Moscow’s Advances in Modernizing Military Communications
Moscow is making considerable advances in modernizing its conventional Armed Forces within its overarching aim of adopting “command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” (C4ISR) capability. This, in turn, is also predicated on developing the capacity to conduct network-enabled operations and enhancing the speed of command and control (see EDM, September 25). A critical factor is the modernization of military communications systems. In this area, recent developments in the defense industry and testing in operations in Syria and strategic level exercises is aiding this complex process. This fall’s strategic command-staff exercise (strategicheskiye komandno-shtabnyye ucheniya—SKShU), Tsentr 2019, tested advanced communications systems currently entering units in the Armed Forces in increased numbers (see EDM, October 2). Among these examples of modern communications technology is the R-187P1E Azart mobile radio-communications system, which forms part of a varied and unified approach to adopting C4ISR capabilities within the Russian military (VPK, October 29).
The Azart is designed to provide secure communications at tactical levels, even when the adversary uses electronic countermeasures. Moreover, it can be tuned to most frequency bands, including cellular networks, and offers data transfer using the GLONASS satellite navigation system. It conducts data transfer at speeds of up to 7.2 kilobits per second. Reportedly, it has a number of advantages over the systems it will replace (Arms-expo.ru, June 19). These include, portability, a user-friendly interface, multifunctionality, and working in repeater mode, with the ability to determine and transmit the coordinates of the location of its users. According to Colonel General Khalil Arslanov, the head of the Main Directorate of Communications of Russia’s Armed Forces, “This radio station has been adopted to supply troops and is a radio of a fundamentally new generation. A unique technical solution is the pseudo-random tuning of the operating frequency with a speed of up to 20,000 jumps per second. In this mode, any possibility of technical communication suppression or signal interception is excluded, which ensures a high security of the transmitted information and stability of the communication system” (Vm.ru, August 20).
Arslanov explained that the Azart is designed using modern software-defined radio technology (SDR), adding that this is on an equal footing with Western designed systems. “The most important advantage of using SDR technology is the following. The implementation of new (promising) operating modes in the R-187-P1 radio will be carried out by programs, without changing the hardware platform of the radio itself. That is, the hardware itself will not require either replacement or refinement. New versions of software will be ‘poured’ into the radio stations, significantly expanding the functionality of Azart-P1,” added Arslanov (Tvzvezda.ru, May 5). The Azart is certainly proving itself popular based on these characteristics. During combat operations in Syria, for example, Russian Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS) pilots complained about their existing emergency radios, the R-855, saying these lack power for voice communications and specifically requested the new Azart, which also has the added advantage of encryption (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, August 13).
The Azart featured in this year’s Tsentr SKShU in addition to other modernized communications systems. Over 5,000 signals personnel were involved in Tsentr 2019, using more than 1,500 units of modern communications. Algorithms of nine automated combat and non-combat command-and-control (C2) systems were worked out at several training sites, and 10–20 information areas were deployed, including secure video-conferencing facilities, duty automatic telephone exchanges, data-transmission channels, and an automated reconnaissance system. Direct communications were set up for the command of the Air Defense Forces and aviation, up to the functioning of the Alushta electronic system and the automated systems. This coverage of personnel and military communications equipment on the scale of the Tsentr 2019 SKShU was carried out for the first time (VPK, October 29).
Moreover, personnel from the C2 center of the Central Military District (MD) for the first time deployed modular contact points using the latest APE-5 systems, received this year under the state defense order. Using the APE-5 systems, designed to automate the management and exchange of information with the command staff of formations and units in the field, halved the deployment time, enabled the delivery of additional elements of workplaces and computers, and provided a local network (VPK, October 29).
APE-5 complexes automate many C2 processes and entered the Central MD this year, in the communications brigade in the Sverdlovsk Region, as well as the combined arms armies in Siberia and the Volga region. In the basic configuration, APE-5s are equipped with built-in servers, audio- and video-conferencing devices, as well as two-section workstations with video conferencing. Autonomy of work is supported by a regular electric generator capable of supporting the required power for the smooth operation of 11 automated workstations, high-definition video conferencing, up to 15 telephones for open and secure communications, along with an air-conditioning system. APE-5s are installed on KamAZ trucks and additionally include the GLONASS satellite navigation system and a map information processing device (VPK, October 29).
In 2019, for example, 2,218 units of modern tactical command-and-control equipment were delivered to the Central MD—these included more than a thousand individual R-187P1E Azart radio stations and 430 Prestige communication devices that replaced Selenit phones. Colonel Gennady Tuchin, the chief of communications and deputy chief of staff of the Central MD, explained, “Today, the backup lines of the command and control centers of the Central MD are provided by fiber-optic cables that have replaced copper wires. Their application allows an increase to the amount of transmitted information, to expand the range of sent signals. If only an audio signal came through copper wires, then audio, video and digital data packets can be transmitted through fiber-optic [cables]. Modern cables made of optical fiber have high noise immunity and a large transmission range, which allows you to broadcast a signal at distances of 10–12 times more without amplification points” (VPK, October 29).
At first glance, these advances in Russia’s adoption of modern means of military communications may appear simply military-technical, and thus be underestimated by U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) policymakers. But in fact, they represent part of a much wider Russian effort to introduce and build effective C4ISR capability. It is this capability, both defensive and offensive—with the added advantages of the potential to conduct operations close to the country’s borders—that presents real and ongoing challenges for Western policymakers facing the reality of a burgeoning Russian military capability on NATO’s eastern flank.
Roger N. McDermott specializes in Russian and Central Asian defense and security issues and is a Senior Fellow in Eurasian Military Studies, The Jamestown Foundation, Washington DC, Senior International Research Fellow for the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Affiliated Senior Analyst, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen. McDermott is on the editorial board of Central Asia and the Caucasus and the scientific board of the Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies. He recently wrote The Reform of Russia’s Conventional Armed Forces: Problems, Challenges and Policy Implications (October 2011).
This article appeared originally at The Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor.