Ukraine Wants Help With Electronic Warfare Threat
Russia is getting better intelligence than Ukrainian forces because of its extensive electronic warfare and command-and-control capabilities in Eastern Ukraine, said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe. “What the Ukrainians have asked for, obviously, is real-time information."
It also wants counter-fire capabilities and Javelin man-portable anti-tank missiles, he said during a roundtable discussion with reporters.
What military equipment the United States gives to Ukraine is still under discussion. President Barack Obama has considered supplying Javelin and other “lethal defensive weapons” to the country, but so far has only sent nonlethal equipment such as radars and Humvees.
“The lightweight counter mortar radar that we're providing to the Ukrainians turned out to be better than we expected, and the Ukrainians have been very adept at using this radar as an early warning to help protect them from incoming fire," Hodges said.
Ukraine is seeking assistance from other nations besides the United States. During the International Defense Exhibition and Conference held last month in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a contract with French defense contractor Thales for electronic warfare equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles. Poroshenko also reached an agreement during IDEX with the UAE for unspecified military assistance.
Hodges warned that providing lethal weapons is not a substitute for an actual strategy that would bring about a diplomatic end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
"I think the focus on lethal versus nonlethal aid is the wrong argument to have,” he said. "The actual focus I believe needs to be on what is the desired end state? What are the West and the United States going to accept in terms of can somebody use force to change the internationally recognized sovereign border of a European country? What do we want the security situation to be in that part of Europe?"
Hodges comments to the press came a day after the one-year anniversary of Russia’s takeover of Crimea, which had been held by Ukraine since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian officials have repeated that the country will not return Crimea to Ukrainian control despite sanctions from the West.
Russia’s occupation of Crimea has broader implications across Europe and to the NATO alliance. Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to fracture the NATO alliance and “put doubt in the minds of some members,” Hodges said.
“His number one objective is to create instability in those areas along the perimeter of Russia, particularly the countries that are not yet in the [European Union] or in NATO,” he said. "He wants to make sure that they don't connect to the West."
A ceasefire between Russian and Ukrainian forces has been in effect since Feb. 15, but disagreements over the terms in recent days have threatened that peace.
That ceasefire also delayed U.S. Army training of Ukrainian ministry of interior troops, which was slated to begin next week, Hodges said. Training will likely begin in April.
"I think they wanted to make sure that the beginning of the training didn't derail [the ceasefire] or give the Russians an opportunity to say, 'Look the Americans are bringing in all of these soldiers and they're not serious about it,’” he said, adding that “The beginning of the training absolutely does not signify an assessment that the [ceasefire] has failed."
Once training starts at the Yavoriv training center in Western Ukraine, three Ukrainian battalions will be matched with three battalions of the Army’s 173rd airborne brigade, Hodges said. U.S. forces will train the Ukrainian MOI troops how to thwart Russian electronic warfare, artillery and rocket fire threats. Those troops will then assist the Ukrainian Army in protecting critical infrastructure and route security.
Analysts worry that Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, which are NATO allies, could be the next targets of Russian aggression. Hodges said that Russia currently lacks the capacity to engage both Ukraine as well as the Baltic states in an armed conflict, but could in a matter of years.
"This is not the Red Army of the 80s that had millions of troops and thousands of tanks," he said. However in 2007, Russia began modernizing its forces and "we're seeing some of the results of that modernization effort in terms of electronic capability, secure tactical radios, new tanks, etcetera.” In three to four years, it could be powerful enough to try to seize territory from the Baltic states.
Still, Russia has other economic and legal weapons that it is using against those nations, he said. Cyber attacks have been increasing in Estonia and Lithuania.
Additionally, a recently-passed Russian law calls for the extradition of Lithuanian “draft dodgers” who, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, had been told by the government that they didn’t need to report for duty. To those who brush off such moves as symbolic, Hodges said, “It’s not symbolic if you’re a Lithuanian dairy farmer.”
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