Does Russia have a “mystery weapon” capable of threatening the entire U.S. Navy?
Russian media have claimed that the Russian military has developed technology capable of neutralizing an adversary’s aircraft, ships and missiles within a 5,000-kilometer radius. The claim, first reported by Vesti News on April 14, said a Russian warplane had successfully tested the electronic jamming device on a U.S. warship, the destroyer Donald Cook in the Black Sea.
The report, which used a mock-up simulation to demonstrate the exercise, also quoted anonymous Russian sources claiming the technology could wipe out the entire U.S. Navy.
While the USS Donald Cook really was approached by a Russian jet in the Black Sea in 2014, U.S. officials say the details of the encounter were not accurately presented in the Vesti report and that most of the facts presented there are fabricated. American analysts suggest Russian officials may have made up the story to disguise the weakness of their own military.
“Russia’s claims about harming the Donald Cook are false,” said Jorge Benitez, Director of NATOSource and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “The Russian fighter jet was unarmed and there is no evidence that it damaged the U.S. ship in any way.”
During the incident, a Russian Su-24 buzzed the USS Donald Cook within 300 meters for some 90 minutes. A video shot from the ship showed that the Russian aircraft had neither external weapons hanging under the wings or fuselage, nor any external pods essential to house the electronics that Vesti claims it used against the Cook.
The U.S. Navy also says there was no damage to the destroyer. In an email response to VOA’s Polygraph.info website, the Navy wrote, that on April 12, 2014, a Russian SU-24 indeed “made numerous close-range and low altitude passes” over the USS Donald Cook in international waters in the Black Sea. The Navy described the Russian action as “unsafe and unprofessional” adding that “the [the Russian] aircraft did not respond to multiple queries from the Donald Cook. The event ended without incident after approximately 90 minutes, and the ship continued without impact on its original tasking.”
The media reports claimed that Russian specialists had an “unbelievable breakthrough” in electronic warfare. The complex “Khibiny,” the report claimed, uses “powerful electronic waves to deactivate the ship’s systems.” It also said the new technology is capable of creating electronic jamming domes over their command and control facilities, bases and critical infrastructure making them invisible on radar screens.
In describing the episode, the website Russian Agency of News said the “American servicemen did not know that the Russian plane was equipped with the latest complex of radio-electronic warfare ‘Khibini.’ As soon as the [Russian] pilot realized that he was detected, he turned on the equipment and the powerful radio-electronic waves disabled all systems of the ship,” the report said.
The April 15 report also claimed that the agency had discovered an account of the incident on the social media account of a Cook crew member who spoke of ‘mysticism’ on board. The crew member was quoted saying the Russian plane had completely disabled the ship’s navigation and anti-missile AEGIS systems, turning “the pride of our fleet” to “our shame.”
Benitez believes that the Russian media produces false stories of this kind “to cover up the weaknesses of the Russian military.”
While the Russians failed to “intimidate the Donald Cook,” the expert said the incident was connected to Russia’s actions in Ukraine in 2014.
“The original lies about this non-existent electromagnetic wonder weapon appeared in 2014 during Russia’s attacks against Ukraine,” Benitez said. “The Donald Cook was the first U.S warship into the Black Sea after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Putin’s media seems to have wanted a story of acting tough against the presence of the American military so close to the crisis area. Thus, they fabricated this story of disabling the electronic systems of a U.S. warship.”
Stephen Blank, an analyst at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the story about the Russian “wonder weapon” is “a standard Russian propaganda trick to disseminate false articles” meant to “impress audiences with Russian military-technological might and superiority over the U.S.”
Blank said the Russian media stories aim to “impress the ignorant abroad, also to enhance the Russian readers’ sense of Russian power, frighten the U.S. and especially its allies and thus contribute to the inhibition of Western military responses to Russian action.”
The experts said they were intrigued by Russia’s move to resurrect the story three years later, and by the effort that went into the skillfully presented simulation video showing how the new electromagnetic weapon supposedly disabled an American destroyer.
Some believe Moscow may be once again trying to act tough to cover up its weaknesses in light of the recent U.S. military actions in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as the Korean Peninsula.
Benitez said those actions “exposed the vulnerabilities of Russian air defense” and highlighted “Russia’s lack of similar warships and air power that could be deployed to a crisis zone. Instead, the Russian media not only recycled the fiction that Putin has an electromagnetic weapon that can disable a U.S. warship, but exaggerated the lie by now claiming that this mythical weapon can wipe out the whole U.S. Navy.”