Electronic Weapons: The Mysterious Murmansk-BN

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March 30, 2017: In early 2017 satellite photos revealed that Russia had sent the mobile Murmansk-BN electronic warfare system Crimea where it became operational after and few days and now effectively provides coverage (monitoring or jamming wireless communications) in the Black Sea and all of Ukraine. This was something of a surprise because it was only in mid-2016 that Russia announced that its new Murmansk-BN mobile strategic electronic warfare system was operational and the first unit was in service.

Murmansk-BN travels in seven heavy (4x6) trucks. It takes several days for the telescoping masts (to 32 meters/102 feet) on four of the trucks to be positioned and for the electronic monitoring system to be calibrated and activated. Murmansk-BN appears to be most useful monitoring radio signals over a long distance and locating precisely where a transmission is coming from. Murmansk-BN is largely automated monitoring of shortwave transmissions as far as 5,000 kilometers away. Russia claims Murmansk-BN can jam shortwave signals over that distance as well. What is uncertain is just how effective Murmansk-BN actually is despite the fact that it was known for nearly a decade that Russia was developing such a system.

Murmansk-BN equipment was seen (by photo satellites) being field tested as early as 2013. KRET, the Russian developer and manufacturer is the result of the recent formation of a holding company for most electronic warfare firms still operating in post-Cold War Russia. KRET depends on export sales and is known to exaggerate or imply capabilities of its equipment, especially the stuff not available for export. Meanwhile the U.S. has electronic reconnaissance satellites that can record what long range systems are doing but details of data collected and what it indicates is rarely made public.

Russia as a history of developing some innovative and effective electronic monitoring and jamming equipment. On paper Russia is certainly capable of creating something like Murmansk-BN. The idea behind Murmansk-BN is to monitor wireless communications for thousands of kilometers from Russian naval bases to make those bases less vulnerable to attacks (surprise or otherwise.) This was a concept the Russians worked on throughout the Cold War but were never able to create a workable system that could demonstrate these concepts on a large scale. Murmansk-BN is the latest manifestation of that effort and it is still unclear just how effective it is, at least as far as the public record goes. Western experts believe that the availability of more powerful electronic and software tools makes Murmansk-BN more likely to appear in a workable form. But so far there is no proof.

 


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