A report by the British thinktank Royal United Services Institute assures that Ukraine is losing about 10,000 drones every month by Russian electronic warfare systems. This facet of the combat between the armies of Ukraine and Russia is proving a “critical” component in the tactics that Moscow follows.
According to the report “Meat grinder: Russian tactics in the second year of the invasion in Ukraine”, Russia already had a high number of electronic warfare systems in Donbas in 2022, but currently their number is much higher and has spread throughout the front line, along its 1,200 kilometers. These EW systems (Electric Warfare or Electronic Warfare) are capable of intercepting Ukrainian drones by interfering with their frequencies to send them andn a different direction than your target or “kidnap” them.
The Russian Army “now employs approximately one major EW system for every 10 km of frontage, generally located about 7 km from it. These platforms are generally intended for control and defeat the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones)… The Russian Army also continues to make extensive use of battle area navigation jamming as a form of electronic protection. This is contributing to a Ukrainian UAV loss rate of approximately 10,000 per month.”, collects the report.
The striking figure of 10,000 drones intercepted per month, more than 300 per day, comes from three Ukrainian officers interviewed by the report’s authors in April and May. One of them, Dr. jack watlinghas explained on Twitter that the figure is approximate.
“How confident am I in the number 10,000 per month? As an exact number, I do not have it. The actual total varies month to month and day to day and is not closely tracked. But the consumption is definitely very high. So if the figure is not exact, any number that round is suspect, why use it? First, because is the number we got from the General Staff of Ukraine and from the party that has the best data. Secondly, putting a number on consumption is important to highlight the relevance of this policy”, Watling pointed out.
Assumable losses for Ukraine
Despite the high number, they are more than acceptable losses for Ukraine from a cost/benefit point of view. Most of these drones are relatively cheap, many of them being drones for commercial use from the manufacturer DJI with an average cost of $1,000, which means losses for Ukraine of 10 million a month. In any case, the costs of losing commercial equipment are much lower than those of military equipment. By comparison, the Su-34 bomber that Ukraine shot down last week cost Russia $40 million.
When a DJI drone is intercepted by EW systems it can behave in various ways. According to Forbes, if you lose contact with your operator as a result of interference, you will try to return to the last location from where contact was made. If you can’t reset it, it has a Return Home feature that sends you back to launch point automatically. And if your GPS navigation system is interfered with so that you cannot orient yourself, it will land in the area it is in. Some drones can be recovered by Ukrainian forces, but most fall into enemy territory. According to RUSI, Russia has implemented EW capabilities in each platoon.
Interception of communications and simulation of fake drones through electronic warfare
The report also notes that Russia’s EW systems are showing “highly capable” at intercepting and decrypting Ukrainian communications.
“Ukrainian officers recalled an incident in which the Russian headquarters gave a preemptive warning to its units of an artillery attack based on a call to Ukrainian troops for a combat mission. Ukrainian troops communicated with Motorola radios with 256-bit encryption, but it appeared that the Russians could capture and decrypt these transmissions in near real time.”, relates the document. This interception would be carried out with equipment Torn-MDM that can penetrate up to 10 kilometers beyond the fighting front.
Another facet of electronic warfare that Russia is employing is the tactics that generate a large number of fake drones in enemy systems. “While the Russian military has not yet widely exploited the creation of large numbers of false targets, has the ability to do so and these actions are becoming more frequent”, the report states.