Why Russian Air Defense Systems Are Vulnerable to Electronic Attack?

KBP’s Pantsir (NATO reporting name SA-22 Greyhound) series short-range air defence system was thought to have entered service with the Russian armed forces from 2005.

Deployments

The Pantsir’s were deployed in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars: In Syria they supported Russia’s deployment to assist the regime of President Bashir al-Assad. One Pantsir was thought to be responsible for the destruction of a Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force/TAF) McDonnell Douglas RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance aircraft on 22nd June 2012 over Syria’s  northern Mediterranean coast. Russian and Syrian sources claim Panstir has downed at least 50 aerostats, drones, missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) claims to have destroyed a single Pantsir during IAF attacks on Iranian targets in Syria in May 2018. Likewise between 27th February and 3rd March 2020 Turkey’s armed forces claimed to have hit two Syrian Air Defence Force Pantsir-S1s.

Several systems were lost in Libya: The United Arab Emirates deployed Pantsir-S1s to support Libyan National Army (LNA) forces during their advance on the Libyan capital Tripoli. Eight of these were reported destroyed/captured by Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkish armed forces assisting the GNA.

Pantsir Architecture

The Pantsir provides robust coverage against low-altitude threats and includes the following subsystems:

  • 57E6 radio/optically-guided SAMs with a range of 9.7 nautical miles/nm (18,000 metres) and an altitude of 49,000 feet/ft (15,000m).
  • Four 2A38 30mm guns with a range of 2.2nm (four kilometres) and altitude of 1.6nm (three kilometres).
  • One 25.4-nautical mile (47-kilometre) range VNIIRT 2RL80/E S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) fire control radar.

Turkey Defeated Russian SAM

Electronic Warfare (EW) may have played a role in these losses. EW expert Yanal Sajaja says that electronic attack and electronic support may have helped to locate and destroy Pantsirs.

The Pantsir’s radar may be relatively easy to detect and locate. Whether the radar employs Low Probability of Interception or Detection (LPI/D) waveforms is unknown. If the radar uses only basic LPI/D techniques this may have helped electronic warfare practitioners to find the equipment.

The TAF might have deployed its TAI Anka-1 signals intelligence UAV in Syria and Libya. The Anka-I may collect electronic intelligence across a 30 megahertz to three gigahertz waveband: This waveband would allow the 2RL80/E radar to be detected.

A land-based transportable system, KORAL, developed by Turkey’s leading defence company ASELSAN, is capable of intercepting, jamming and deceiving radar systems.

Detecting the radar would betray the Pantsir’s location. Once its location discovered, jamming could then be used. The electronic attack could be provided by TAF Aselsan Koral ground-based electronic warfare systems. Koral jams wavebands of 2.3GHz to 36GHz. Jamming the 2RL80/E would then allow the Pantsir to be attacked by weapons now undetectable by its radar.

Sky Shield Airborne Support Jammer

Mr. Sajaja says that such weapons could include stand-off air-to-surface missiles with ranges eclipsing the Pantsir’s reach. He adds that Pantsirs have been attacked while on-the-move or undergoing maintenance. Meanwhile a weak Syrian Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) and a non-existent IADS in Libya may have deprived the Pantsirs of overlapping air defence coverage. Similarly attacking the Pantsir with multiple munitions from multiple directions may have saturated the systems’ ability to defend itself.

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The Pantsir’s record in both theatres will have not helped potential sales. This record has also shown vulnerabilities exploitable by other air forces fighting this weapon in future wars.

Chinese Assessment of Russian S-400 SAM

Russian media reported that China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force tested the S-400 Triumf air defence system, successfully shooting down a “simulated ballistic target, not an actual target” almost 250km (155 miles) away.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military expert with a focus on the PLA, said the tests conducted by Russian and Chinese military personnel were an “advertisement” by the Russian military to promote its S-400 system to India and Turkey.

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Chinese Defense Experts Li Jie bases his conclusions on the fact that only a few months ago it became known about the development of radars capable of detecting hypersonic targets flying at a speed of up to mach 10, which means that the S-400 could not defeat hypersonic missiles from the very beginning.

“It is important to understand that China is very careful about acquiring various weapons and would almost certainly check all the capabilities of the Russian S-400. Given the strict censorship of the Chinese media, statements about the impracticality of the S-400 may well be true. Moreover, up to the present opinion, the reputation of Russian air defense systems were clearly spoiled in Syria ”, – the analyst notes.

Israel Defeated Russian S-300 and S-400 SAM

A video released by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems of Israel late September 2018 shows that the company’s electronic warfare (EW) systems could be utilized to jam the radars of the S-400 air defence system.

The below picture illustrates that the Russians actually didn’t see the strike occurring, thanks to Sky Shield support jammers, — the S-400 radar failed to detect combat aircraft and were taken entirely by surprise when the Israelis contacted them with the missiles 1 minute (maybe 15km or less) out from the targets.

Latakia base in Syria before and after Israeli F-35I Air Strike

The fact that the Syrians didn’t fire during the strike either suggests that Sky Shield EW attacks disabled both Syrian and Russian systems including S-400.

Israeli F-16 used Sky Shield to successfully jam Syrian Buk-M3 and Pantsir-S1 point defense Systems before destroying the point defense Systems using Delilah cruise missile. Delilah is a cruise missile capable of deceiving enemy air defense system and loiter over a contested area before hitting the target. Delilah has a range of 250km and can penetrate any air defense system.

The Israeli Air Force use of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Syria prove that the stealth fighter jet can go harms way to defeat advanced air defence system such as Syrian Army’s S-300, a variant of S-400 air defence system.

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