, firing GPS-guided 227-millimeter M30/31 rockets as far as 57 miles, are some of Ukraine’s best artillery and have been at the top of the Russian target list in the ongoing war against Ukraine.
Even as Russians have not managed to destroy a single HIMARS system, Moscow has been making aggressive advancements in Electronic Warfare.
Russia has been using EW aggressively to divert Ukraine’s precision-guided weapons, such as Excalibur artillery rounds and HIMARS rockets, and Ukraine is finding it increasingly difficult to match Russia’s countermeasures.
Despite the increased use of drones in the war, artillery, rocketry, and missile launches account for 60 to 80 percent of all military engagements.
After receiving the American artillery shells in 2022, Ukrainian forces had significant success in identifying and taking out Russian artillery positions. It denied Moscow the ability to bring massive amounts of ammunition closer to the frontlines and sustain a high rate of fire.
However, Moscow found a solution to the problem in the form of the Pole-21 electronic warfare system. It disrupts the critical signals essential for helping the GPS-guided munition reach its designated target accurately. This makes the missile deviate from its intended trajectory.
Experts suggest that the solution to the conundrum lies in more precision-guided munitions with increased range. Ukraine must work around the strides Russia has taken in Electronic Warfare.
The Electronic Warfare
Both Russia and Ukraine have been working on electronic warfare technology aimed at jamming and diverting enemy drones and guided missiles. But Moscow has a lead of nearly a decade.
Dominating the electronic spectrum to jam the adversary’s drones and making drones foolproof against disruption has, thus, become crucial on the battlefield. A dominance in electronic warfare will allow one to subvert the enemy while remaining unharmed.
While Ukraine’s request for military hardware has been considered during the war inching towards its third year, its request for superior EW technologies has evoked little interest from its Western allies.
Without sufficient EW protection, Ukrainian forces are easily targeted by unmanned aerial vehicle explosions, bomb-dropping drones, and drone-guided artillery attacks. EW is described as the key to breaking the stalemate on the frontline.
At the beginning of the war, Ukraine was stuck with Soviet-era EW systems. In March, Ukraine was flummoxed by its GPS-guided Excalibur shells missing their targets, which was later credited to the Russian jamming. The JDAM-guided bombs supplied by the US also met a similar fate.
The most worrying development for the Ukrainian forces was Russia’s ability to counter the army of Ukrainian drones that has been doing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, besides taking out targets like tanks and command nodes.
The drones used by Ukrainian forces are cheap, and the country is making them in large quantities. But Russia has managed to spoof their guidance systems or jam their radio-control links with their operators.
At times, Ukraine has lost as many as 2,000 drones per week to Russian electronic warfare. The drones loiter aimlessly until their batteries run out and they crash to the ground.
The technology is yet to evolve to make small drones immune to Russian jamming and spoofing. Now Russia is winning at the numbers game, too. The battlefield is now teeming with Russian drones, and Moscow is deploying two drones to every drone deployed by Kyiv.
Ukraine has deployed a nationwide electronic warfare system, Pokrova. It was announced by Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in his essay titled “Modern Positional Warfare and How to Win It.”
The information about the system is sketchy, but its primary goal is “replacing the satellite radio navigation field (“spoofing”), suppressing satellite radio navigation along the entire line of contact and in most parts of Ukraine.”
Russia’s Shahed-136 missiles will become less effective if a unified GPS/GLONASS suppression field is set up. The Pokrova electronic warfare system should also reduce the accuracy of Russian cruise missiles fired into Ukraine.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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