Ukraine Just Captured Part Of One Of Russia’s Most Capable Electronic Warfare Systems

Russia’s lost Krasukha-4 electronic warfare system command module would be a prize for foreign intelligence agencies.

byJoseph TrevithickMar 22, 2022 9:00 PM
Ukraine Just Captured Part Of One Of Russia’s Most Capable Electronic Warfare Systems
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A curious 'container' that Ukrainian troops captured today looks to actually represent a significant Russian loss and a potential intelligence goldmine. What Ukraine's forces found looks to be a containerized command post that is part of the Krasukha-4 mobile electronic warfare system. The Krasukha-4 is primarily designed to detect and jam large radars, such as those on airborne early warning and control aircraft, such as the U.S. Air Force's E-3 Sentry, and spy satellites.

Ukrainian forces reportedly found this command post container outside of the capital Kyiv. Twitter user @UAWeapons was among the first to identify it as most likely being a component of the Krasukha-4 system, which is also known by nomenclature 1RL257, based on a picture that had emerged online. A complete Krasukha-4 consists of two vehicles, both based on the 8x8 KAMAZ-6350 truck, one with the electronic warfare (EW) system and the other carrying the command post module.

A picture showing a complete Krasukha-4 system, with the truck-mounted command post 'container' seen behind the vehicle carrying the EW component, in 2017., Russian Ministry of Defense

There are no indications one way or another about what might have happened to the truck that had been carrying this container or to its companion equipped with the EW system. The photograph of the container shows it lying on its side with tree branches on top, but it's unclear if that reflects a deliberate attempt to hide it or just where it came to rest after some kind of attack or accident. There are other fallen branches and debris around it, as well. There is damage to the command post module, notably along a part of the bottom edge of the frame, and the access doors on the side that is visible are missing. That being said, it seems to be in relatively good shape, at least externally.

A close-up look of a portion of the captured Krasukha-4 command post module showing the damage to the frame, at left, and some of the debris seen on the ground, at right., via Twitter

Regardless, the loss of even one-half of a Krasukha-4 system could be significant for Russian forces from an operational perspective. Though its origins trace back to the late 1990s, this remains one of the Russian military's most capable mobile EW systems, with serial production only beginning in the early 2010s. It was developed as part of a larger project to field systems to shield Russian assets on the ground and in the air from the prying eyes of various ground-based and aerial surveillance and imaging radars, along with certain radar-equipped intelligence-gathering satellites.

Russian officials have at least claimed in the past that Krasukha-4 can spot and jam various types of radars, including surveillance radars, airborne radar imaging sensors, and active radar seekers and altimeters found in missiles. It has a stated maximum range against ground-based and aerial targets of between 150 and 300 kilometers, or around 93 to 186 miles, in any direction, depending on various environmental factors, according to the manufacturer, Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies, better known by its Russian acronym KRET. It's not entirely clear if this reflects the range at which radars can be detected, engaged, or both.

There are reports that Krasukha-4's jamming system can emit powerful enough beams of RF energy to physically damage sensitive electronic systems on certain targets. 

Positioning a Krasukha-4 in the general vicinity of Kyiv would make good sense to help make it harder for Ukrainian forces, and their international partners, to find and target Russian units in this area via radar, where fighting has been ongoing for weeks now. By its nature, the system has to have some degree of passive detection capability, which would allow it to be used in a more general surveillance role, watching for potential threats to pop up, such as a combat jet's radar or one associated with a surface-to-air missile system. Discussions about this system's capabilities generally do not frame it as being a counter-communications tool, with Russia's military fielding a variety of other EW systems for that purpose, but it would seem possible that it has some secondary capability in this regard.

The Tweet below shows a Krasukha-4 system spotted in eastern Belarus in February as part of the buildup for the invasion of Ukraine.

In addition, Krasukha-4 represents a mobile, multi-purpose system that could be moved around relatively rapidly depending on the changing situation on the ground to provide valuable EW support elsewhere in the country. These systems could potentially be placed in certain areas of Ukraine and neighboring Belarus, to try to blind various kinds of foreign manned and unmanned aircraft operating from the safety of NATO or international airspace.

Though the U.S. military has stopped flying sorites directly over Ukraine, it, along with other NATO members, has continued to monitor the situation in Ukraine from the air from adjacent areas. This has included sorties involving U.S. Air Force and NATO E-3s, as well as Air Force E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) battlefield management jets, and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones, all of which carry powerful radars, among other aircraft, as you can read more about here. These are exactly the kinds of platforms Krasukha-4 was developed to defeat.

Earlier this month, a production team from CNN was able to fly on a NATO E-3 on a mission near Poland's borders with Ukraine and Belarus. "The Russians have also taken to trying to jam the NATO plane's radar, an annoying but inevitable occurrence given how visible the giant spy plane is," that outlet reported at the time, though no details were given about the source or sources of that interference.

It is worth noting that despite Russia's substantial EW capabilities, which have been employed in Ukraine, among other countries, in the past, by every indication it has curiously used systems like Krasukha-4 only sparingly in the current conflict so far. It is possible that this is due in part to concerns about the loss or capture of these systems. 

At the same time, Russian forces have run the same risks by employing other relatively advanced weapon systems. Case in point, the war in Ukraine has exposed the fact that the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile has an integrated expendable countermeasure capability that was not previously known, at least publicly, which you can read more about here. There are indications that Russia's military may now finally be stepping up its use of EW systems, too, as evidenced by the captured Krasukha-4 command post module and the reported destruction of a R-330ZH Zhitel, a truck-mounted mobile communications jamming system.

Regardless, beyond the immediate implications of the loss of part of a Krasukha-4 system, if Ukrainian forces can safely retrieve this command post module, it could provide a substantial source of intelligence to authorities in the country and their foreign partners. Intelligence agencies in the United States and other countries in the West would undoubtedly love to get their hands on this container to see what can be gleaned from it. U.S. military officials regularly cite advanced EW systems, such as those that the Russians, as well as the Chinese, continue to develop and field as especially significant threats to American forces.

Learning more about the Krasukha-4's capabilities could help, among other things, in the development of countermeasures. The software that runs the system could be as valuable as the hardware, too, and might lead to the discovery of loopholes that could be exploited for cyber warfare purposes.

A deeper analysis of the command post's individual components, right down to things like the construction of the wiring inside, could offer other insights, including about Russia's ability to actually manufacture advanced EW systems and other electronics. Any documents or other items inside this containerized command post could provide a wealth of information on various topics.

Another view of a Krasukha-4 command post truck., Vitaly Kuzmin

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, independent Ukraine has long proven to be a valuable source of Soviet-designed hardware for the U.S. military and the U.S. Intelligence Community to pour over as part of so-called foreign materiel exploitation (FME) programs. This has included the acquisition of higher-end systems, including fighter jets and large radars, from Ukrainian sources. The U.S. government is now reportedly in the process of sending Soviet-era air defense systems from its FME stockpiles to the Ukrainian military to help bolster its ability to keep Russian forces from gaining control of the country's skies. 

Either as a direct part of that deal or through separate arrangements, it would seem possible, if not probable that the United States has already been looking to acquire various examples of more modern Russian weapons and other military equipment that have been captured in the fighting so far. This conflict is likely to produce a massive treasure trove of intelligence for the U.S. government and others, in general.

With that in mind, it's possible that the U.S. Intelligence Community, elements of which have been working very closely with their Ukrainian counterparts during the conflict so far, could be in the process of trying to acquire or otherwise gain access to this portion of the Krasukha-4 system. They may, of course, have already come across another example in the course of the conflict in Ukraine or through other, unrelated means. 

All told, Ukrainian forces capturing this outwardly unassuming metal box could have serious ramifications for the Russian military and be a major boon to its adversaries in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world, including in the United States.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com

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