12 min read
Part V: Special Enhancements to the Russian Way of War

Special Enhancements to the Russian Way of War 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Procurement in UAV systems has largely focused on acquiring ISR capabilities rather than developing autonomous strike platforms. The 2014 war in Donbas highlighted how useful UAV-based ISR could be in achieving effective artillery fires. This led to the development of Orlan-10, a category 2 drone that weighs approximately 40 lbs and has a 10-foot wingspan. Orlan-10 was quickly brought into a series of limited production runs as it underwent iterative development while being fielded in Donbas and Syria. It was first integrated with the Msta-SM self-propelled howitzer to detect targets and transmit coordinates. Russian planners envision equipping all artillery brigades and regiments with a compliment of Orlan-10 and it is increasingly becoming an integral part of the Battalion Tactical Group kill chain.[1]

Over 1,500 Orlan-10 drones have since been built in various prototypes and limited production runs. Orlan-10 has a flight time that can exceed 15 hours, so in addition to providing targeting data for fire support elements, BTGs use Orlan-10 to establish persistent surveillance in their respective areas of operation (AOs). Orlan-10 also features a 13-lbs payload, allowing some versions to be equipped with EW capabilities or high-explosive fragmentation grenades. Orlan-10 is most often fielded in groups of three: one drone to fly at lower altitudes (3,000-5,000 feet) in a reconnaissance role, one drone to fly in an EW role, and one drone to serve as a data relay to headquarters. Orlan-10 is an important innovation that enhances the Russian kill chain for artillery fires and close air support, and Russia’s ability to produce and field the Orlan-10 in sufficient numbers will have dramatic consequences for future conflicts.

The Zapad 2021 exercises also debuted the Forpost targeting UAV and Inokhodets strike UAV (also termed Orion). These platforms communicate through the Strelets intelligence management and communications complex. Forpost receives instructions from ground targeting officers and then relays target locations to both the command post and the Inokhodets strike UAV. The Inokhodets then delivers guided missiles onto the designated targets. Inokhodets can carry a payload of approximately 440 lbs and has an effective range of 150 miles. MoD has signed a contract with the developer Kronshtadt for 5 “combat groups” of Inokhodets, each of which consist of 6-9 drones. Delivery is scheduled for 2023. Though a far cry from American Reaper drones, Inokhodets represents a quantum leap forward in Russian close air support, providing they can be produced in meaningful numbers. 

Advanced Anti-Aircraft/Area Denial (A2/AD) Systems

Russia has maintained the Soviet doctrine of mitigating NATO air supremacy through advanced air defense systems and surface-to-air missiles. The Soviet-era S-300 family of missile systems went through a series of modernization efforts in GPV 2020 and remains a popular for export. 

The S-300V4 is designed to defeat short and medium range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, precision guided munitions, and fixed-wing aircraft. Improvements over Soviet-era S-300 systems include new passively scanned electronic array radars with advanced data processing capabilities, inertial guidance with radio-command mid-course update, semi-active radar homing in the terminal phase, and focused detonation of the missile/warhead. The S-300V4 is based on the 9M82M missile, which can be fired vertically from a mobile launcher and has a range of approximately 200 miles. 

The S-350 Vityaz A2/AD system offers a layered, cost-effective improvement over the base S-300 system. S-350 launchers include 9M96 guided missiles with a range of 7.5-75 miles (also included in the S-400 system) and 9M100 guided missiles with a range of up to 9.3 miles. At the heart of the S-350 is a powerful 50N6A passively scanned electronic array radar station, which offers 360-degree scanning for early detection, target illumination, and missile guidance. The 50N6A is rumored to have a longer reach than even the S-400’s 91N6E radar. The brain of the S-350 is the 50K6A command post, which both allows the mobile A2/AD system to operate autonomously and as a part of an integrated air defense network with other remote launchers. The S-350 is deployed with between one and eight 50P6 launchers, each of which are equipped with 12 missiles. While the medium range S-300V4 and S-350E Vityaz will replace more antiquated members of the S-300 family, the advanced S-400 Triumf system is the priority system in production. The S-400 consists of four missiles that cover all necessary ranges: 

  • 40N6 (250 miles)
  • 48N6 (160 miles)
  • 9M96E2 (75 miles)
  • 9M96E (25 miles) 

S-400 uses the 91N6E panoramic radar detection system, which the Russians claim can detect targets from as far as 370 miles away. The 91N6E is coupled with the 96L6 high altitude detection radar to ensure total coverage and high probability of threat detection and tracking, even for stealth targets. The radar suite is capable of tracking over 100 independent targets. The S-400 uses the 5P85TE2 self-propelled missile launcher or 5P85SE2 trailer launcher (each of which contains 12 missiles). S-400 is operated at the battalion level, with one battalion managing up to 8 launchers, but several battalions can link together as one operational “system”. The 55K6E control center can manage up to 72 launchers. 

The S-400 system is designed to protect Russian forces from strategic bombers, electronic warfare aircraft, reconnaissance and early warning aircraft, jet fighters, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. The Kremlin’s prioritization of developing, producing, and deploying S-400 also underlines the importance of mitigating threats posed by sophisticated Western Air Forces in Russian doctrine. S-400 forces the fight onto the ground where Russia is traditionally much more confident in its warfighting capabilities.  GPV 2020 funded final development, procurement, and deployment of the S-400 with the ambitious goal of 56 battalion sets active by 2020, but production has fallen far short. GPV 2027 is picking up where GPV 2020 left off. Many defense experts consider the S-400 to be the best air defense system in the world. Turkey has purchased the S-400 for its own uses, to the chagrin of the U.S. and NATO, and has since been expelled from the F-35 fighter program. President Erdogan has suggested that Turkey may participate in S-400 supply chains to support production and facilitate technology transfers.  The Russian alternative to the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is the S-500 Prometheus. It is an anti-ballistic missile and anti-hypersonic cruise missile system which began development under GPV 2020 to complement the S-400. Delivery of an S-500 working prototype was scheduled for 2020 and Russian officials had made claims that the system would be in production by the end of 2021. 

The S-500 is planned to have a detection range of 370 miles for ballistic missiles and can project air defense out to 310 miles, and Russia claims that it can detect and track up to 10 hypersonic targets traveling at speeds of up to 16,000 mph (Mach 21 at sea level). It can also engage and destroy hyper-sonic targets traveling up to Mach 5, and it can detect and engage targets at an altitude of up to 120 miles, including low-Earth orbit satellites. 

At the heart of the S-500 Prometheus is the 77T6 acquisition/battle-management (ABM) engagement radar, the 96L6-TsP acquisition radar, the 91N6A(M) ABM radar, and the 76T6 multimode engagement radar. Its brain is the 55K6MA command station, and it will utilize the 77P6 launch vehicle. The Russian Ministry of Defense has not disclosed which missiles will be used in the S-500 yet, but the system is likely to have a very similar loadout to the S-400 with one exception. The 77P6 launch vehicle was designed to accommodate the gigantic SA-12B two-stage anti-ballistic missile, so it’s likely that S-500 will utilize some variant. 

Development and production of the S-500 will continue into GPV 2027. While portions of S-500 are currently in operation, western experts predict the full system won’t be in production until 2022 or 2023. The Russian military industrial complex is still ill-suited for producing systems of such technical complexity and the highly complex S-400 system remains the highest production priority for the Ministry of Defense. However, following disagreements with NATO over its purchase of the S-400 system, Turkey has announced its intention not only to buy the S-500, but also to participate in production. 

Interestingly, while the first S-500 regiment became active in October 2021, the Russian Ministry of Defense was already working on another system called the S-550, and details are slowly trickling out. Early reports indicate that S-550 is a mobile sister system that compliments S-500 while offering longer range countermeasures for ICBMs, low-Earth orbit satellites, and space-based weapons. On 29 December 2021, Russia’s TASS new agency (a propaganda outlet) announced that S-550 had successfully passed combat trials and had been approved for service, but it’s unlikely that there is a full working system in operation or that Russian defense contractors will have the bandwidth to produce such a system in the near future. 

As a part of an advanced multilayer air defense system that complements the S-400, Russia has also released modern variants of the short-range Pantsir and Tor complexes, as well as the medium-range Buk complex (these systems were tested extensively in Syria and have intercepted hundreds of targets).  The Buk missile system is a medium-range, self-propelled surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, developed by the Soviet Union to destroy cruise missiles, fixed wing aircraft, rotary wing aircraft, and smart-bombs. The latest version, the Buk-M3, came into production in 2013 under GPV 2020. A Buk battalion includes a command vehicle, target acquisition radar (transported by an independent vehicle), six transporter erector launcher and radar (TELAR) vehicles, and three transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles. One battery includes two TELAR and one TEL vehicle. The Buk-M3 has 36 channels to track multiple independent targets while simultaneously guiding missiles. The radar can detect targets up to 44 miles away. Missiles have a range of 25 miles and track targets through both direct command from ground radar and active homing. As of 2017, three missile brigades have been fully equipped with the Buk-M3 and other variants like the Buk-M2 and Buk-M1 continue to undergo incremental modernization in Russia’s other missile brigades. The Buk missile system is also a favored SAM system for export and has featured prominently in conflict zones like Syria.

The Tor missile system is a short-range SAM system. Tor was designed by the Soviet Union to destroy threats from aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, precision guided munitions, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Tor uses the 9A330 combat vehicle (crewed by 4) as a singular Transporter, Launcher, and Radar (TLAR) unit, and features a top-mounted acquisition radar, frontal tracking radar, and 8 missiles. The radar suite operates in the G band, H band, and K band, and has a range of up to 12 miles. Tor uses the 9M330 SAM, which can engage targets flying as fast as Mach 2 and has a range of 7.5 miles. The 9M330 can also be used against ground targets. Several variants remain in production, including the Tor-M1-2U, Tor-M2, and Tor-M2DT. These later variants, have additional fire control channels and better computers, allowing Tor to track multiple targets while simultaneously guiding multiple missiles. Tor is deployed to provide tactical SAM support for Russian Ground Forces, but naval variants were developed for the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, Kirov-class battlecruisers, and Udaloy-class destroyers. 

The Pantsir system is a short-range tactical SAM system that was designed to provide point air defense for specific military installations and sensitive sites. Pantsir is viewed as an ideal system for mitigating extremely low-altitude aerial threats against Russia’s more sophisticated long-range A2/AD systems like S-400 and S-500. Pantsir was designed to counter threats posed by aircraft, helicopters, precision munitions, cruise missiles, and UAVs. The Pantsir S1 variant remains the dominant system in operation by the Russian Armed Services. Pantsir S1 operates with 12 57E6 SAMs. The system features radio/optical command guidance, a range of 11 miles, and the 1RS2-1 target acquisition radar and dual waveband tracking radar (which operates in the UHF and EHF wavebands). The radar suite and fire control system has a detection range of 22 miles and tracking range of 17 miles. Pantsir radar and fire control systems utilize an electronically passive scanned array target acquisition radar (UHF band), a separate electronically passive scanned array target tracking radar (EHF band), and an opto-electronic channel with long-wave thermal imager and infrared direction finder. For extremely low-altitude and short-range targets Pantsir also has dual 2A38M 30 mm autocannons, which can each fire up to 2,500 rounds per minute. The Pantsir-S2 is currently in production for Russian MoD and features an upgraded radar for longer range tracking. Pantsir is a favored system for export and featured prominently in the Syrian Civil War. 

Electronic Warfare (EW) Capabilities 

Electronic Warfare (EW) serves as a means to deny an opponent the use of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum for communications, radar, targeting systems, satellites, GPS, and computer hardware. Recently the term has become somewhat conjoined to cyber warfare. Some sources use the terms together because the methods and technologies involved in electronic warfare and cyber warfare are becoming increasingly intertwined; however, as used in this text, electronic warfare refers specifically to attacking an enemy or impeding enemy coordination through the EM spectrum, while cyber warfare refers specifically to attacks on computer hardware or software through the internet. And while cyber warfare falls under the purview of the Russian intelligence services (who often outsource to state-sponsored proxy groups), EW is executed primarily by Russian Ground and Naval Forces.   Electronic Warfare is generally broken down into three subsets: 

  • Electronic Attack (EA): The use of the EM spectrum to attack personnel, facilities, or equipment with the intent of degrading or neutralizing an enemy’s combat capabilities. 
  • Electronic Protection (EP): Actions taken to protect friendly forces and equipment from enemy attacks through the EM spectrum to degrade or neutralize combat capabilities. 
  • Electronic Support (ES): Operations conducted to detect, intercept, identify, locate, and localize sources of EM energy. In military jargon, ES is often encompassed in the term ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance). ES also overlaps with the field of signals intelligence (SIGINT), which pertains to analyzing, interpreting, and exploiting intercepted transmissions, as well as its subsidiary focuses Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and Communications Intelligence (COMINT).  


The Russian conceptualization of EW also includes a fourth subset:  

  • The deployment of effective countermeasures against foreign technical reconnaissance systems. 

 Russia has begun deploying several strategic and operational level EW platforms, both on its periphery and in combat zones:  Tirada-2 complex is one of Russia’s premier strategic EW systems, and it continues to undergo iterative development. It is a ground-based mobile system (operating on the KamAZ truck platform) designed to jam communications satellite uplinks and overwhelm electronic protection systems of satellites. The goal is to force satellites to expend limited electrical power on trying to counter (overpower) the jamming signals. The Tirada-2 is complemented by the Bylina-MM, a ground-based mobile automated complex that specifically jams satellite communications in the SHF and EHF frequency bands.  The Krasukha-2 and Krasukha-4 systems are designed to jam airborne radar systems like the American AWACS, but Krasukha-4 is also reported to have the ability to interfere with observations by radar reconnaissance satellites. It has been rumored that the Krasukha-4 has been deployed around Topol and Yars mobile ICBM sites. The Krasukha complexes consist of two KamAZ-6350 trucks, one carrying the radar jamming equipment and the other acting as a command post.  The Murmansk-BN, currently being deployed along Arctic sea lanes, jams RF comms, GPS, air traffic controls, instrumentation in warships, and UAVs up to 5,000 km away. The Murmansk-BN automatically collects data on short-wave emitters, classifies the emitters, and determines the jamming power required to suppress them.  The Samarkand EW system currently deployed in Kaliningrad is designed to jam sophisticated C4ISR assets. It’s known to confuse GPS systems and has been called a suppression system. This means that as the enemy attempts to coordinate operations, they will experience not just communications failure, but also glitches in all unprotected electronic equipment ranging from weapons sights to guidance systems. The Leer-3 is deployed in Donbas to suppress cellular communication base stations, replacing them with an IMSI-catcher that effectively acts as a virtual cellular base. The Leer-3 is deployed on three Orlan-10 UAVs and includes a truck-based command-and-control post (towed by a Russian KamAZ truck chassis).  The Richag-AV is a radar jamming system that is typically mounted on vehicles, aircraft, and ships. It actively blinds radar systems in order to defend against radio-electronic guided weapons systems. Recent photos show the Richag-AV mounted on the Mi-8 attack helicopter.  Russian Ground Forces are also deploying numerous tactical level EW systems that are organic to maneuver brigades. A brigade’s typical complement of EW systems may include:  

  • R-378AM Automated HF Communications Jammer System 
  • RP-377L (LORANDIT) Compact Multifunctional Radio-Monitoring, Direction-Finding, and Jamming Complex 
  • R-330B/R-330T Automated VHF Jamming System  
  • R-934B VHF/UHF Aircraft Communications Automated Jamming Station  
  • P-330ZH “Zhitel” Automated Jamming Station 
  • R-330K Mobile Automated Command Post  
  • SPR-2 (RTUT-B) Artillery Radio Proximity Fuse Jamming Station  
  • Borisoglebsk-2  
  • RB-531B Infauna  

 The Kremlin has leveraged its authoritative system of government to facilitate immediate procurement of military hardware without deliberative selection processes in order to rapidly deliver EW systems to the frontlines of Ukraine and Syria. Russian military planners see EW as a low-cost, asymmetric means of disrupting enemy communication, coordination, and maneuver; moreover, Syria has given them ample opportunity to test their platforms against American military hardware and systems. This has given Russia invaluable feedback on combat performance against a technologically superior adversary – feedback that is being incorporated in iterative design processes and future military procurement.  Russian Ground Forces typically organize EW capabilities within an Electronic Warfare Brigade. An EW Brigade’s component companies/platoons are distributed between maneuver brigades (or more likely battalion tactical groups) once deployed to theater. The Brigade Commander leverages their EW company; their brigade’s organic capabilities in ground troops, armor, vehicles, and artillery; and supporting fighter-bomber aircraft and helicopter gunships. These assets are combined to form an EW maneuver group. When the Brigade attacks an enemy position in the field, the EW company engages in its primary roles: disrupting enemy C4ISR through electronic attack, protecting friendly forces’ C4ISR through electronic protection (counter- counter-measures), and conducting electronic support (search, interception, location, and identification measures). Meanwhile, the Brigade’s other assets are coordinated in a combined effort to physically destroy the enemy forces and/or position. The enemy’s EW capabilities and communications infrastructure are prioritized for destruction before even the ground forces maneuver elements.  This is a significant deviation from western EW approaches. Western air forces own almost all EW assets and deploy EW capabilities at the operational level to support all activities within the battlespace. To the contrary, the Russians tailor EW activities to support the tactical maneuver of ground forces. This yields several advantages:  

  • EW assets are used efficiently and only deployed against targets of necessity. 
  • The sporadic and unpredictable nature of Russian EW attacks makes them more difficult to compensate for in an enemy’s schemes of maneuver and TTPs. 
  • Enemy Commanders are only made aware of inadequately protected channels of C2 during an impending attack. 
  • EW attacks make the effective maneuver of forces and fires in response to a physical attack impossible in coordinate and support. 

Network-Centric Warfare and the National Defense Management Center 

Network-centric warfare leverages advanced information technology capabilities and robust computer networking and satellite communications to give geographically dispersed forces informational superiority. Informational superiority enables limited resources to be brought to bear against an adversary through superior maneuver and precision fires. To this end, Russia has developed advanced command and control measures that may be more accurately described as C4ISR in the American conceptualization. 

In Moscow, a new central nervous system called the National Defense Management Center (NTsUO) unifies and integrates all Russian C4ISR into a single command center.  All Russian procurement of military hardware and platforms (artillery, tanks, UAVs, jet fighters, helicopters, EW platforms, etc.) are integrated into NTsUO’s automated command and control systems. Data feeds from all of these disparate systems are routed through the NTsUO. And through NTsUO, Moscow manages all subunits in the Russian Armed Forces. NTsUO also unifies the varying C4ISR systems of the different branches of the Russian Armed Services: Ground Forces’ Unified System for Command and Control at the Tactical Level (Ye SU TZ), enhanced components of the Ye SU TZ for the Naval Forces and Aerospace Forces, and the Andromeda-D system for the Airborne Forces (VDV). 

The NTsUO includes three command and control centers: Battle Management Center, Strategic Nuclear Forces Command and Control Center, and Center for Management of Day-to-Day Activities. The Battle Management Center monitors global military and political situations, forecasts emerging threats, and governs C4ISR for all military forces. All information gathered down to the tactical level is routed through the Battle Management Center during combat operations. The Strategic Nuclear Forces Command and Control Center governs the identification of nuclear threats and the potential release of nuclear ordinance. This new nuclear command and control method digitally transmits orders to the launch pad, replacing the old system where orders are relayed between intermediate officers. And as the name suggests, the Center for Management of Day-to-Day Activities manages day-to-day administrative, support, and logistics activities. 

Russian ground troops, aircraft, and command posts are connected through the Strelets-M intelligence management and communications complex at the tactical and operational levels. Strelets-M is the latest iteration of the old Sagittarius program, which began developing field expedient mobile computer-enabled command and control systems for the individual soldier in 2007. Strelets offers GLONASS navigation, digital communication, and target designation tools to Russian troops. Soldiers can also transfer photo and video files to the unit commander, allowing the officer to see what they see before issuing orders. Commanders can monitor the status of their soldiers in real-time and transmit orders as needed. Strelets also connects reconnaissance elements, UAVs, and forward observers with artillery batteries and close air support, allowing strike assets to target enemy forces via digital data transfer rather than a verbal exchange of coordinates via radio transmission. And, of course, Strelets allows commanders at the tactical and operational levels to communicate real-time battlefield updates to strategic level commanders at NTsUO Battle Management Center in Moscow. 

Although NTsUO and subordinate systems like Strelets have been built to support network-centric warfare, not all analysts are agreed that these innovations will benefit the Kremlin’s war-making. Wars are best run by commanders in the field: commanders who meticulously work to understand the situation on the frontline, adapt to changing conditions and take decisive and violent action. This was the approach of famously successful generals, including Hannibal Barca, Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, Alexei Suvorov, Napoleon Bonaparte, Erwin Rommel, George S. Patton, and Matthew Ridgeway. Contrarily, Moscow is implementing the means to micro-manage campaigns from the Kremlin. President Lyndon B. Johnson, through Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Ambassador to Saigon Maxwell Taylor, micromanaged every air strike and offensive action of the Vietnam War. This reduced theater commander General Westmoreland to a glorified errand boy rather than the executor of grand strategy. Military analysts do not usually cite American C2 practices in Vietnam as an example to emulate.

[1] The term “kill chain” refers to collective actions taken by theater joint forces in intelligence collection and analysis and the maneuver of forces and fires to find, fix, track, target, engage, destroy, and assess an enemy unit, personnel, vehicle, infrastructure, installation, high value target (HVT), etc. Kill chain is also sometimes used to describe processes and procedures that enable the successful employment of cyber-attacks.