Asymmetric Dialogue

Russia’s Network-Centric Warfare Capability: Tried and Tested in Syria

Summary Since initiating the reform of the Russian Armed Forces in 2008, Moscow has paid close attention to the development of its own network-centric warfare capability.

Since initiating the reform of the Russian Armed Forces in 2008, Moscow has paid close attention to the development of its own network-centric warfare capability. 


National Defense Management Center in Moscow (Source: mil.ru)


Elements of this version of network-centric approaches to combat operations have involved strengthening electronic warfare (EW) capacity, modernizing infrastructure, reforming structures, as well as boosting and streamlining command and control, among other features. A related emphasis has been placed upon force enablers and force multipliers. As the integration of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) has advanced, Moscow has also experimented with network-centric operations during its involvement in the complex conflict in Syria (Versia.ru, October 1). Facilitating its network-centric operations in Syria involves unifying reconnaissance and intelligence along with command-and-control (C2) structures in the central hub of the National Defense Management Center (Natsionalnomu Tsentru Upravleniya Oboronoy—NTsUO), in Moscow. The NTsUO was created in December 2014 and lies at the heart of Russia’s burgeoning network-centric capability (see EDM, April 19, 2016; November 4, 2014).

In the procurement and development of hardware and platforms ranging from artillery systems to tanks, these are integrated into the overall structure of the modernized automated C2 system to facilitate the speed and efficiency of operational decision making (Versia.ru, October 1). While several senior Russian officers and specialists have written about the experiments with network-centric warfare in the journal of the General Staff, Voyennaya Mysl, wider media references have also become commonplace.

Indeed, in an interview in August 2017, Frants Klintsevich, the deputy chairperson of the Federation Council (upper chamber of the Russian parliament) Committee on Defense and Security, stated that Russia’s operations in Syria were conducted according to the principles of network-centric warfare. He noted how Russian commandos on the battlefield were using Ratnik personnel combat gear equipment to conduct reconnaissance and target designation, in order to aid the Aerospace Forces (Vozdushno Kosmicheskikh Sil—VKS) in conducting airstrikes (Tvzvezda.ru, August 26, 2017). More recently, Colonel General Vladimir Zarudnitsky, the chief of the General Staff Academy, confirmed that commanders at the academy are being taught network-centric warfare. He added that the role of the conflict in Syria is important, along with non-contact operations and cyberwarfare (Tvzvezda.ru, June 27).

Other Russian military analysts have noted that experimentation with C4ISR in conducting operations in Syria extends well beyond VKS airstrikes. They also point to the Armed Forces exploiting multiple platforms such as naval assets and high-precision strike systems functioning in a network-enabled operational environment. These operations, according to Russian specialists, depend heavily upon accessing space, gathering reconnaissance via unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), exploiting modernized communications, greatly improving C4ISR, and applying greater EW capacity (Vpk-news.ru, October 22).

As noted, the NTsUO in Moscow acts as an information hub, facilitating such operations in real time. The nature of its structure and role in these operations was recently detailed in an important article published by Zvezda Weekly. The NTsUO is a unified system for managing “all military subunits in the Russian Armed Forces,” and includes the nuclear triad. Since so much information passes through it daily, a computerized “expert system” is used, for “monitoring and analyzing the military-political, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical situation in Russia and the world.” The NTsUO unites the various automated C2 systems functioning across the Armed Forces. These include the Unified System for Command and Control at the Tactical Level (Yedinaya avtomatizirovannaya sistema upravleniya takticheskim zvenom—YeSU TZ), designed for the Ground Forces, with its various specific upgrades for the Military-Maritime Fleet (Voyenno-Мorskoy Flot—VMF) and the VKS. Additionally, the Andromeda-D system was created to suit the needs of the Airborne Forces. This overall unification of systems extends down to tactical-level communication systems. These automated C2 systems have been tested during operational-strategic exercises, most recently in Vostok 2018, and in combat operations in Syria (Zvezdaweekly.ru, October 16)

Consequently, the NTsUO includes three command-and-control centers uniting the various automated C2 systems: the Strategic Nuclear Forces Command and Control Center, the Battle Management Center and a Center for Management of Day-to-Day Activities. The Battle Management Center monitors the global military-political situation, assesses and forecasts the emergence of threats to Russia and its allies, and supports C2 over all military force elements, including the non–defense ministry troops. According to the author of the Zvezda Weekly piece, “[S]pace and aerial reconnaissance complexes are information sources for the Strategic Nuclear Forces Command and Control Center, and tactical reconnaissance and subunits of the SSO [Special Operations Forces] collect information for the TsBU [Battle Management Center] during combat operations.” Admittedly, Russia still lags well behind the United States in the use of military communications and reconnaissance satellites. This is an area in which Moscow sees a need for further development. But in the meantime, some of these deficiencies are addressed by enhanced battlefield use of reconnaissance UAVs (Zvezdaweekly.ru, October 16).

Moreover, the Zvezda Weekly author noted that, “Wide use of reconnaissance UAVs, and the introduction of Ratnik-2 combat gear and equipment, which includes the Strelets reconnaissance, command, control and communications (KRUS) complex, helped the effectiveness of operations by our field reconnaissance personnel.” In operations in Syria, however, “Strelets KRUS ensured performance of missions of battle management, communications, data transmission, and individual and group navigation; detection, coordinate measurement, and recognition of targets; as well as guidance to a target. Information being transmitted from the KRUS interfaces with all Russian reconnaissance, surveillance, and target-designation complexes; [as well as] radars; rangefinders; clinometers; and UAVs” (Zvezdaweekly.ru, October 16).

This unified system was tested, refined and found to function well during combat operations in Syria. Everything seen by the reconnaissance satellite, reconnaissance UAV, or individual soldier was also simultaneously fed to the NTsUO. The NTsUO has been used extensively in overseeing the logistical supply for Russian forces in Syria and reducing the costs involved. Consequently, the experimental use of force enablers and force multipliers, such as EW and network-centric approaches to combat operations, have allowed Moscow to avoid sending much larger numbers of troops to Syria. Moreover, as the author observes in Zvezda Weekly, this capability can be applied across a broad spectrum of conflict types, including asymmetrically against a near-peer adversary. Thus, it appears that Russia’s Armed Forces have transitioned away from relying on overwhelming numbers of personnel in operations, instead seeking to expand and deepen their quality through network-enabled approaches.

Jamestown