by Derek Bisaccio and Carter Palmer
Talk: Finding the Russians: Russian military radio R-168 teardown
Speaker: Captain Iaroslav Kalinin, Chief Executive Officer, Infozahyst LLC, Ukraine
Captain Iaroslav Kalinin, the CEO of Ukrainian company Infozahyst LLC, provided an interesting breakdown of the Russian R-168 Akveduk software-defined radio, which entered development in the early 2000s and saw combat use in Georgia in 2008. Ukrainian troops began capturing the radio early on in the war, enabling companies like Infozahyst to perform analysis to support the Ukrainian armed forces.
Information discovered while analyzing captured equipment plays a direct role in supporting Ukraine’s defense. Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms exporter, bills the R-168 as “intended to provide communications in regiment-battalion-company level command and control networks,” making it important for the Ukrainian military to intercept, jam, or degrade.
The radio performs “frequency hopping,” which is a method to avoid jamming first pioneered by the U.S. and in particular the Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, who developed the technology in concert with American composer George Antheil. Despite its anti-jamming capabilities, there are ways to “attack” this system.
Captain Kalinin described various methods to jam or intercept signals produced by the R-168. The four main possible ways to attach this system were outlined as follows; flash memory dump, logic signals analysis, glitch attack, and RF transmission capture. Andrew Dardine, head of Forecast International’s Electronics Group, stated that, “definitely Ukrainians are equipped to jam as well. They’ve been gearing up for it for years.”
With that being said, as this is a software-defined system, updates are likely coming soon. An issue that the Russians may face is not the software but the hardware within the R-168.
Tearing down captured equipment also provides some interesting details on parts origin. Of particular note is the fact that some of the core components in the R-168 radio are Western parts, Kalinin highlighted. The radios include components from Xilinx and its parent AMD, Texas Instruments, Analog Devices, and Renesas Electronics.
Breaking down captured systems enables the West to tighten its sanctions regime, particularly as Russia appears still to be finding ways to circumvent the restrictions and acquire Western microelectronics. A June 2023 study from the KSE Institute and the International Working Group on Russian Sanctions found that Russian imports of critical components “rebounded weeks following an initial drop in the immediate aftermath of the imposition of sanctions.”
Kalinin pointed out that Russia is updating its equipment, including the R-168, in part to address battlefield vulnerabilities. Given the large number of systems using imported components – and deficiencies in Russia’s domestic chip industry – it is likely that the Russian military will nevertheless remain dependent to an extent on importing key microelectronics from abroad, underscoring the enduring importance of the sanctions regime in squeezing Russian military capabilities.