The importance of radio electronic warfare weapons (REW) is really tremendous in the contemporary air warfare. The radar stations (RS) form a core of any air defense system (ADS) being its “eyes and ears”. Particularly, the RS detect targets, track them for guidance of anti-aircraft missiles, etc.
By Pavel Rumyantsev
The task of aviation REW weapons consists in blinding the enemy’s radars for certain periods of time depriving him of the possibility to fulfill set tasks. It brings about the reduction of ADS efficiency and sometimes even impossibility of fulfilling tasks of countering the air strikes.
The following fact speaks volumes about the importance of aviation REW weapons and the carriers thereof: it was assigned to the Soviet anti-aircraft gunners, according to the so-called “Rules of firing for anti-aircraft and missile troops”, to kill, first of all, the REW planes; a priority of killing them was even higher than for the nuclear weapons carrier planes.
REW weapons is the heel of Achilles of the Soviet aviation
Despite the fact that the Soviet Union possessed the best in the world air defense system, the capabilities of the Soviet aviation in overcoming the ADS of the potential enemy have been significantly inferior to the capabilities of NATO aviation, and the capabilities of the Soviet REW planes have been significantly inferior to the American ones, with a few exceptions. The tactical REW aircraft Yak-28PP available in 1980s (built as far back as 1960s) have been provided with the outdated suspended REW stations “Fasol” and “Bouket” only that were not able to perform effective suppression of the up-to-date radars using different methods of electronic protective measures, such as pulse-to-pulse frequency agility according to random law. Actually, the Soviet aviation has not possessed the REW stations capable of providing a somewhat effective collective protection of the aircraft. By the end of 1980s all REW planes available with the Soviet AF have become outdated morally and physically and were removed from the inventory immediately after disintegration of the Soviet Union, while the new REW plane Su-24МP that was built by the mid-1980s on the basis of reconnaissance plane Su-24МR entered service in singular quantities only. At the beginning of 1990s the Russian aviation has been left without effective REW weapons while the works on building new systems have been condemned to oblivion for many long years.
Besides, quite a wide range of heavy REW planes has been built in the Soviet Union based on transportation planes and long-range bomber aircraft An-12PP, Tu-16PP, Tu-22PP, etc. The dimensions of these aircraft have allowed for installation of tremendous-power jamming generators inside, which helped completely blind even a heterogeneous grouping of RS and anti-aircraft missile system (AAMS) by barrage jamming of very high power staying at that far behind the lines. Unfortunately, a greater part of these planes has been written off after disintegration of the USSR due to different reasons, while the remaining planes need modernization.
Trial of Russian REW systems by fire
In August 2008 in the course of war in South Ossetia the Russian aviation faced a quite powerful and organized ADS system of Georgia possessing the up-to-date ADS facilities, in particular, air defense missile systems (AAMS) “Buk-М1” and RS 36D6 (attached to the squad of AAMS S-300PS in case of autonomous operation). The Russian aviation performed flights in the first two days of war without individual protection REW containers, and was not able to carry out ADS suppression measures and measures for securing groups of strike planes promptly, which brought about losses; the gravest loss was the death of the long-range bomber aircraft Tu-22М3. By the third day of war the Russian aviation has succeeded to begin measures on radio electronic suppression of the ADS capabilities of Georgia due to moving REW helicopters Mi-8PP to the zone of conflict as well as using heavy REW airplanes Аn-12PP and the latest for the moment Su-34 bombers equipped with the suspended jamming stations “Khibiny” being under tests at that time. All these factors helped disorganize the ADS system of Georgia within a few hours, and actually destroyed it a bit later by killing radar 36D6 and powerful radar of Tbilisi airport integrated into a common ADS system of Georgia with anti-radar missiles, as well by striking the command control center of Georgian ADS. The AAMS “Buk-М1” was unable to perform its tasks under conditions of heavy radio interference and stopped operating, later it was abandoned by the retreating Georgian troops and seized by the advancing Russian troops.
In spite of the active re-equipment of the Russian Aerospace Forces that has started at the beginning of the current decade, the massive arrival of new airplanes and modernization of machines already available in the combatant forces, the Russian aviation suffered of two big heels of Achilles restricting its capabilities significantly: insufficient quantity of up-to-date prototypes of missile weaponry as well as a frustrating situation with availability of up-to-date aviation REW weapons. In order to rectify these drawbacks, huge efforts had been exerted, which began giving results in the recent years.
Khibiny is a reliable weapon
The new jamming support system “Khibiny” was introduced into service on March 18, 2014. The system consists of two radio electronic warfare containers located at the tips of plane wings. This system is intended for providing individual protection of the carrier plane by reducing the range of the enemy’s radar acquisition as well as for imitative jamming, which hinder picking targets on the background of false marks, hinder determining target parameters (range, speed, direction, etc), as well as hinder targets tracking. The system is based on the up-to-date hardware components and is capable of jamming all the existing types of RS and AAMS. The use of “Khibiny” helps reduce probability of hitting airplane several times, moreover, its cost equals 5–7% of the airplane cost only. The mass production of the system has begun for the new Russian airplanes immediately after passing into service. It is used to equip Su-34 and updated Su-24М2 bombers, Su-35, Su-30SМ and Su-30М2 fighters. The operation in Syria has clearly demonstrated that the present-day Russian aviation is sufficiently equipped with the means of jamming support: all Su-34 bombers as well as Su-30SМ and Su-35 fighters, which performed mission sorties have been equipped with “Khibiny”.
Unfortunately, the baseline variant of the system cannot effect a collective protection of aircraft (by the way, in the course of war in South Ossetia, this system succeeded to partially implement these functions). However, information appeared in 2015 about emergence of the new REW containers of collective protection now for Su-34 bombers. No exact characteristics of the system are still available, however, it is known that it is located under the plane fuselage, and most probably is an extended version of “Khibiny” system. No later than the nearest future this will help convert Su-34, if necessary, in a matter of minutes, into a full-scale REW airplane capable of reliable securing the whole group of airplanes from acquisition.
Apart from building suspended REW containers significant efforts have been undertaken for renovation of the existing grouping of heavy REW airplanes as well as REW helicopters. So, for instance, a contract was signed in 2013 for the delivery of 22 leading-edge REW helicopters Mi-8МТPR-1 equipped with “Rychag-АV” system. This system can perform the most intensive jamming and blind the entire grouping of the enemy’s AAMS within a radius of several hundred kilometers. Presently, at least 5 helicopters have been transferred to the combatant forces.
The specialized REW airplane Il-22PP “Porubshchik” has been built on the basis of Il-22 airplane. The main task of this plane is to jam all the facilities of enemy’s communication. When loitering far behind the lines this airplane is capable of blinding the airplanes of airborne early warning, radio technical facilities, long-range AAMS (in particular, American “Patriot”), UAVs control channels as well as suppress communication lines of the ground forces. It is difficult to overestimate the impact of such a REW system on the network-centric control systems of the modern armies, which are strongly dependable upon stability of a big number of communication channels. Presently a couple of Il-22 airplanes have undergone updating to this version.
The Russian armed forces have demonstrated a tremendous “leap” in two recent years in building and application of the radio electronic warfare weapons. It became possible to bridge a gap of more than 20 years between Russia and NATO in the field of REW weapons to a great extent over a couple of years. The massive emergence of the cutting-edge REW weapons both in the ground forces and in the Russian Aerospace Forces makes it possible to state with confidence that the present-day Russian Armed Forces have in fact reached the world level and are capable of fighting the most advanced enemy.