Russia overtaking US in cyber-warfare capabilities

Reports coming out of Ukraine suggest that the US is falling behind Russia in terms of cyber-warfare capabilities, while the importance of such capabilities is increasing.

Russia overtaking US in cyber-warfare capabilities
Russia overtaking US in cyber-warfare capabilities

Ronald Pontius, deputy to the US Army Cyber Command's commanding general was reported in National Defense as saying earlier this month:  “On one hand we can feel very positive of our pace of progress that we're making, but when you put that in context of what the threat is and the pace of change of the threat and the significance of the threat, you can't but come to the conclusion that we're not making progress at the pace the threat demands.”

In a statement that has echoes in industry boardrooms, Pontius also described a recognition within the military that cyber must be dealt with at the highest echelons of a command, saying that cyber-issues are no longer just for chief information officers, but that operational commanders must be responsible for their own network, data and systems.

US Army Europe's Lieutenant General Ben Hodges has previously described the quality and sophistication of Russian electronic warfare as "eye-watering," and in an interview with Defense News, said, "Our soldiers are doing the training with the Ukrainians and we've learned a lot from the Ukrainians."  DN also quotes Laurie Buckhout, former chief of the US Army's electronic warfare division, now CEO of the Corvus Group, as saying that Russia maintains an ability to destroy command-and-control networks by jamming radio communications, radars and GPS signals. Russia also has large EW (electronic warfare) units used for ground electronic attack, jamming communications, radar and command-and-control nets – and these are being deployed in Ukraine and Syria to jam drones and block battlefield communications.

In contrast, according to Buckhout, the US's current electronic attack capability is lacking. She told DN: "We have great signals intelligence, and we can listen all day long, but we can't shut them down one-tenth to the degree they can us. We are very unprotected from their attacks on our network."

The DN report also quotes Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Griffin, chief of the Electronic Warfare Division's programmes and requirements branch as saying the focus has traditionally been on, "defensive electronic attack,” specifically counter-radio-controlled-IED devices that create bubbles of protective jamming around vehicles and people, and signals collection for intelligence purposes. But he adds that there is now an Army programme called Multifunctional Electronic Warfare (MFEW), which is intended to provide an offensive electronic attack capability, able to jam cell phone, satellite and GPS signals.

Colonel Jeffrey Church, the Army's chief of electronic warfare, described how the US Army's EW mission comprises 813 soldiers and US Army battalions typically assign two soldiers to the EW mission. They will have to do 24-hour operations in battle including planning and coordinating with other battalion units as well as ensuring that their own jammers and advanced communications tools are working. Whereas with a peer enemy such as Russia or China, “They have companies, they have battalions, they have brigades that are dedicated to the electronic warfare mission.”