Geolocation, another weakness facing the Russian army

They were geolocated, attacked and killed. Dozens of Russian soldiers paid with their lives for the use of their mobile phones in Ukraine, a testament to the Russian military’s technological weaknesses and lack of discipline.

The Ukrainian attack on Makéyevka on New Year’s Eve left 89 dead, according to Moscow. But the increasingly influential Russian war reporters speak of hundreds of deaths. Ukraine claimed 400 casualties.

Other armies had already been surprised by the geolocation of their soldiers’ cell phones. Chechen separatist leader Djokhar Dubayev was shot down by Russian air-to-surface missiles in 1996 after identifying his satellite phone.

In January 2018, the US military discovered that the Strava Labs training program enabled the positioning of soldiers at bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

But this time, the mistake was huge.

"Using mobile phones is extremely dangerous on the battlefield and is rarely worth the risk."especially in Ukraine, where the government knows "what is happening in your telecommunications network"explained to AFP Joseph Shelzi, a researcher at the Soufan Center, based in New York.

– The "myth" of Russian technology

In Russia, the controversy is hot. The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank noted that pro-Kremlin organizations and military bloggers stressed "Ukraine’s ability to exploit bad practices in terms of security operations on the front lines".

Yet another flaw in an army described before the conflict as one of the most powerful in the world, but which has since demonstrated logistical weaknesses, ineffective intelligence, a disjointed chain of command, outdated equipment, and a lack of coordination among the armed forces. .

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The death of a Russian general early in the conflict was blamed on his tank’s heavy telecommunications equipment, which would have allowed the Ukrainians to detect his presence.

"Russian military technology is a myth, they are not good, it’s over"said Stéphane Dubreuil, a French telecommunications expert.

"At the beginning of the conflict, the Russians used encrypted phones, but they had problems because they were of the old generation"said the expert. "So they started using civilian phones".

In the case of the telephones used on New Year’s Eve, their use was probably not operational.

– The question of discipline –

The Makéyevka attack shows a huge technological gap. kyiv has state-of-the-art Western weapons, such as US-supplied Himars rocket launchers, and technical intelligence tools that Moscow does not.

This offensive, the deadliest in the war against Russian soldiers, also highlights a discipline problem in an army decimated by fighting and recently reinforced by hastily mobilized recruits sent to the front after rudimentary training.

It also confirms mistakes on the Russian side in terms of operational security.

The lethal effectiveness of the attack is mainly due to the housing of numerous soldiers in the same place, near an ammunition depot, according to Nick Brown, an expert with the British private intelligence company Janes.

For Schelzi, the possibilities are not endless. "The solution to limiting the risks mobile phones pose on the battlefield is to eliminate their use altogether."summarizes.

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