Blindsided: Russia’s Jamming Leaves American Smart Weapons Dumber Than Dumb Bombs  

Russia's advanced electronic warfare capabilities have neutralized many of America's high-tech weapons supplied to Ukraine, forcing a scramble to upgrade systems as the conflict exposes vulnerabilities in the U.S. arsenal.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Americans and Ukrainians are facing a problem. Ukraine is not only asking for more ammunition but also for ammunition capable of resisting Russia’s electronic disruption systems, which often and increasingly manage to neutralize satellite-guided ammunition provided by the United States. This has led Kyiv’s forces to stop using some systems supplied by the West, as Ukrainian sources cited by ‘The Washington Post’ report.

Among the systems annihilated by Russian jamming, also mounted on drones, are Excalibur artillery projectiles guided by GPS. Their success rate has decreased in recent months to less than 10% of targets hit, compared to 50% at the start of the year, resulting in their abandonment in warehouses since then. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which has a range of up to 80 kilometers, is also affected.

“The Excalibur technology in its various existing versions has lost its potential,” reads an evaluation conducted by the Ukrainian military command between the fall of 2023 and April 2024. It is no longer a “one shot, one target” system as once advertised. The United States has stopped sending these systems to Kyiv for six months.

In other cases, such as JDAMS bombs dropped by aircraft, manufacturers patched the problem a few months after their introduction at the beginning of last year, and Ukraine resumed using them. Similar problems have occurred with other 155mm projectiles supplied by other Western countries, even if they do not use GPS technology.

The same goes for HIMARS launchers. A year after their introduction, their success has waned. “The Russians have deployed electronic systems that have disabled satellite signals, and HIMARS has become completely ineffective, to the point that the very expensive system is increasingly used to target low-priority objectives.” They can miss a target by 15 meters.

As the ‘New York Times’ adds, the Russians are using electronic warfare systems to protect their headquarters and command centers, so there are no longer reports of such attacks as in the early days of the war when HIMARS could kill Russian generals and their associates.

This is not the first instance of HIMARS being jammed. CNN reported in May 2023, citing knowledgeable sources, that HIMARS missile launchers in Ukraine are losing efficacy owing to Russian electronic jamming devices. According to sources in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine, these MLRS are becoming increasingly ineffective, forcing American and Ukrainian specialists to seek ways to configure software to prevent intervention. However, it looks like the problem has persisted. The paper even reported that Washington helped the Ukrainian Armed Forces detect and destroy Russian electronic data jammers. 

As admitted by General Valeriy Zaluzhny, former chief of the Ukrainian army, the days when American weapons gave Ukraine a significant advantage on the battlefield are over. In the case of Excalibur missiles alone, successful attacks dropped from 55 percent in January 2023 to 6 percent in August 2023. Therefore, Ukrainian artillerymen have shelved modern weapons and returned to old, classical projectiles that cannot be jammed.

“Russia has continued to work and expand its use of electronic systems in war with an urgency that Western manufacturers do not have. And we continue to evolve and ensure that Ukraine has the capabilities it needs to be effective,” admitted a U.S. military source, denying that bureaucratic issues have slowed down the adaptation process.

“I’m not saying no one cared before, but now they’re starting to care,” emphasizes a Ukrainian military officer. Especially because what happens in the Ukrainian theater, including weaknesses in American systems, also reaches Beijing.

In some cases, manufacturers have provided solutions within hours or days, he added, without specifying further. Ukrainian military sources specify that defense in Kyiv works closely with the Pentagon on these issues.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Ukrainians do not have advanced air forces like the F-16 or robust electronic countermeasures in this war. However, Russian capabilities still represent a significant source of pressure on the United States and its NATO allies, forcing them to continue innovating. A smaller-diameter bomb, the GBU-39, has proven to resist electronic disruption. Ninety percent of dropped ordnance reaches the target precisely because of its reduced size.

Quick software upgrades are required.

What now? The most effective way is to destroy jamming systems – hence attacks on radars and other systems used for electronic warfare. In addition, American manufacturers are trying to improve the missile and launcher software to deal with Russian defensive systems.

This, in turn, forces the American defense industry to be more flexible and work harder. As analysts say in the “New York Times,” Russia now takes only two weeks to render new weapons useless. Therefore, software improvements need to be made as quickly as possible.


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