Russia versus Ukraine and the role of software defined radios (2023)

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, it is clear that Russia's modernization program included electronic warfare and signals intelligence and played a significant role in Russia's combat progress and overall positioning leading up to the actual invasion.

Electronic warfare is now at the heart of modern warfare, a complementary component or even a replacement for traditional combat. Battles and wars can be won or lost by defeating the opponent's technological advantage in the radio frequency spectrum, and can also be used to infiltrate peacetime communications. Radio frequency technologies—tactical radios, radar, position and navigation signals, weapon systems, and various detectors used to coordinate operations and locate the enemy—are critical to military forces and are becoming increasingly important for jamming, detecting, and deceive these capabilities of the adversary. Electronic warfare can be divided into three components: electronic attack, electronic protection or countermeasures, and electronic support.

The most well-known of these is electronic attack, which involves jamming various systems or tricking the signal, usually with a transmitter that nullifies the waveform and signals of an enemy radar or radio. Interference ensures that important signals and messages are not leaked, while deception can deliver false messages and traps. Electronic protection and countermeasures include techniques used to protect the integrity of signals and prevent them from being intercepted or jammed in the first place.

Electronic support is used to understand and discover vulnerabilities in enemy radar and communications systems, typically through passive interception of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation. The goal is to detect, intercept, identify, locate, record/replay, and/or analyze sources of electromagnetic energy to instantly identify threats and assist in general reconnaissance and strategic decision-making. The findings feed back into the decision-making process and influence protective and attack actions. Signal intelligence often uses electronic supporting data to extract more information to determine other aspects of the signal in question and the source of a transmitter through characterization. Due to the large volume of analysis required, the wide radio frequency spectrum occupied by various signals, and the coordination of land, sea, and air communications, technology had to advance rapidly to keep up with these demands.

Software-defined radios (SDRs) have proven critical for electronic warfare, signals intelligence countermeasures, and UAVs. SDRs receive and transmit functions over a wide tuning range using multiple channels, high bandwidth, and network capabilities. The use of SDR in various signals intelligence/electronic warfare receivers stems from its design flexibility, particularly in terms of frequency configurability, as well as interoperability with legacy equipment and waveforms.

For example, they can be designed for different parts of the spectrum required for reconnaissance, surveillance and reconnaissance, or be integrated into a powerful amplifier and receiver antenna system. Therefore, they can be further optimized for multi-input, multi-output operation over a wide range. Its ability to monitor the spectrum, intercept signals, and record and store data for later signal analysis, especially in near real time, is essential to gaining the upper hand in a fight. According to one, there have been cases of Ukrainian hackers using HackRF and RTL-SDR to jam Russian signals.reportat

Since radio frequency communications are essential for civil, military and general operations, radio electronic warfare has been an integral part of the collapse or degradation of enemy combat systems, or even regular systems. Take the R-330Zh Zhitel jammer, for example, which is reportedly capable of shutting down all GPS, satellite communications, and cellular phone networks in the very high and ultra-high frequency bands within a 25-kilometer radius. Inside the command and control vehicle, it has signal intelligence equipment to detect, locate and analyze radio signals using SDR-based technology.

According to a report fromThomas Withington en TheDrive.comRussian forces in Ukraine have grounded Ukrainian unmanned aerial systems by jamming or spoofing GPS or other signals required by SDRs in those systems. This effectively rendered the Ukrainians incapable of providing aerial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In addition, the Russians were effective in jamming air defense radars and thwarting command and control efforts. Russian troops jammed Ukrainian radio and radar communications in support of the Russian airborne operation at Hostomel airport near Kyiv, also known as the Antonov airport battle.

On the battlefield, it has also become imperative that SDR be implemented in tactical radios for ground troops and command and control communications. Russian company NPO Angstrem has developed a radio communication system using an Azart R-187-P1E multi-mode portable SDR, which provides much of the system's functionality. SDR-based radio enables the establishment of a tactical communications subsystem between commanders, ground forces, and various other military forces, while ensuring protected data exchange under many conditions, including in an environment of countermeasures and electronic attacks.

The radio also has a frequency hopping mode, up to 20,000 hops per second, which seriously precludes the possibility of communications countermeasures or signal interception or direction finding by adversaries in this mode. On the Ukrainian side, almost all Ukrainian ground units have been equipped and trained with NATO's single channel ground and airborne radio system, which offers over 2,000 channels to choose from and replaces the earlier Russian-built radios that would account for a danger due to espionage.

As with most military technology, deployed equipment is kept secret to ensure adversaries cannot exploit vulnerabilities. Several Russian-developed electronic warfare and signals intelligence systems were exposed when Russian troops attempted to lighten their load while advancing or retreating. For example, a month after the Russian invasion, Ukrainian troops discovered a discreet shipping container at an abandoned command and control post on the outskirts of Kyiv. They found it in one of Russia's most sophisticated electronic warfare systems, the Krasukha-4 jammer, developed by the Russian state-owned company KRET.

NATO analysts report that the Krasukha-4 is primarily designed to jam Ka- and Ku-band satellite or airborne fire control radars, which are essential for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance programs like the US's. The E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar is an important system. Another system captured by Ukrainian forces is the more advanced Borisoglebsk-2, which can jam airborne drone guidance systems and radio-controlled land mines on the ground.

While Russia was initially expected to have the upper hand in electronic warfare and military capabilities, Ukraine brutally counterattacked with equipment supplied by allied forces, including SDR-based technologies. For example, Ukraine has conducted countermeasure operations and electronic attacks using anti-drone systems containing SDR transceivers provided by the United States. It has shot down hundreds of Russian drones by jamming their GPS signals and even damaging their electronic components with high-powered microwave beams.

Ukrainian forces have also used US-supplied jamming systems to intercept Russian tactical radio communications. Russia reportedly does not have a system like the Single Channel Airborne and Ground Radio System and has relied on cell phones or unencrypted two-way radios, making them vulnerable to geolocation and Ukrainian jammers. Many supposedly secure Russian cell phones have failed because they rely on third- and fourth-generation data channels, and the Russians have destroyed many of those towers. General incompetence and lack of observance or knowledge of communications discipline has resulted in many Russian fighters, including generals, using regular mobile phones and the Ukrainian Armed Forces being able to quickly take appropriate action based on location.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have also exploited the weaknesses of Russia's large and powerful electronic warfare systems, including their size and the high-power transmission responsible for allowing them to interfere over a vast area. Using US electronic support equipment, Ukrainian troops have intercepted and detected transmissions from electronic warfare systems such as Leer-3 or Krasukha-4, it defense technology. Ukraine has also led counterattacks with missiles, artillery and drones against Russian truck-borne systems. It was often the case that Russia's electronic warfare systems interfered with its own radio frequency technologies, which may allude to why many of Russia's electronic warfare systems were left behind when its forces advanced deep into Ukraine.

Elon Musk's Starlink proved useful in countering jamming attacks against Ukrainian forces. Its constellation of low-orbit satellites has brought broadband internet to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations, including many of the Starlink ground station terminals, according to At the heart of these terminals is some form of SDR for various means of controlling the phased array antenna, tuning near microwave frequencies, and sending and receiving data packets during use. In another blow to Russia, blocking these links is very difficult, since blocking low-Earth satellites is a much more difficult challenge than geostationary ones.

This war is far from over, especially since Vladimir Putin has initiated the “partial” mobilization of the “reserves” and has threatened nuclear war in a proclamation ambiguous enough for the war to take another turn. War is being fought on many fronts, so absorbing external military pressures and internal institutions, as well as understanding Russian ideology, military mindset, and psyche can shape electronic warfare strategy.

Can Russia arm and mobilize more than 300,000 recruits, many of whom are unwilling and untrained, in the face of confirmed supply chain problems, a lack of useful equipment, and cognitive dissonance? Should we take Russia's word for it, given its impressive record of propaganda, "alternative facts" and attempts to rewrite history (notably "Ukraine is not a country" despite its existence predating Russia by over a millennium?) )? Probably not. Is Russia still dangerous? Yes.

Exploiting Russia's weaknesses on the battlefield, which include bouts of incompetence and disillusionment with the war after matching propaganda with active combat, through electronic warfare and signals intelligence will prove valuable in ensuring that goals are achieved. following results:

1. Russia cannot launch an offensive. Information and movements are tracked, UAVs are disarmed, and communications are intercepted.

2. Russian disinformation must not be spread. The Ukrainians have already hacked into Russian channels to broadcast the real results of the war and destruction.

3. Other countries must be protected, both from physical invasions and cyber attacks.

Because of this, Ukraine needs constant resupply, including the addition of missiles for its counteroffensive. Electronic warfare can prevent further death and destruction when used effectively. This, along with weapons provided by the US, UK and many other countries, could give Ukraine an edge when it comes to beating Russia on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Tamara Moskaliuk, former Marketing Director at Per Vices, specializes in business strategy and technology innovation. Moskaliuk owns H.B. Commercial and B.A. in economics and a Ph.D. in economic and political development in post-Soviet Ukraine and the history and effects of wars.

Brandon Malatest is COO of Per Vices, a manufacturer of high-performance software-defined radios for integration with radar, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence systems. Contact the authors at

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