KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On Ukraine’s battlefields, the simple act of powering up a cellphone can beckon a rain of deathly skyfall. Artillery radar and remote controls for unmanned aerial vehicles may also invite fiery shrapnel showers.
This is electronic warfare, a critical but largely invisible aspect of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Military commanders largely shun discussing it, fearing they’ll jeopardize operations by revealing secrets.
Electronic warfare technology targets communications, navigation and guidance systems to locate, blind and deceive the enemy and direct lethal blows. It is used against artillery, fighter jets, cruise missiles, drones and more. Militaries also use it to protect their forces.
It’s an area where Russia was thought to have a clear advantage going into the war. Yet, for reasons not entirely clear, its much-touted electronic warfare prowess was barely seen in the war’s early stages in the chaotic failure to seize the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
It has become far more of a factor in fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, where shorter, easier-to-defend supply lines let Russia move electronic warfare gear closer to the battlefield.
“They are jamming everything their systems can reach,” said an official of Aerorozvidka, a reconnaissance team of Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle tinkerers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. “We can’t say they dominate, but they hinder us greatly.”
A Ukrainian intelligence official called the Russian threat “pretty severe” when it comes to disrupting reconnaissance efforts and commanders’ communications with troops. Russian jamming of GPS receivers on drones that Ukraine uses to locate the enemy and direct artillery fire is particularly intense “on the line of contact,” he said.
Ukraine has scored some successes in countering Russia’s electronic warfare efforts. It has captured important pieces of hardware — a significant intelligence coup — and destroyed at least two multi-vehicle mobile electronic warfare units.
Its own electronic warfare capability is hard to assess. Analysts say it has markedly improved since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and instigated a separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine. But there are setbacks. Last week, Russia claimed it destroyed a Ukrainian electronic intelligence center in the southeastern town of Dniprovske. The claim could not be independently confirmed, and Ukrainian officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Ukraine has also made effective use of technology and intelligence from the United States and other NATO members. Such information helped Ukraine sink the battle cruiser Moskva. Allied satellites and surveillance aircraft help from nearby skies, as does billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite communications network.
Electronic war has three basic elements: probe, attack and protect. First, intelligence is gathered by locating enemy electronic signals. On attack, “white noise” jamming disables and degrades enemy systems, including radio and cellphone communications, air defense and artillery radars. Then there is spoofing, which confuses and deceives. When it works, munitions miss their targets.
“Operating on a modern battlefield without data is really hard,” said retired Col. Laurie Buckhout, a former U.S. Army electronic warfare chief. Jamming “can blind and deafen an aircraft very quickly and very dangerously, especially if you lose GPS and radar and you’re a jet flying at 600 miles an hour.”
All of which explains the secrecy around electronic warfare.
“It is an incredibly classified field because it is highly dependent on evolving, bleeding-edge technologies where gains can be copied and erased very quickly,” said James Stidham, a communications security expert who has consulted for the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments.
Ukraine learned hard lessons about electronic warfare in 2014 and 2015, when Russia overwhelmed its forces with it. The Russians knocked drones out of the sky and disabled warheads, penetrated cellphone networks for psychological ops and zeroed in on Ukrainian armor.
One Ukrainian officer told Christian Brose, an aide to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., how Russian info warriors tricked a commander into returning a wireless call from his mother. When he did, they geolocated him in mid-call and killed him with precision rockets, Brose wrote in the book “The Kill Chain.”
The U.S. also experienced Russia’s electronic warfare in action in Syria, where the adversaries have backed opposing sides in the civil war. In 2018, U.S. Special Operations chief Gen. Raymond Thomas described how U.S. pilots’ communications were regularly “knocked down” in Syria in the “most aggressive” electronic warfare environment on the planet. Russia’s advanced systems are designed to blind U.S. Airborne Warning and Control Systems, or AWACS, aircraft — the eyes and ears of battlefield commanders — as well as cruise missiles and spy satellites.
In the current war, electronic warfare has become a furious theater of contention.
Aerorozvidka has modified camera-equipped drones to pinpoint enemy positions and drop mortars and grenades. Hacking is also used to poison or disable enemy electronics and collect intelligence.
Ukrainian officials say their electronic warfare capabilities have improved radically since 2015. They include the use of encrypted U.S and Turkish communications gear for a tactical edge. Ukraine has advanced so much it exports some of its technology.
Russia has engaged in GPS jamming in areas from Finland to the Black Sea, said Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel, an Air Force fellow at the Atlantic Council. One regional Finnish carrier, Transaviabaltica, had to cancel flights on one route for a week as a result. Russian jamming has also disrupted Ukrainian television broadcasting, said Frank Backes, an executive with California-based Kratos Defense, which has satellite ground stations in the region.
Yet in the war’s early days, Russia’s use of electronic warfare was less effective and extensive than anticipated. That may have contributed to its failure to destroy enough radar and anti-aircraft units to gain air superiority.
Russia’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Some analysts believe Russian commanders held back units fearing the units would be captured. At least two were seized. One was a Krasukha-4, which a U.S. Army database says is designed to jam satellite signals as well as surveillance radar and radar-guided weapons from more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. The other: the more advanced Borisoglebsk-2, which can jam drone guidance systems and radio-controlled land mines.
Russia may have also limited the use of electronic warfare early in the conflict because of concerns that ill-trained or poorly motivated technicians might not operate it properly.
“What we’re learning now is that the Russians eventually turned it off because it was interfering with their own communications so much,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former U.S. Army commander for Europe.
The communications problems were evident with many Russian troops talking on insecure open radio channels, easily monitored by outsiders.
It’s unclear how much of an edge Russia’s electronic assets may now offer. Ukraine’s forces are now more concentrated than early in the war, which could make them easier to target.
Much depends on whether Russia’s battalion tactical groups “are configured in reality as they are on paper,” said James Rands, of the Jane’s military intelligence think tank. Each group, comprised of roughly 1,000 troops, is supposed to have an electronic warfare unit. The Pentagon says 110 such groups are in Ukraine.
The Kremlin also claims to have more than 1,000 small, versatile Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles it uses for reconnaissance, targeting, jamming and cellphone interception.
Russia has lost about 50 of its Orlan-10s in the war, but “whatever they lost could be a small portion of what’s flying,” said researcher Samuel Bendett, of the Center for Naval Analyses think tank.
Ukraine’s relative UAV strength is unclear, but Ukrainians have adapted such technologies as software-defined radio and 3D printing to stay nimble.
The U.S. and Britain also supply jamming gear, but how much it helps is unclear. Neither country has offered details. The ability of both sides to disable the other’s drones is crucial with the artillery they scout now so decisive in battles.
Musk’s Starlink is a proven asset. Its more than 2,200 low-orbiting satellites provide broadband internet to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations. Severing those connections is a challenge for Russia. It is far more difficult to jam low-earth orbiting satellites than geostationary ones.
Musk has won plaudits from the Pentagon for at least temporarily defeating Russian jamming of Ukrainian satellite uplinks with a quick software fix. But he has warned Ukrainians to keep those terminals powered down when possible — they are vulnerable to geolocation — and recently worried on Twitter about redoubled Russian interference efforts.
“I’m sure that the Russians are getting smarter about that now,” said Wetzel, the Air Force lieutenant colonel.
Bajak reported from Boston. AP correspondent Lolita C. Baldor contributed from Washington.
Oleksandr Stashevskyi And Frank Bajak, The Associated Press
UN envoy for Sudan resigns, warning that the conflict could be turning into ‘full-scale civil war’
By Edith M. Lederer in Tanzania
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Sudan who was declared unwelcome by the country’s military rulers announced his resignation Wednesday in a final speech to the U.N. Security Council, warning that the conflict between Sudan’s two military leaders “could be morphing into a full-scale civil war.”
Volker Perthes, who had continued to work outside Sudan, said the fighting shows no sign of abating, with neither side appearing close to “a decisive military victory.” He also said the violence in Sudan’s western Darfur region “has worsened dramatically,” with the warring parties blatantly disregarding human rights and civilians being targeted based on their ethnicity.
Sudan has been rocked by violence since mid-April, when tensions between the country’s military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, burst into open fighting.
Perthes said at least 5,000 people have been killed since then and over 12,000 wounded, calling these conservative numbers and saying the actual number “is likely much higher.”
The Sudanese people are also facing “a crisis of epic and tragic proportions, with more than 20 million people — almost half the population — experiencing acute levels of hunger and food insecurity, the U.N. humanitarian office’s operations director, Edem Wosornu, told the council.
“And more than 6 million people are now just one step away from famine,” she said. “If the fighting continues, this potential tragedy comes closer to reality every day.”
The fighting has forced 4.1 million people to flee their homes to other places in Sudan and more than 1 million to seek refuge in neighboring countries, Wosornu said, stressing that displacement and insecurity “have driven cases of sexual violence to distressing levels.”
Perthes was a key mediator after the conflict began, but the military government claimed he was biased and informed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on June 8 that he was declared persona non grata.
The U.N. denounced the move, saying that a member of its personnel cannot be declared persona non grata — unacceptable to the government — and that this goes against the U.N. Charter.
In announcing his resignation, Perthes, who was appointed as special representative for Sudan in January 2021, urged the warring sides to end the fighting and warned them “they cannot operate with impunity.”
“There will be accountability for the crimes committed,” he said.
Secretary-General Guterres told a news conference that he had accepted Perthes’ resignation, saying, without elaborating, that the envoy “has very strong reasons to resign.”
Perthes also warned of “the risk of a fragmentation of the country,” pointing to a myriad of compounding crisis, including Darfur, the cross-border mobilization of Arab tribes, fighting in the country’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces between the Sudanese military and rebels, and rising tensions in eastern Sudan amid ongoing tribal mobilization.
He also added — referring to Sudan’s longtime autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2019 — that “the mobilization by former regime elements advocating for a continuation of the war is of particular concern.”
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield sharply criticized Sudan’s military leaders for threatening to end the U.N. political mission in Sudan known as UNITAMS if Perthes addressed the Security Council, calling the threats “unacceptable” and declaring that “No country should be allowed to threaten this council’s ability to carry out its responsibilities for peace and security.”
In a highly unusual procedure aimed at trying to maintain the U.N. mission, the council meeting started with a briefing by Ghana’s ambassador who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Sudan, and Sudan’s U.N. Ambassador Al-Harith Mohamed was then given the floor.
He claimed the government “is in control of the political and security initiatives and is communicating with all regional players and international terrorist in order to end the war,” and is receiving “the full support of the Sudanese people who categorically reject the presence of the Rapid Support Forces.”
He urged the Security Council and the international community to support the government, accusing the Rapid Support Forces and their militias summoning “killers and mercenaries” to destroy the country. “The international community must not allow for a new generation of terrorists against the state who who transform (it) into Frankenstein,” he said.
Albania’s U.N. Ambassador Ferit Hoxha then gaveled that council meeting to an end and after the Sudanese ambassador left, he gaveled the start of a new meeting on the secretary-general’s lateat report on Sudan, which opened with the briefing by Perthes.
Thomas-Greenfield told Perthes the United States regrets his departure.
Perthes made no mention of his next steps. A former German academic with extensive background in international relations, Perthes served as chief executive officer and director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs from 2005 to September 2020. From 2015 to 2018, he served as a U.N. assistant secretary-general and senior adviser to U.N. special envoy for Syria.
Russia’s Putin says there will be no new grain deal until the West meets his demands
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, pose for a photo prior to their talks at Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023. (Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the grain deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain safely through the Black Sea won’t be restored until the West meets its obligations to facilitate Russian agricultural exports.
Putin made the statement after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who along with the U.N. brokered the deal seen as vital for global food supplies, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other goods that developing nations rely on.
But Russia refused to extend the deal in July, complaining that an agreement promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer hadn’t been honored. It said restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered its agricultural trade even though it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.
Putin said that if those commitments were honored, Russia could return to the deal “within the nearest days.”
He also said that Russia is close to finalizing an agreement to provide free grain to six African countries. The Russian leader added that Russia will ship 1 million metric tons (1.1 million tons) of cheap grain to Turkey for processing and delivery to poor countries.
Since Putin withdrew from the grain initiative, Erdogan has repeatedly pledged to renew arrangements that helped avoid a food crisis in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
A lot is riding on the talks for the world food supply, and beforehand analysts predicted Putin would drive a hard bargain.
“My gut feeling is that Putin recognizes the leverage he has by using food as an economic weapon, and thus will fight for all he can get in terms of concessions on his wish-list,” said Tim Benton, a food security expert at the Chatham House think tank.
Those may include Russia’s grains, or fertilizer exports, or wider issues, he said.
Data from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, which organized the Ukraine shipments, shows that 57% of the grain from Ukraine went to developing nations, with the top destination being China, which received nearly a quarter of the food.
The meeting took place against a backdrop of Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive against the Kremlin’s invasion forces.
In the latest development, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov would be replaced this week. The job requires “new approaches,” Zelenskyy said, without elaborating. Reznikov on Monday published a photo of his resignation letter.
In addition to pulling out of the grain deal, Russia has repeatedly attacked the Odesa region, where Ukraine’s main Black Sea port is. On Monday, the Ukrainian air force said it intercepted 23 of 32 drones that targeted the Odea and Dnipropetrovsk regions but did not specify damage caused by the drones that got through.
The Turkish president has maintained close ties with Putin during the 18-month war in Ukraine. Turkey hasn’t joined Western sanctions against Russia following its invasion, emerging as a main trading partner and logistical hub for Russia’s overseas trade.
Opening the talks, Putin mentioned various areas of bilateral cooperation, such as a proposed Russian gas hub in Turkey and the construction of the first nuclear power plant there, in which Moscow is actively involved.
NATO member Turkey, however, has also supported Ukraine, sending arms, meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and backing Kyiv’s bid to join NATO.
Erdogan angered Moscow in July when he allowed five Ukrainian commanders to return home. The soldiers had been captured by Russia and handed over to Turkey on condition they remained there for the duration of the war.
Putin and Erdogan — authoritarian leaders who have both been in power for more than two decades — are said to have a close rapport, fostered in the wake of a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 when Putin was the first major leader to offer his support.
The Sochi summit follows talks between the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers on Thursday, during which Russia handed over a list of actions that the West would have to take in order for Ukraine’s Black Sea exports to resume.
Erdogan has indicated sympathy with Putin’s position. In July, he said Putin had “certain expectations from Western countries” over the Black Sea deal and that it was “crucial for these countries to take action in this regard.”
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “concrete proposals” aimed at getting Russian exports to global markets and allowing the resumption of the Black Sea initiative. But Lavrov said Moscow wasn’t satisfied with the letter.
Describing Turkey’s “intense” efforts to revive the agreement, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said it was a “process that tries to better understand Russia’s position and requests, and to meet them.”
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