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Ukraine Captured Russian Aerial Electronic Warfare Pods for Aircraft

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The wreckage of Su-30SM 'RF-81773' that came down in a formerly Russian-controlled part of Kharkiv Oblast
The wreckage of Su-30SM 'RF-81773' that came down in a formerly Russian-controlled part of Kharkiv Oblast

Russian forces lost Khibiny-U electronic warfare pod that flies of its advanced Flanker fighters

According to the Oryx, Ukrainian forces got new trophi - a relatively intact example of an RTU 518-PSM self-protection jamming pod. This pod is associated with the latest version of the larger Khibiny-U electronic warfare suite used on the Su-30SM Flanker-H, and its capture holds potentially great intelligence value.

According to the TheDrive analize, pictures of the front end of the pod in question began circulating on social media on September 12. It was reportedly discovered among the wreckage of a Russian Su-30SM, with the serial number RF-81773 and bort number Red 62, that was shot down earlier in the conflict near the city of Izium (Izyum) in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region. It would appear that Russian forces had made no serious attempt to locate what was left of the aircraft, and remove or destroy it to prevent their capture before the area was recently liberated.

Read more: russian Troops Lost Next Su-34 Fighter-bomber (Video)

As installed on Russia's Su-30SMs, the RTU 518-PSM is part of a larger suite referred to as Khibiny-U. The entire "complex," as it is referred to in Russian, consists of the SAP 518-SM, made of up one RTU 518-PSM pod on the right wingtip and an RTU 518-LSM1 on the left wingtip, as well as the internal KS REP system, according to a 2021 paper from the Kaluga Scientific-Research Institute for Radio Engineering. Better known by the Russian acronym KNIRTI, this is the manufacturer of all of the versions of the Khibiny family of electronic warfare complexes.

As already noted, the RTU 518-PSM is understood to contain an active jamming system, while the companion RTU 518-LSM1 is believed to be a passive receiver that detects threatening electromagnetic spectrum emissions, such as those from hostile radars. In its primary role as a self-protection system against enemy air defenses, the complete SAP 518-SM subsystem, also referred to as Regata, reportedly has the ability to spot and then jam and otherwise confuse an opponent's radars – including seekers on incoming radar-guided missiles – in various ways. This may include the ability to generate false emissions to try to help mask the actual aircraft using Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) technology, which you can read more about here.

There are also indications that the SAP 518-SM subsystem is focused on protecting against mid-band threats, while the internal KS REP subsystem is optimized against high-band ones, giving the overall complex a broader range of capabilities. This is based on what is known about the function of slightly different pods as part of the older Khibiny-10M system for the Su-35S. Another earlier version of Khibiny, the Khibiny-10V, also includes distinct pods and is used on the Su-34.

The Su-30SM can carry an additional pod, known as the SAP-14, that can reportedly provide escort jamming capabilities for larger groups of aircraft, on the centerline. It's not immediately clear if SAP-14 is a component of Khibiny-U or not, though it clearly can be used together with other elements of that system.

A Russian Su-30SM with at least one of the SAP 518-SM wingtip pods and what appears to be the SAP-134 centerline pod. KNIRTI

In addition, the U in Khibiny-U is believed to stand for unifitsirovannyi, or unified in Russian, suggesting it may reflect an effort to create a standardized version of the system that will work with multiple types of aircraft as an offshoot of developing an electronic warfare suite for the Su-30SM. The Russian Ministry of Defense first hired KNIRTI to develop the Su-30SM's new electronic warfare complex in 2013, a year before the Khibiny-10V became the first version of that system to enter operational service on any platform.

russian Su-30SM  aircraft  with Khibiny electronic warfare suite
russian Su-30SM aircraft with Khibiny electronic warfare suite

Russian SU-30SMs were first seen with Khibiny-U in 2018. However, there is evidence that Russian Su-30SMs in Syria flew on at least some occasions as early as 2015 with the wingtip pods from the Su-34's Khibiny-10V system.

The possibility of gleaning new details about what the jammer inside the RTU 518-PSM pod, as well as the rest of the Khibiny-U system, can and cannot do is exactly why its capture is significant. Elements of all three known versions of Khibiny have almost certainly been recovered in the country of the fighting already, including from the remains of an Su-35S that came down in the vicinity of Izium back in April before Russian forces initially captured the area. However, this newly captured example of the RTU 518-PSM pod appears to be in especially good condition.

Read more: Ukraine’s Air Force Shot Down Russia’s Su-34 Aircraft, Orlan-10 UAVs