04:59 GMT +325 March 2017
    A Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft.

    Eye-Watering Spies: Russia’s State-Of-The-Art Jets Stir Envy in Washington

    © Photo: Wikipedia/Kirill Naumenko
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    Russia’s impressive improvements to its conventional forces arsenal, especially with respect to the signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities it displayed in Syria, “may be gaining the envy of some in Washington,” according to one US military analyst. Here are two of the Russian spy planes which impressed the West.

    Russia’s military modernization program and impressive improvements within conventional forces arsenal, especially its signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities have apparently come as a big surprise to Washington.

    In Syria, Russia has supposedly deployed two Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and SIGINT aircraft, which “may be gaining the envy of some in Washington”, according to Caitlin Patterson, a veteran of the US Marine Corps where she served as Cryptologic Linguist and Signals Intelligence Analyst.

    One of the planes is Ilyushin Il-20 surveillance aircraft, “Coot” in NATO code.

    “The Il-20 comes packed with an array of sensors, antennas, IR (Infrared) and Optical sensors, a SLAR (Side-Looking Airborne Radar), and satellite communication equipment for real-time data sharing,” Patterson describes the aircraft.

    The Il-20 is a military version of the Il-18 passenger airplane. It was designed for intelligence gathering with its distinguishing features being the Igla-1 phased-array SLAR pod under the forward fuselage, housings for A-87P LOROP cameras and the Romb 4 sigint system, according o the GlobalSecurity.com website.

    Two antennas also protrude from the top of the fuselage for the Vishnaya communications intelligence gathering system.

    It is flown by a crew of five accompanied by eight mission specialists.

    The plane is believed to regularly perform long-range reconnaissance missions in the Baltic region, flying in international airspace with its transponder turned off; a standard practice for almost all ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft.

    In Syria, the aircraft allegedly performed intelligence gathering missions, eavesdropping into Daesh militants communications, detecting their systems’ emissions to build an Electronic Order of Battle of Daesh in the region, and pinpointing their positions, according to The Aviationist website.

    Another aircraft is the newest Russian spy-plane, the Tu-214R. It has ELINT and SIGINT platforms on board.

    The antennae of the Tu-214R can intercept the signals emitted by the enemy systems (radars, aircraft, radios, combat vehicles, mobile phones etc) so as it can build the EOB (Electronic Order of Battle) of the enemy forces: where the enemy forces are operating, what kind of equipment they are using and, by eavesdropping into their radio/phone communications, what they are doing and what will be their next move, according to The Aviationist.

    Tupolev Tu-214R
    © Photo: Wikipedia/Rimma Sadykova
    Tupolev Tu-214R

    The Russian Tu-214R is a state-of-the art plane based on the Tu-214 commercial transport aircraft which was modified under the codename 'Project 141' to replace the Ilyushin IL20M ELINT.

    The flight tracking website flightradar24.com reported that the aircraft could be tracked as it followed the eastern corridor from Russia, to the Caspian Sea and then to Syria via the Iranian and Iraqi airspaces.

    ​While it was still under development, the same Tu-214R aircraft flew what appeared to be an operative mission on Jun. 18, 2015, when it flew from the city of Kazan (the aircraft is built by KAPO,Kazan Aircraft Production Association) to Crimea and back, closely following the border between Russia and Ukraine, most probably testing some of its sensors against real targets.

    ​Previously, the aircraft was spotted flying near Crimea. While over the Caspian Sea, approaching the Iranian airspace, the Tu-214R performed a couple of 360° turns at 33,000 feet (10,000meters).

    ​“While it is natural for countries and militaries to keep evolving their technologies, Russia is investing quite a lot of capital to rapidly modernize its military forces, equipping its army to fight in tomorrow’s battlefields,” Patterson concludes.

    “The US has been too focused on counter-insurgency doctrine, bogged down in conflicts from Iraq to Afghanistan, and the result has been a neglect of America’s own SIGINT and EW capabilities for a conventional war with a power like Russia or China,” she adds.

    As evident with Russia’s display of its new capabilities, the United States will have a lot of work on its hands to counter these developments if it wants to keep superiority in this emerging domain, she finally states.


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    reconnaissance aircraft, electronic warfare, intelligence, surveillance, Tu-214R, Il-20, Syria, Russia
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    • avatar
      What I find ironic is how much the US spends on intelligence, yet had no idea how advanced the Russian military or their weapons and systems were? Doubt you will find Russia having the same concerns with the US?
    • basho
      "...counter these developments if it wants to keep superiority in this emerging domain, she finally states."

      after writing all of this, you are still assuming that the u.s. has a superior position? interesting.
    • avatar
      UDENTA O UDENTAin reply toanne00marie(Show commentHide comment)
      anne00marie, The presence of Russian special forces in Crimea after the successful reunification referendum took the West by surprise; they never saw it coming. The massive deployment of Russian Aerospace forces in Syria hours after President Putin secured parliamentary approval caught the US napping. In spite of their pompous boasts and the expenditure of billions of dollars worth of intelligence gathering assets by the Pentagon, the Americans are clearly out of their depth when it comes to Russia's advances in SIGNIT, EW and ELINT segments of modern warfare.
    • avatar
      michaelin reply tobasho(Show commentHide comment)
      basho, nice observation. :)
    • avatar
      The US cant stomach what the Russian military have diaplayed in Syria.No amount of their money they spent can undo Russian intelligence.Russians reads US moves like the back if their hand.
    • bashoin reply toanne00marie(Show commentHide comment)
      anne00marie, collecting intelligence requires one to have "boots on the ground" so to say. i remember, early on, in the iraq debacle that the pentagoofs were desperate to find someone that could speak the language. imo most of the "intelligence" gathering is in the form of info on foreign business plans, designs etc and for terrorizing their own citizens.
    • bashoin reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
      michael, :-)
    • bashoin reply toUDENTA O UDENTA(Show commentHide comment)
      UDENTA O UDENTA, i think what we are seeing is that a lot of what the u.s. says and does is hollywood script. there is a terrible naivety among americans. look at the disaster of guantanamo, where who knows how many people were dumped there by informants who took the money and ran. people that had absolutely nothing to do with 911. the americans are basically a lazy people, they only know one language, english. they have no desire to go farther than that. with an attitude that the world is all english one must be prepared to be "hoodwinked", all of the time. and so it is with americans. we are seeing the imperium collapse, slowly, unequivocally. case in point, obama's current european trip.
    • avatar
      UDENTA O UDENTAin reply tobasho(Show commentHide comment)
      basho, you are dead right. The ignorance of most Americans about reality beyond the shores of their country is translated at the level of foreign policy by a gross misreading of the currents, values and ontologies of the nations and regions they so recklessly impose their imperial might on. You are also right that the grip of Hollywood mentality is pervasive among millions of Americans, distorting their view of the world and reducing serious issues to theatre and entertainment. The imperium is surely under incredible stress and with the low quality of leadership currently on offer in America, from its political leaders to congressional heads, from the neoconservatives to the liberal interventionists, and from anachronistic Washington think tanks and policy institutes offering dated, cold war strategic scenarios to the bumbling and incompetent clowns that run runs military industrial complex, the end is not very far off.
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