Ukraine Just Captured One Of Russia’s Most Capable Aerial Electronic Warfare Pods

Ukrainian forces have been capturing significant amounts of Russian materiel of various kinds as they keep pushing eastward and southward as part of their ongoing counteroffensives. These spoils of war now reportedly include 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.

Pictures of the front end of the pod in question began circulating on social media earlier today. 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.

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-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.

The potential intelligence haul could be even greater depending on the condition of other components of the electronic warfare suite on the crashed jet, as well. If it is indeed from the wreckage of Su-30SM Red 62, that aircraft could also have been fitted with the L150 Pastel radar homing and warning system (RHAWS), which is used for self-defense and for helping with the targeting of Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles, as well as UV-30MKR chaff/flare dispensers.

There’s potentially more for Ukrainian intelligence personnel, and almost certainly their foreign partners, such as those in the United States, to pick over here than just the hardware, too. Any surviving data storage systems with any software used to run portions of the Khibiny-U could actually be more valuable, especially given the reported DRFM signal mimicking functionality.

The actual subcomponents, including computer chips and other electronics, used in the RTU 518-PSM and any other elements of the associated electronic warfare complex could provide valuable industrial intelligence, too. As The War Zone, among others, has reported in the past, the conflict in Ukraine has exposed just how reliant Russia’s defense industry is on foreign-sourced parts.

The apparent decision on the part of the Russian military to make no efforts to do anything about the remains of this aircraft, possibly due to the belief that their positions in this part of Ukraine were relatively secure, can only add insult to injury.

The war in Ukraine has already been a massive boon for foreign intelligence services, especially when it comes to Russia’s most advanced electronic warfare and air defense capabilities. Many captured systems may well have already been sent outside the country for further analysis and evalution. Even before the current conflict, Ukraine had been an important source of Soviet-designed hardware, including fighter jets and large radars, for the U.S. military’s so-called foreign materiel exploitation (FME) enterprise.

Whatever the case, an important component of an entire family of Russian aircraft electronic warfare suites, one of the most modern such systems that the country has and it uses on a number of its front-line combat jets, now looks to be firmly in the hands of its opponents.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.