A report by the British Defense Ministry Secretary Ben Wallace found that Russian fighter planes were using rudimentary GPS receivers that were reportedly “taped to the dashboards” because their built-in navigation systems were simply horrible. This may be one of the primary reasons why the Red Air Force is absent in Ukraine.

“‘GPS’ receivers have been found taped to the dashboards of downed Russian Su-34s, so the pilots knew where they were, due to the poor quality of their own systems,” Wallace said.

“The result is that whilst Russia have large amounts of artillery and armor that they like parading, they are unable to leverage them for combined arms maneuver and just resort to mass indiscriminate barrages,” he added.

We believe that this is why the Russians are largely unable to operate in Ukraine. It is notable that there were no large-scale sorties reported during the first portion of the Russian advance toward Kyiv. More so, there are also no reported wide-scale air offensives in the Donbas region as well. Though this is not to say that no aerial combat has been happening between the two nations, just that everybody could notice that Russia clearly does not have air superiority in the region.

This is obvious for many reasons: First, Ukrainian drones are freely flying all over the place, attacking Russian armored columns and doing air reconnaissance to identify Russian positions. Second, there has been little air support for advancing Russian troops, which ultimately leaves their ground forces very vulnerable to aerial attacks, leaving them unable to advance as fast as they would like to.

The most recent example of their lack of air superiority is the failed river crossing at the Siverskyi Donets River. SOFREP had previously reported on this massive failure on the Russian forces’ hands as they lost around 100 tanks and armored vehicles to Ukrainian firepower. A vital reason why they were left very vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery was that they had no air reconnaissance over the area. In a highly contested area, it is a no-brainer that a UAV could have been very useful in locating Ukrainian positions within firing range. If they had such reconnaissance, then they would’ve been able to spot a Ukrainian armored formation some 10 miles away, a formation that had self-propelled artillery that could fire on them as they crossed the river. If they had this air superiority, they could have bombed these positions prior to crossing, which would have evaded such huge losses.

Su-34 cockpit which shows a Garmin GPS clamped on to the cockpit (iNews). Source: https://inf.news/en/military/01436f1051c80c0f4e3f72aa9fa34b83.html
Su-34 cockpit which shows a Garmin GPS clamped onto the cockpit (iNews)

Perhaps much worse, the Su-34 is one of Russia’s most used and leading fighter aircraft that it has under its arsenal. If these are the best fighter jets Russia has to offer their pilots to operate, then we would not be surprised regarding why they have lost over 205 aircraft over the past four months of fighting. Yes, many may argue that these aircraft may have been downed by Stinger missiles, but we should not ignore how the Ukrainians have been making use of their own MiG-29s against the Russian Air Force.

Keep in mind that the Su-34 had just entered service last 2014, so you’d think that they’d be upgraded with some sort of a functional navigation system. More so, they’re going up against Ukraine’s MiG-29s, which were initially introduced in Russia in 1982.

Believe it or not, this is not the first time the Russian Air Force has been found with this rudimentary GPS. During their intervention in Syria, it was found that the Su-34’s cockpit had already been using commercial GPS receivers, which exposes the fact that the Russian had been encountering this problem for years without addressing it. The GPS was later identified to be a Garmin brand GPS.

Last year, Russian Nationalist Politician and Soviet Air Force veteran Viktor Alksnis pointed out that these Garmin GPSs were merely just attached to the dashboard with a clamp and that it was just “an ordinary tourist satellite navigator sold in any electronics store.”

“This is a popular travel navigator Garmin eTrex Venture HC worth about 10,000 rubles,” Alksnis stated.

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According to Garmin, their navigation system is frequently used by aviation enthusiasts as the eTrex Legend can locate positions quickly, shows the weather, and has a terrain warning service. Perhaps best of all, it has a European database and thus, is very suitable for European use. The same can be said for the Garmin GPSMAP 496, which was seen on the dashboard of a Su-25SM3.

Russian Su-34 downed in Kharkiv (MilitaryLand.net). Source: https://twitter.com/Militarylandnet/status/1500805455131648001
A Russian Su-34 downed in Kharkiv (MilitaryLand.net/Twitter)

However, this raises the question, “What navigation systems are they using on their aircraft?”

Both the Su-34 and Su-25SM3 were reported to have their own satellite systems. The Su-25SM, the original variant, was equipped with A-737-01 GPS and GLONASS dual-signal satellite navigation receiver. The new Su-25SM3 was also reported to have upgrades such as changing the satellite navigation receiver to PPA-S /V-06, also compatible with GPS and GLONASS dual signals, adding the ability to edit waypoints.

GLONASS is a system of 24 satellites capable of full global coverage with an accuracy of 5-10 meters vertical positioning dating back to the early 1980s. On the ground, the service is controlled via a single system control center, 5 telemetry, tracking and command centers, 2 laser ranging stations, and 10 monitoring and measuring Stations. Ukraine was also using the GLONASS system prior to the invasion.

After the war began, Ukrainian hacker teams attacked the system and seemed to have crippled it requiring the Russians to switch to the Western GPS system.

On April 22nd, the Russians launched their new Angara 1.2 rocket with a military payload believed to be a radar-equipped satellite into low Earth orbit. The satellite failed to active upon being deployed.

Russian pilots who flew in Syria reported that their own GLONASS system was lacked the coverage to provide accuration positioning and they could only rely on GPS. Reports have also surfaced that the Russian GLONASS system and satellite constellation had been underfunded, so Russia had to build differential correction stations in Syria for their data to be more accurate by an astonishing 30% to 40%.

This lack of accurate global positioning would also explain to some extent the Russian reliance on unguided munitions as their lack of a working global positioning system would affect the guidance systems of these munitions.

In Ukraine, Russian units seem to be reliant on 1980s paper maps of Ukraine.  We also know that their secure communications systems relied on cellular towers in Ukraine that the Russians destroyed to disrupt Ukraine military communications, crippling their own in the process.  The Russian army was then compelled to use VHF/UHF frequencies that could be easily jammed and also triangulated for artillery and missile strikes.

When this war is over, a significant factor in the expected Russian defeat will be their inability to navigate and communicate to their aircraft and ground units.