Rumors of War with Russia, Part 7: The Russian Battlefield EW 'Off Switch' is Real

The USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) an Arleigh Burke class AEGIS system equipped destroyer, passing through the narrow Bosporous Straits of Istanbul, Turkey.
The USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) an Arleigh Burke class AEGIS system equipped destroyer, passing through the narrow Bosporous Straits of Istanbul, Turkey.

Back in April 2014 shortly after Russian forces bloodlessly secured Crimea's referendum on secession from Ukraine and rejoining Russia, a close encounter occurred between a Sukhoi 24 strike fighter and the destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) in international waters of the Black Sea. A Su-24 "Fencer" made multiple passes over the American warship before returning to base in Crimea. On this much all sides agree, but everything else thereafter disputed.

Russian sources claim that the 1970s designed, Eighties-built Su-24 switched on an electronic jamming pod to temporarily blind the systems of the Cook, resulting in the unnerving of several sailors and their resignations upon the ship's return to port in Romania. The U.S. Navy insists the jet made multiple low level passes near the Arleigh Burke class destroyer but at no point were the Cook or its combat systems rendered inoperable, nor did any sailors male or female resign due to emotional distress over the incident. From France's

ABC News graphic from another incident involving a Su24 and a US warship in the Black Sea, this one an encounter between the USS Ross and an unarmed Russian Su-24 in 2015.
ABC News graphic from another incident involving a Su24 and a US warship in the Black Sea, this one an encounter between the USS Ross and an unarmed Russian Su-24 in 2015.

On 10 April 2014, the USS Donald Cook entered the waters of the Black Sea and on 12 April a Russian Su-24 tactical bomber flew over the vessel triggering an incident that, according to several media reports, completely demoralized its crew, so much so that the Pentagon issued a protest...

...the Russian Su-24 that buzzed the USS Donald Cook carried neither bombs nor missiles but only a basket mounted under the fuselage, which, according to the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta [2], contained a Russian electronic warfare device called Khibiny.

As the Russian jet approached the US vessel, the electronic device disabled all radars, control circuits, systems, information transmission, etc. on board the US destroyer. In other words, the all-powerful Aegis system, now hooked up - or about to be - with the defense systems installed on NATO’s most modern ships was shut down, as turning off the TV set with the remote control.

The Russian Su-24 then simulated a missile attack against the USS Donald Cook, which was left literally deaf and blind. As if carrying out a training exercise, the Russian aircraft - unarmed - repeated the same maneuver 12 times before flying away.

After that, the 4th generation destroyer immediately set sail towards a port in Romania.

The USS Donald Cook 'Sea Story' Was Just Russian Propaganda BS -- or Was It?

At the time, I dismissed "the Donald Cook got blinded by a jamming pod" claims as Russian bravado if not outright 'sea stories' Bravo Sierra. My White Russian Floridian friend The Saker, who worked with the Swiss military during the Balkan wars of the 1990s  and knows a thing or two about radars and avionics, was also dismissive of the story.

The Russia Analyst still doesn't believe the Cook 'sea story' was entirely true, but I am starting to ask whether some aspects of it could have been based in reality. While a jamming pod on an old Su-24 blinding the intensely powerful radars of an ultra-modern AEGIS ship would appear to defy the laws of physics, it would be just like the Russians to engage in deception through open sources about a pod on a jet disabling the systems of a U.S. warship when the actual jamming came from top secret land-based systems ashore in Crimea. Including powerful mobile truck mounted electronic warfare systems of the type that Russia has boasted of in recent months, and which U.S. sources now confirm have been deployed against a far less sophisticated and well-funded adversary -- the Ukrainian Army.

Guerrilla Radio listeners and readers may recall that earlier this year, V did a show with RM contributor Ken Shortgen Jr., in which the economic silverback cited an article we sent him from the Ft. Russ blog. This article translated from the anti-Maidan (pro-Russian) Kharkov website purported to be an interview with a high ranking Russian officer under the pseudonym 'XYZ'. This Russian officer described what would happen to the Ukrainian Army if it actually faced the cutting edge of Russia's modern military power, rather than Moscow's proxy 'foreign legion' of the Novorossiya Armed Forces (NAF), who've relied on 1970s and 80s vintage Soviet hardware to inflict humiliating defeats on Kiev's troops.

The Guerrilla read this extended excerpt on the air during the first hour of the February 13, 2015 program:

"According to our Ukrainian partners, commenting on the latest ATO news, and referring to the "intercepted data from reports of the Russian army", today another division of the Russian army was destroyed near Lugansk... ------ I want to briefly explain to the Ukrainian colleagues, what is the modern Russian army, and what would happen, if it would come to visit them in reality, and not in their wet dreams.

Firstly, today we use digital radio communication with local encryption. You can intercept it, but you cannot decipher it. The code changes in 50 minutes, an hour, an hour and twenty-two minutes - on arbitrary unpredictable schedule. Ukrainian military and the armed forces of Novorossiya are using an old analog model, which you can listen to. And the Russian army now has communications which was previously only on secure communication lines, - you can only hear the crackling and a characteristic murmur.

Secondly, if the Russian army appears in front of UAF [Ukrainian Armed Forces - JWS], it will be easy to determine.

The first sign - failure of all means of communication, full discharging of batteries in vehicles, tanks and other equipment, at the same time, discharge of batteries in mobile phones, the targets, and radio stations. Then, there is a rapture of electric circuits throughout all the equipment - all of it. This is EMP. All engines stall, no way to restart. This is how the system "X" works (in order to protect the author we do not specify the name), with a range of up to 20 km.

Second - complete failure of all systems using LCD monitors, the failure of all target-locating devices of the air defense system. This is how the complex "Altair" works (this is a known complex in the world, we can name it). [So much for the Ukrainian S-300s in Odessa oblast tasked with shooting down Russian airlifters into Transnistria, if Moscow decides to take them out even non-'kinetically' - JWS]

Third - a failure to deploy any kinds of guided missile weapons - from MANPADS to PTURS [anti-tank guided reactive missile]. Upon launching, the ammunition liquidates itself. [This sounds far fetched, but remember that without their electronic 'brains' the chips inside if these circuits are fried by an EMP, guided missiles won't fire - and any battlefield 'SkyNet' system of the type DARPA views as the 'killer app' that the Pentagon could be testing in Operation Jade Helm won't be able to communicate with drones or weapons- JWS]

This is a  battalion complex "Z" - on the basis of MTLB [multi-target light armored transporter]. Range - 15 kilometers.

Fourth - it is impossible to use a drone and low-flying aircraft. Their on board electronics will fail. This is system "Y". Then there is a complex "Avtobaza", which can forcibly land a drone. [Not only Russia, but Russian allies China and the Islamic Republic of Iran may have already tested such a system -- remember the stealthy U.S. drone the Iranians crash landed intact enough to 'reverse engineer'? - JWS]

What will happen next? Dozens (hundreds, if necessary) of the latest combat helicopters, flying over all the roads, start hunting for single armored vehicles, trains, cars. Railroad is paralyzed, bridges blown up. The  lights go out on the home front - electric stations are out of service. Civil and military headquarters on the home front and separate leaders simultaneously are liquidated by the recon-subversive groups. [aka spetsnaz - JWS]

This is roughly how the Russian army would conduct military operations today. Therefore, the wet dreams about the "hero-cyborgs", spitting flame on hundreds of Russian tanks, are better left to science fiction writers."

Susan Duclos post from March 2015, "Is Russia Testing a New Type of [EMP] Weapon?"

A Russian humor video about the Kremlin's 'secret weapons' being tested inside the Yanitou Mountain nuclear war doomsday bunkers

Russia's new "Krasukha" EW system at a defense industry trade show in 2014. Photo by: Said Aminov
Russia's new "Krasukha" EW system at a defense industry trade show in 2014. Photo by: Said Aminov


Sequester Fighting Hyperbole by the U.S. Army, or Genuine Alarm Over Falling Behind Russia's Electronic Warfare Capability?

On August 4, 2015 the publication Defense News published an article titled, "Electronic Warfare: What the U.S. Army Can Learn from Ukraine" in which Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges was interviewed.:

"Our soldiers are doing the training with the Ukrainians and we've learned a lot from the Ukrainians," said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. "A third of the [Ukrainian] soldiers have served in the ... combat zone, and no Americans have been under Russian artillery or rocket fire [this article assumes Lt. Gen. Hodges is telling the truth that there are no U.S. troops, mercenaries or 'volunteers' embedded with the Ukrainian forces in the Donbass, a claim the Russia Analyst would dispute based on this and this - JWS], or significant Russian electronic warfare, jamming or collecting — and these Ukrainians have. It's interesting to hear what they have learned."

Hodges acknowledged that US troops are learning from Ukrainians about Russia's jamming capability, its ranges, types and the ways it has been employed. He has previously described the quality and sophistication of Russian electronic warfare as "eye-watering."

Russia maintains an ability to destroy command-and-control networks by jamming radio communications, radars and GPS signals, according to Laurie Buckhout, former chief of the US Army's electronic warfare division, now CEO of the Corvus Group. In contrast with the US, Russia has large units dedicated to electronic warfare, known as EW, which it dedicates to ground electronic attack, jamming communications, radar and command-and-control nets.

Though Ukrainian troops lack the materiel to protect themselves from this form of attack, the Ukrainian military's institutional knowledge as a former Soviet republic will help it understand how Russia fights, and its troops will have trained to operate while being jammed, Buckhout said. That's something US ground forces can learn.
A symbol of Russian defense modernization: the first post-Soviet from scratch designed tank, the T-14 Armata.
A symbol of Russian defense modernization: the first post-Soviet from scratch designed tank, the T-14 Armata.
Although Western journos like to sneer at the problems of Russia's military industrial complex, including the scrambling to replace gas turbines which once came from soon to be defunct Ukrainian defense plants built in Soviet times, it's worth reflecting on which side gets more bang for the buck.
Although Western journos like to sneer at the problems of Russia's military industrial complex, including the scrambling to replace gas turbines which once came from soon to be defunct Ukrainian defense plants built in Soviet times, it's worth reflecting on which side gets more bang for the buck.

The Russian Iskander-M SS-26 "Stone" -- a weapon the U.S./NATO have no deployed answer to now road-mobile in Russia's Kaliningrad region

The Defense News article goes on to make a surprisingly frank admission -- Russia (and reading between the lines, soon Russian ally China) has the United States military outclassed for now when it comes to electronic warfare on land. After two decades of fighting low tech or weak enemies like the Iraqis, Serbs and Libyans, the Pentagon is admitting to the world that it's not ready for a heavyweight fight with a peer level, sophisticated adversary:

"Our biggest problem is we have not fought in a comms-degraded environment for decades, so we don't know how to do it," Buckhout said. "We lack not only tactics, techniques and procedures but the training to fight in a comms-degraded environment."

It's not hard to see why EW is an attractive option for Russia while the eyes of the world are on it. Not only is it highly effective, but as a non-kinetic form of attack, it is harder to trace and less likely to be viewed as overt aggression, and as such, less likely to incite the ire of the international community, Buckhout said.

In a fight, Russia's forces can hinder a target's ability to respond to, say, an artillery attack, allowing them to fire on an enemy with impunity. Ukrainian forces would be unable to coordinate a defense against incoming rockets and missiles, or release counter battery fire.  [Defense News does not say here but an example of this was the Russians total rout of the Ukrainian 30th brigade near their border and the WWII memorial Saur Mogila site last July using cross border artillery and rocket fire -- JWS]

"If your radars don't see incoming fire, you can't coordinate counterfire," Buckhout said.

The US, Buckhout said, lacks a significant electronic attack capability.

"We have great signals intelligence, and we can listen all day long, but we can't shut them down one-tenth to the degree they can us," she said. "We are very unprotected from their attacks on our network."

....... The Army's electronic warfare cadre, which totals 813 officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers,  has wielded more theory than hardware, except when deployed. In garrison, it was common for these troops to be assigned other jobs, leading to the joke that EW stands for "extra worker" — though this is changing as the Army ramps up its electronic warfare materiel strategy, Griffin said.

While the Army struggles to define its post Iraq, post-Afghanistan mission and issues a new defense doctrine identifying Russia as a major threat, the service has the lowest number of soldiers since WWII.
While the Army struggles to define its post Iraq, post-Afghanistan mission and issues a new defense doctrine identifying Russia as a major threat, the service has the lowest number of soldiers since WWII.

Addressing whether this sudden respect for aspects of Russian warfare capabilities is motivated by battlefield observation or the need for the Army to compete with the nuclear-equipped Air Force and Navy in a zero sum budget sequestration game, Joaquin Flores of the Center for Syncretic Studies in Belgrade, Serbia had this to say:

While reinforcing the western narrative of intimate Russian involvement, it also talks about a technology gap that the US seems to be suffering in the area of jamming. This may or may not be true: during the Cold War the US often would inflate Russian military prowess in order to justify its own increased expenditures [remember what in hindsight turned out to be the non-existent 'missile gap' during the 1960 presidential election? -JWS].

These resulted in windfall profits for the military industrial complex.

At the same time, the claim in itself seems possibly true.  The US has not had to focus on developing these technologies, as it had specifically targeted countries that were technologically deficient.  Now that the US is against a more formidable opponent, whether directly or through proxies, it seems to make sense that its own short-comings would be pronounced more now than at any point in the recent past.


Ukrainian TV propaganda satirized by Russians and dubbed into English by The Saker blog collaborator Tatzhit Mihailovich Will the Hawks' Heroic Fantasies Trump Military and Economic Realities in Ukraine?

To what Joaquin wrote, we would add an additional important point. If the U.S. Army admits it would have a hard time taking on modern Russian forces equipped with the electronic warfare suite Moscow has been testing through its Novorossiya proxies, then one has to question either the competency or sanity of 'expert' Kiev supporters like A.H. Bonenberger or John R. Schindler who insist Ukraine can replicate the Clinton Administration sponsored Croatian 'Operation Storm' Balkan ethnic cleansing offensive of 1995 in the Donbass -- even with several years of training and re-equipping by the Americans.

Economically collapsing, post-Maidan Ukraine as a bastion of 'Enlightenment' values and Russia as the aggressor in Syria

As Schindler admits, Russia is not Serbia and the ragtag, demoralized Krajina Serbs of that year are not the pro-Russian Donbass forces. What Schindler won't say and what we will is that the mercenary retired U.S. generals advising the Croats in 1995 on how to most efficiently kill Serbs for money didn't have to worry about getting sniped by the enemy's spetsnaz operating behind Croat lines or incinerated in a long range rocket or air strike. But dogmatism and make no mistake, a thirst for vengeance over the perceived humiliation of America rather than Kiev in the loss of Crimea stings these deluded Americans. They identify with Ukrainian soldiers who have to maintain a certain bravado or pride even in defeat. Just as many Wehrmacht veterans, even in old age, declared after WWII that if not for their sacrifices outside Moscow, or Kursk, the Red Army would've marched to the English Channel or beyond, these otherwise decent men I probably wouldn't mind having a beer with tell themselves 'noble lies' like, "For each Ukrainian soldier that gets killed, we kill 150 of theirs" or "If the Russian side behaved like a real army, they would’ve defeated us a long time ago. They’re just worst fighters than us." [which in fairness, the interviewer didn't let slide, mentioning Kiev's defeats at Donetsk Airport and Debaltsevo - JWS] "I don’t understand why the Russians even want to fight in Ukraine if some villages 10 kilometers from Moscow don’t have electricity or other basic services[we've spent plenty of time in the Russian countryside all around Moscow, and this is a lie - JWS]. Russia has gas, oil — all these resources — and yet people are so poor." [According to this chart, average wage in Ukraine is now nearly three times lower than the average Russian salary. There are now over a million males of military age from Ukraine working in the 'aggressor' Russian Federation - JWS].

"Ukraine is Europe!" versus the reality of European and Russian incomes versus Ukrainian wages
"Ukraine is Europe!" versus the reality of European and Russian incomes versus Ukrainian wages

As Long as Russia Stays on Defense and Only Poised to Counterattack, Without Getting Sucked into Occupying Ukraine, the Empire Loses

The only rational conclusion from the admissions above is that organizing a successful Ukrainian attack to take Donetsk, Lugansk, or Transnistria that won't result in unacceptably high casualties, a direct and crushing Russian counterattack, or the deaths of U.S. or NATO advisers who weren't supposed to 'be there' alongside Ukrainian troops is mission impossible -- at least for many more years. This is before we bring up the fact that Kiev is dead broke and about to default on its debts to Russia and private creditors, meaning American and NATO country taxpayers would have to foot the bill for any Ukrainian rearmament program. Plus the American taxpayer through the strange giraffe-necked woman Christine Lagarde-led International Monetary Fund will be paying to keep the coal and gas flowing to and the lights on across Ukraine as well.

This is the 'reality check' briefing that the next President of the United States, if he is a Republican like Scott Walker or Jeb Bush who has vowed to 'get tough on Putin', will receive from any responsible set of Joint Chiefs. As my friend The Saker summarizes in his recent article for The Unz Review:

The Russians have no fear of the military threat posed by NATO. Their reaction to the latest NATO moves (new bases and personnel in Central Europe, more spending, etc.) is to denounce it as provocative, but Russian officials all insist that Russia can handle the military threat. As one Russian deputy said “5 rapid reaction diversionary groups is a problem we can solve with one missile”. A simplistic but basically correct formula [to which we would only add it would take not one but many conventional missiles, but Russia is poised to arm its Kaliningrad exclave in the Baltics and Western Military district bases in Pskov oblast to the teeth with hypersonic, Glonass-guided Iskander missiles that would destroy all U.S./NATO arms depots and bases in those small countries within minutes -- JWS] .

As I mentioned before, the decision to double the size of the Russian Airborne Forces and to upgrade the elite 45th Special Designation Airborne Regiment to full brigade-size has already been taken anyway. You could say that Russia preempted the creation of the 10’000 strong NATO force by bringing her own mobile (airborne) forces from 36’000 to 72’000. This is typical Putin. While NATO announces with fanfare and fireworks that NATO will create a special rapid reaction “spearhead” force of 10’000, Putin quietly doubles the size of the Russian Airborne Forces to 72’000. And, believe me, the battle hardened Russian Airborne Forces are a vastly more capable fighting force [at least if the fight is in Ukraine, the Baltics or Moldova/Transnistria - JWS] then the hedonistic and demotivated multi-national (28 countries) Euroforce of 5’000 NATO is struggling hard to put together. The US commanders fully understand that... .............. The reality is that being on the defense gives Russia a huge advantage against the USA even if we only consider conventional weapons. Even if the conflict happened in the Ukraine or the Baltic states, geographic proximity would give Russia a decisive advantage over any conceivable US/NATO attack. American commanders all understand that very well even if they pretend otherwise.

Conversely, a Russian attack on the USA or NATO is just as unlikely, and for the same reasons. Russia cannot project her power very far from her borders. In fact, if you look at the way the Russian military is organized, structured and trained, you will immediately see that it is a force designed primarily to defeat an enemy on the Russian border or within less than 1000km from it. Yes, sure, you will see Russian bombers, surface ships and submarines reaching much further, but these are also typical “showing the flag” missions, not combat training for actual military scenarios.

Russia Remains Capable of Blocking Assad's Removal by Proxy and Making the Cost of Direct U.S. Intervention in Syria Unacceptably High -- and the Russians Are Annoyed, NOT Impressed or Intimidated by NATO's Deployments to their Borders

The deployment of the Russian electronic warfare systems that have been used in Donbass to Syria, along with a significant number of Russian and Iranian advisers to the Syrians and Hezbollah, would be enough to spell 'game over' for any Washington plan to use Turkey's army as cannon fodder to topple Assad. As we indicated in a previous column, "Grandmaster Disaster: The Only Way the Turk Wins the Chessmatch is Not to Play the Empire's Strange Game", Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would have to be either crazy or blackmailed over his ISIS ties to send the Turkish Army into northern Syria in force.

The Russia Analyst reached the conclusion that Moscow enjoys 'escalation dominance' (a euphemism for Russian, but not NATO's, soldiers being willing to bleed in Donbass) last winter, before reading this latest confirmation that the Russian military is 'back' and has a few high cards up its sleeves. None of this is to say that the Russians are ten feet tall, or that they have any intentions of marching to the Rhine, much less invading Alaska or Colorado Red Dawn style as Dave Hodges likes to say. Rather our point is this: so long as the fight is close rather than far from Russia's borders, the Russians are not going to be beaten or bullied into backing down.

If -- God forbid -- a conventional fight does break out between NATO and Russian forces in Ukraine or in the Baltics within the next decade (about the longest period we expect the dollar to hold up before the U.S. starts dismantling its bases in Europe as unaffordable and bringing the troops home), the side that would use tactical nuclear weapons first won't be the Russians, but the Americans, to stop a humiliating rout and to force a negotiated peace as an alternative to Armageddon. No sane U.S. leader should want to go to war with the Russians, and the 'Bear baiting' Washington has been engaged in from Syria to eastern Ukraine in recent years is a very dangerous game, one that could blow up in the Empire of Chaos' face.

Even with the game remaining at the level of proxy war, Ukraine and Syria have shown that even losing proxy wars in humiliating fashion can accelerate the death of the petrodollar. It remains to be seen if the next President of the United States will recognize a losing hand and try to make the best of the situation through superpower diplomacy, ala Richard Nixon, or double down as a fake Reagan and push the world to the brink.

"War is a Racket" speech written by one of the most decorated Marines of all time, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler