The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission identified a vehicle in drone imagery as a “Tirada-2,” but it may actually be an R-934BMV
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission(SMM) mistook an electronic warfare (EW) system in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to be the as-yet unseen Tirada-2, the DFRLab has concluded.
If the system in question had been a Tirada-2, it would have indicated expanded capabilities in Russia’s EW activities from within Ukrainian territory. Russia has carried out EW activities throughout the conflict, which has been ongoing since Spring 2014. In particular, the Tirada-2 would supposedly be able to jam satellite communications and even disable target satellites.
An SMM unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) took the disputed image on March 16, 2019, after which the SMM assessed the vehicle to be a Tirada-2 satellite jamming station. This was the first time open-source imagery claimed to show a Tirada-2 system overall, let alone one operating in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Open-source evidence, however, points to the vehicle from the UAV footage being, in fact, an R-934BMV, another type of Russian EW vehicle.
Additional images of EW vehicles from public television broadcasts revealed that the one in question operates in a frequency range consistent with the R-934BMV, not that of the Tirada-2. The definite similarity between the SMM image alongside a confirmed image of an R-934BMV therefore allowed the DFRLab to conclude that the drone had, in fact, captured an image of the latter.
Identifying the Tirada-2
On April 3, the SMM posted drone imagery on Twitter claiming to show a Tirada-2 alongside other EW vehicles.
Російські новітні системи озброєння – автоматизована станція перешкод Р-330Ж "Житель" та комплекс радіоелектронної боротьби "Тірада-2", зафіксовані Спеціальною моніторинговою місією ОБСЄ неподалік від н.п. Южна Ломуватка, на окупованій Росією частині Донбасу pic.twitter.com/AsKAIRUpQD
— Ukrainian Mission to OSCE & UN in Vienna (@UKRinOSCE) April 3, 2019
In July 2018, Russia demonstrated a number of vehicles in its EW fleet — one of which had striking similarities to the “Tirada-2” in the SMM image — for the press, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s local affiliate Kavkaz.Realii. The demonstration, however, did not overtly state the model names.
One of the primary identifiers was four boxes, which were positioned in a pattern unique to this vehicle, on the roof of the “Tirada-2” in the SMM’s drone image. The alignment of the boxes closely matched that of one of the vehicles in the 2018 press footage. The below comparison shows the similarities of the vehicles from the two sources, identifying each individual box and where it is positioned. Note that the second antenna is not visible in the SMM drone footage as it is obscured by a tree.
The four EW systems presented to the press included the vehicle identified by the SMM as the “Tirada‑2,” the MKTK-1A “Dzhudoist,” the 1RL257 “Krasukha-4,” and the R-330Zh “Zhitel.” The DFRLab has reported extensively on the R-330Zh’s presence in eastern Ukraine, as this system is one of the core Russian EW systems in the conflict.
Among the press footage from the demonstration were two videos of particular interest, both of which featured images of exteriors and interiors of some of the four EW variants. Through a process of elimination, the DFRLab determined which interior shots were from which vehicles, including the SMM’s “Tirada-2”.
Three out of the four models (MKTK-1A, R-330Zh, and 1RL257) were well-known, enabling easy placement of the model name along with the demonstrated vehicle. Those three, however, were not the one that closely resembled the SMM’s alleged “Tirada-2.”
In addition, as the graphic below shows, the interior view of each vehicle presented in the media footage was matched up to its respective exterior view.
The interior of the fourth, unknown vehicle had clear indicators of being an R-934BMV. The first video, from the local Stavropol TV channel Pobeda 26, showed a close-up shot of a control screen manned by an operator. The control screen identified the vehicle as an R‑934BMV in the top-left and bottom-left corners.
The screen listed the frequencies in hectohertz, displayed in Cyrillic (гГц). This table showed a number of frequencies at around 2440 hectohertz, which corresponded with the 100–400 megahertz frequency range within which the R-934BMV reportedly operates.
The Tirada-2 is, predictably, an iterative next generation design of the Tirada-1 and is expected to have a similar set of variants. One such variation, the Tirada-2S (sometimes referred to as the Tirada-2.3) officially entered into service with the Russian military in 2019, according to a late-2018 announcement issued by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Assuming that the Tirada-2 shares similarities in its designations to the Tirada-1, the Tirada-2S would denote that this model operates in the centimetric band — around 3–30 gigahertz. This range does not line up with the frequency range observed in the R-934BMV. A Tirada-1D is also known to exist, which operates in similar bands to the R-934BMV, but no Tirada-2 equivalent has been announced — given that the frequency range evident in the video was similar to that of the Tirada-1D, the EW vehicle in question could not have been a known variant of the Tirada-2.
Furthermore, in the top-left corner of the screen, after the basic R-934BMV identification, the phrase “вариант 2” (variant 2) appeared to be visible, indicating that this particular vehicle may be a later R-934BMV variant, which would explain its dissimilarities to previously observed R-934BMVs. This particular text, however, was blurrier than other text and may have said something different.
Further corroborating that the vehicle was an R-934BMV, in the second video (from Kavkaz.Realii), the same person from the first video identified himself as the operator of an R-394BMV in radio communications from within the vehicle.
Given the evidence presented in this piece, the DFRLab has concluded that the vehicle identified as a “Tirada-2” by the SMM was, more likely, an R-934BMV automated jamming station. The R-934BMV likely belonged to a mobile counter-UAV group sent to Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Furthermore, the unusual features of this R-934BMV suggested that it was a more experimental model than baseline variants spotted in Donetsk in 2016.
A common argument is that the “Syrian experience” has heavily informed Russia’s counter-UAV warfare strategy, especially as it relates to the use of mobile counter-UAV groups and countering swarm attacks. While this may be true, Russia has also gained significant experience in countering more advanced drones in eastern Ukraine. It will likely continue experimental counter-UAV deployments for as long as the conflict goes on, or at least until Ukraine learns to target these deployments reliably. Along the same lines, while the Tirada-2 has still not been photographed in an open setting, it is possible it will appear in a more active theater where its specific capabilities are required.
Michael Sheldon is a Digital Forensic Research Assistant with the Digital Forensic Research Lab and is based in Washington, D.C.
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