Russian army gets “elite drone hunters”

The radar jammer can disrupt enemy communications, preventing ground control stations from piloting their drones via satellite.

The Russian army has just created a land unit specializing in the fight against enemy drones. The unit – the first of its kind in Russia – uses a radar signal jammer system that, in theory, can cut radio connections between unmanned aerial vehicles and their operators.

According to official Kremlin communications, Russian jammers have managed to force drones to land in the past. But that does not mean that the fleets of military drones around the world are at risk, undermining the intelligence, surveillance and deterrence strategies of our armies.

The anti-drone unit will be formed in Kursk, western Russia, announced the Kremlin on October 28: “The unit will be composed of subcontractors, sergeants and specialized officers in the fight against UAVs. ”

“This will be the special forces of electronic warfare,” said Col. Alexander Vostrikov, commander of the unit, in the statement.

The photo accompanying the announcement of the Kremlin shows a Krasukha jammer, a powerful radio transmitter mounted on a heavy truck. Russia has deployed Krasukha systems in Syria to form an electronic shield around Russian and allied forces. The radar jammer can disrupt enemy communications, preventing ground control stations from piloting their drones via satellite.

Iran acquired the former jammers Avtobaza from Russia. An Iranian, Avtobaza, allegedly played a central role in Tehran’s carefully coordinated efforts to shoot down a US Air Force RQ-170 stealth drone on the Iran-Afghanistan border in December 2011.

The Iranian troops used their Avtobaza to disrupt the radio signal between the US satellites and the RQ-170, then sent their own commands to the drone, ordering it to land, according to Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the chief of the air branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in 2011. Tehran quickly disassembled and copied the anti-radar drone.

The extremely long and complex techniques used by the Iranians to control the RQ-170 should comfort the drone operators: it is not every day that one of their aircraft is seized by the enemy. It took Tehran’s troops four years to learn how to track the RQ-170 and predict its movements along the border.

For a radio jammer to work, it must be close enough to the signal that his team wants to disrupt. The Avtobaza, on the other hand, can detect targets within 150 km, according to Air Power Australia, an independent think tank specializing in military electronic systems. The interference requires more power than the detection: the distance to which the Avtobaza can disturb a drone is necessarily less than 150 km.

It is for this reason that the Russian jammers and the new “special forces” anti-drones that operate do not necessarily pose an existential risk to the drones of other armies. Russian drone hunters could find it hard to find targets. “It seems very difficult to achieve unless you know where the target will be, and when,” says a former developer of US drones on condition of anonymity.

The Kremlin seems to be aware of these difficulties, and insists on the specificity of the training of its new unit. “The military training of this unit will be much longer than the conventional units,” Vostrikov said.