Monday, June 24, 2024

US-made weapons in Ukraine struggle against Russian jamming

U.S.-made satellite-guided munitions in Ukraine have failed to withstand Russian jamming technology, leading Kyiv to cease using certain Western-provided armaments after effectiveness rates dropped sharply, according to The Washington Post.

Russia’s jamming of the guidance systems of modern Western weapons, including Excalibur GPS-guided artillery shells and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), has diminished Ukraine’s ability to defend its territory. This has left officials in Kyiv urgently seeking assistance from the Pentagon to obtain upgrades from arms manufacturers.

The success rate for U.S.-designed Excalibur shells, for example, fell to less than 10 percent hitting their targets before Ukraine’s military abandoned them last year, the assessments revealed. The reports highlighted that the Excalibur technology in its current versions had lost its potential, debunking its reputation as a “one shot, one target” weapon.


Six months ago, after Ukrainians reported the problem, Washington stopped providing Excalibur shells due to the high failure rate. In other cases, such as aircraft-dropped bombs called JDAMs, the manufacturer provided a patch, and Ukraine continues to use them.

Ukraine’s military command prepared the reports between fall 2023 and April 2024 and shared them with the U.S. and other supporters, hoping to develop solutions and establish direct contact with weapons manufacturers. Ukrainian officials described an overly bureaucratic process that had complicated the path toward urgently needed adjustments to improve the failing weaponry.

The Pentagon anticipated that some precision-guided munitions would be defeated by Russian electronic warfare and has worked with Ukraine to refine tactics and techniques, a senior U.S. defense official said. Russia has continued to expand its use of electronic warfare, the official noted, and the U.S. continues to evolve to ensure Ukraine has the capabilities needed to be effective.

The U.S. defense official rejected claims that bureaucracy has slowed the response, stating that the Pentagon and weapons manufacturers have provided solutions sometimes within hours or days, but did not provide examples. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry stated that it cooperates regularly with the Pentagon and also communicates directly with weapons manufacturers to address technical problems promptly.

U.S.-made guided munitions provided to Ukraine were typically successful when introduced, but often became less so as Russian forces adapted. Now, some arms once considered potent tools no longer provide an edge.

In a conventional war, the U.S. military might not face the same difficulties as Ukraine because it has a more advanced air force and robust electronic countermeasures. However, Russia’s capabilities nonetheless put heavy pressure on Washington and its NATO allies to continue innovating.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created a modern testing ground for Western arms that had never been used against a foe with Moscow’s ability to jam GPS navigation. Innovation is a feature of virtually every conflict, and the war in Ukraine is no exception. Each side deploys technology and novel changes to outfox the other and exploit vulnerabilities.

The Excalibur precision artillery round exemplifies many U.S. weapons: costly and sophisticated but accurate. Ukraine used the rounds, fired by U.S. artillery systems such as the M777, to destroy targets like enemy artillery and armored vehicles from about 15 to 24 miles away. However, over several months, the success rate dropped below 10 percent, primarily due to Russian GPS jamming.

The Ukrainian military documents also noted challenges with other guided 155mm shells provided by Western countries, some of which also became less effective despite employing guidance other than GPS.

HIMARS launchers were initially celebrated during the first year of Russia’s invasion for their success in striking ammunition depots and command points behind enemy lines. But by the second year, Russian electronic warfare capabilities made HIMARS less effective, causing the Ukrainian military to seek alternatives like M26 cluster munitions.

Despite some efforts to counter the jamming, potential fixes seem limited until the West delivers F-16 fighter jets, which would allow Ukraine’s air force to push Russian pilots back and use different kinds of weapons with greater range and resilience against electronic warfare.

The Ukrainian officials said they expect that weapons effective on the battlefield now will similarly lose their edge within a year, as the Russians continue to adapt and counteract new technologies.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov is the editor-in-chief of Defence Blog. He is a journalist, an accredited defense advisor, and a consultant. His background as a defense advisor and consultant adds a unique perspective to his journalistic endeavors, ensuring that his reporting is well-informed and authoritative. read more