Russia considers electronic warfare (EW) one of the key military capabilities in its ongoing confrontation with the West. EW provides a non-nuclear deterrence capability and helps Russia keep its great power status and strategic autonomy while also taking into account its long-term economic and demographic weakness. Russia has made significant advances in EW during the 2010s. However, at the beginning of 2020s, Russia still faces technological, technical, industrial, organizational, and political challenges that prevent Moscow from getting the EW capabilities it wants.
Technological challenges are related to delays in developing air- and space-based EW capabilities, and to the need to unify EW systems. Technical challenges stem from the number of different types of EW systems that must be maintained, the relatively short lifespans of various EW systems, and issues integrating them with other combat systems and units. The last point also indicates why Russia has struggled to transform its quantity of the EW systems into a higher quality of combat capabilities. Industrial challenges are caused by the volatile dynamic of Russia’s arms procurements and R&D programs and the capacity of defense corporations to develop and produce advanced EW systems with acceptable costs. The main organizational challenge is that the number of EW troops that has already achieved its objective limit. Now EW troops need to be transformed from combat support into a combat branch. Finally, a political challenge appears in the confrontation between Russia and the West, which is the main driver for efforts related to EW. Russia is unable to compete with the United States and Europe in a symmetric way, and Russia’s political system does not allow Moscow to realize a “revolution in military affairs” because the centralized system struggles to implement a net-centric approach to the armed forces in effective way. For that reason, Russia has chosen a classic approach of asymmetric warfare with the goal of disrupting the command and control systems of a superior adversary.
The coming decade promises to be challenging for Russia in terms of electronic warfare. Moscow will need to fix its previous EW efforts, pay more attention to the overall quality of electronic warfare rather than on the quantity of deployed EW systems, and bridge the evident gaps in EW on tactical, theater, and strategic levels. Moreover, after defense spending stabilized and even declined during the late 2010s, Russia has been forced to increase its defense budget again. This means spending for EW will also increase. Russia will try to fill gaps in air- and space-based EW capabilities, with the sea-based component continuing to play a secondary role in Russia’s military planning. It is also possible that Russia will chose to extend its ground-based EW infrastructure in Belarus with creation of an EW “chain” from Crimea to Kaliningrad.