Russia’s Intelligence Systems in Syria

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Russia's Intelligence Systems in Syria

Written by Igor Pejic exclusively for SouthFront

At the state level, intelligence may help save lives; at the international level, it can provide or be used to provide a pretext for war; hence it can cost lives (Gill & Phythian, 2006). Since the beginning, intelligence has played a vital role in determining the outcome of a conflict. Although war is based on force and its actual employment, which drives the conflict forward, operational and tactical intelligence more than once had a greater impact than force itself. History has repeatedly demonstrated that numerically inferior forces, with less capabilities and technologies can win easily if their leaders posses the proper intelligence. Such intelligence can be a force multiplier. Thus considering the value of force employment, technology and mass without placing a corresponding value on intelligence is a mistake.

War intelligence can be separated into three main categories:

  • Battlefield intelligence which relates to a particular local area of engagement. Examples are the number of units guarding a bridge, armored vehicles, strong points etc.
  • Tactical information includes larger battles or campaigns, potential larger military force, their strength, supplies, equipment, their positioning and so on.
  • Strategic intelligence relates to a whole war or a country, intentions and capabilities. This not only includes military aspects, but also international politics, alliances, international relations. Such intelligence is not only gathered during war times but regularly as a constant routine.

Intelligence can be classified by it source as well:

  • Human intelligence is one of the oldest methods of gathering the intelligence and probably one of the oldest professions. It is done by informants or agents, usually by stolen or copied documents, or information passed on by other persons. The risk for the person doing such things, especially during war times is high and can result in execution.
  • Photographic and satellite intelligence uses advanced technologies in order to acquire information on the battlefield. Although this kind of intelligence gathering started during the First World War, it advanced further during the Cold War and today its one of the most popular ways of information gathering provided by high-tech satellites and drones.
  • Electronic and signals intelligence collects data from the interception of radio and all other communication signals. Today’s technology can usually “leak” information which can be traced and collected by specialized devices and further analyzed. This method can acquire ridiculous amounts of information since today everything is done via wireless connection like phones, laptops, PC’s, tablets etc. Larger countries have specialized departments devoted for this kind of intelligence gathering.

Russian intelligence gathering and analysis is bringing the Syrian conflict to the next level when it comes to fighting insurgence and terrorism. In this conflict Russia is utilizing all three stages of information gathering, which results in precise air strikes on marked targets avoiding unnecessary collateral damage. Firstly Russian forces have excellent coordination and cooperation with Syrian forces on the ground which include SAA and various loyalist groups, Hezbollah, and Kurdish YPG forces. These units can provide first hand information and data regarding positioning of the terrorist forces as well as rebels, their strongholds, weapon caches and so on. Of course this data doesn’t only help Russian warplanes but it also helps the advancement of Syrian artillery and land forces. This Human Intelligence will be further boosted with Russian military advisors as well as with modern equipment supplied to the Syrian Army.

Secondly, and probably most widely used, is the satellite and drone technology which provides detailed pictures of the battlefield and the situation on the ground. Since last September Russia is actively using satellites in order to obtain crucial information for airstrikes, but also to expose smuggling routs for oil from Iraq and Syria to Turkey. As for now ten spacecrafts have been assigned to conduct imagery and reconnaissance activities in the Middle East, these spacecrafts include military and civilian satellites. Although it’s not specified which satellites are being used, some reports suggest the following: the Russian military operates two Persona optical reconnaissance satellites which have been deployed in 2013 and 2015. These satellites are capable of acquiring high-resolution panchromatic and color imagery on targets on the ground reaching sub-meter resolution. It is known that these satellites have a morning pass every two days across Syria, focusing mainly on Al-Raqqah, Sarmin and Latakia. Other Russian satellite assets include a Kondor satellite which was launched back in 2013, this satellite currently has one or two daily passes over Syria. And there is also Lotos-1, electronic intelligence satellite tracking radio emissions and passing over the region up to four times a day. As far as the UAV’s and usage of drones goes, the Syrian conflict has seen the most extensive use of Russian reconnaissance UAV’s. The drones used are armed with high-end military technology in terms of sensors, cameras, navigation etc. these drones are not only used for scouting purposes but also for navigating precise missile strikes. Although it’s not clearly stated which drones are used, most reports suggest drones such as Orlan-10 (Sea Eagle), Dozor-600 (Watch), Skat (Skate) and Proryv (Breakthrough). UAV’s vary in size and mass which goes as low as 15kg, but also in capabilities such is speed that can reach up to 800 km/h. Aviation giants like MiG, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Yakovlev are highly interested in developing these new technologies and testing it in the Syrian conflict.

Lastly Russia has been deploying vehicles and radar systems not only for gathering intelligence but also for jamming and preventing communications between the insurgent groups and potential external threats. The deployment of electronic warfare technologies has proven its usefulness especially after the incident with Turkey. One of the systems deployed is the Krasukha electronic warfare system which is a ground based mobile defense system able to jam communication of airborne targets up to 250 km away. Since it is mobile it can cover a wider area of operations, also this system is effective against foreign eavesdropping like AVACS and jamming radio communication between terrorist groups.

The Syrian conflict is a great stress-test for Russian military technology, utilizing all kinds of high tech methods of data and information gathering while fighting the extremists. Russian engagement in Syria also shows that you don’t have to be a global “policeman” in order to effectively fight terrorism on foreign land. Good intelligence and cooperation with domestic forces is clearly providing much better results compared to operations done by western powers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Russian Battlefield Robots:

One of the more visible signs of the technological revolution sweeping the Russian Armed Forces is the proliferation of battlefield robots being tested for use with the Ground Forces. The range of programs suggests this is a high priority for the Russian Ministry of Defense, and the existence of such weapons systems is indicative of the importance being placed on implementing the digital revolution in the armed forces to make them capable of waging net-centric warfare relying on small units operating independently, without a well defined frontline… READ MORE

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