Finnish Prime Minister (PM) Juha Sipila has accused Russia of interfering with the Global Positioning System (GPS) in Finland’s Lapland region during the Trident Juncture-2018 NATO exercise. NATO fighter jets and surveillance aircraft landed and took off from the airport in Rovaniemi during that training event. In his weekly interview with the national public broadcasting company YLE Radio Suomi, the PM said the electronic interference was "almost certainly deliberate." He thinks it is quite likely that Russia was behind the episode, which jeopardized civil aviation in addition to other concerns. An experienced pilot himself, Sipila said that the incident would be treated as a breach of Finnish airspace. Finland has launched an investigation into the matter. Foreign Minister Timo Soini has promised to provide a report to parliament about the alleged Russian jamming.
Norwegian authorities joined in to point a finger at Russia. “The jamming in the period between October 16th and November 7th came from Russian forces on Kola,” said Birgitte Frisch, Special Advisor in the Ministry of Defense. Danish aircraft were not affected but Danish Defense Minister Claus Hjord Frederiksen declared that Russia’s denials of involvement were not convincing. According to him, the GPS jamming incidents were another sign of Russia’s “aggressive” behavior toward neighboring countries. Nothing has been proven, but a Finnish investigation was launched after the accusations had already been made public.
No formal protests have been submitted. All the charges have been denied by Russia. It’s worth noting that neither the US Defense Department nor NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg were willing to comment. Is it conceivable that Russia’s alleged activities affected only the aircraft belonging to these two nations, especially since the American military was playing the biggest role in that exercise? Suppose Russia wanted to test its EW systems. How could the jamming exclude US aircraft and ships? All in all, over 30 countries took part in the training event, but only two of them complained. Were the others not subjected to jamming? If the jamming was so powerful, why were there no accidents? Can Finnish and Norwegian officials explain that? The fact that these very simple questions remain unanswered demonstrates how easy it is to hurl accusations without substantiating one’s claims.
Norway insists the interference came from the Kola Peninsula. The Russians’ best “tactical” electronic warfare (EW) systems, such as the Krasukha-4 or the aircraft-based Khibiny, cannot jam satellites. The state-of-the-art Porubschik EW system is carried by the Ilyushin Il-22PP aircraft. If it had been used, it would have been easy for NATO intelligence to have detected it.
It had to be a “strategic” system. Russia has at least two of them. One is the Samarkand, which has not been deployed as yet. The only system that could have jammed the NATO forces during the exercise would have been the Murmansk-BN. But it is positioned in Kaliningrad, not the Kola Peninsula. Besides, it’s really hard to explain why Russia would have done such a thing. Moscow does not stand to gain anything by jamming NATO GPS communications. The interference could have been caused by solar activity, which can be much more powerful than any conceivable EW system. That happens from time to time. But neither the Finnish nor the Norwegian authorities were willing to consider that possibility. And GPS positioning is normally less accurate in the polar regions anyway.
In 2016, Russia put forward a set of proposals to enhance security in Europe in general and in the Baltic Sea in particular, especially during military exercises. NATO refused to discuss them.
Thank God the Royal Norwegian Navy does not blame Russia for sinking its frigate Helge Ingstad, which hit a tanker during the drills. Many of the foreign servicemen who came to Norway to take part in Trident Juncture behaved badly and drank too much. Underdressed Slovenian soldiers nearly froze to death in Norway. Should Russia be blamed for that too? It has become a trend — Russia is blamed for whatever goes wrong, without any evidence to support such accusations. Those who put the blame on Russia for the glitches affecting the NATO military during these drills that were staged for the purpose of scaring Moscow to death need to do the right thing and provide some answers to these questions.