Network-centric Warfare in Ukraine: The Delta System


    The Delta system is a crucial factor behind the success of Ukrainian troops’ efficient Network-centric warfare in Ukraine. Further, it serves as a blueprint for NATO member states to counter Russian aggression.

    1.0. The Delta System

    The Delta situational awareness system (“The Delta system” or “the system”) is a cloud-based system designed to provide real-time situational awareness. Created in 2021 by the military A2724 unit and further developed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, they presented the system to the world in October 2022 [source]. The Delta system collects, processes and displays information on hostile troop movements, coordinates defence forces and provides real-time situational awareness. In addition, the system provides a comprehensive  picture of the current battle space displayed and summarised on a user-friendly digital map by collecting data from sensors and open and secret sources [source].

    Several Western states implement the leading security and NATO standards in its cloud-based design [source]. Its operational use and capability in the ongoing war is thus a prime opportunity for NATO allies to examine its efficiency.

    2.0. Operation

    The Delta system does not require specific settings and is ready to use on laptops, tablets or mobile phones [source]. Its user-friendly design enables through images collected from drones, satellites, human intelligence (HUMINT) sources, and sensors. The result is illustrated on an interactive map which locates enemy forces and gives troops on the ground a crucial advantage. The system is, simply put, a real-time command-and-control  centre that brings Ukrainian forces cutting-edge capability in the network-centric environment of modern warfare.

    3.0. Network-centric Warfare

    3.1. What is it?

    Network-centric warfare (NCW) is a military doctrine first pioneered by the United States (US) in the 1990s [source]. Seeking to translate information superiority into increased warfighting capabilities, NCW broadly refers to utilising a combination of information age technology to enhance combat power.

    Defined in Network Centric Warfare: Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority, NCW is “an information superiority-enabled concept of operations that generates increased combat power by networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self-synchronisation. In essence, NCW translates information superiority into combat power by effectively linking knowledgeable entities in the battlespace” [source].

    An illustration of NCW. Image: Panda 51. License.

    3.2. Purpose

    The intended purpose of NCW is to enable smaller units to achieve unprecedented mission effectiveness [source]. The efficiency and effectiveness of military operations does improve through high-speed communications and network-based situational awareness. A system which integrates human decision-makers, situational and targeting sensors, i.e., data sources, is quickly processing information and providing it to a target unit. Furthermore, smaller units can compensate for their limited numbers by a significant degree of mobility and adaptability.

    Developing an adequate network capable of exchanging real-time information allows a decentralised command. Furthermore, such a structure enhances the ability to coordinate asymmetric operations and defeat a numerically superior opponent.

    4.0. Network-centric Warfare in Ukraine

    In March 2021, Ukraine announced its new military strategy proclaiming the significance of an enhanced NCW capability [source]. The combined use of drones, satellite communications, and navigation systems increased Ukrainian military operational and deterrent capacity. A year later, this would be apparent in the Ukrainian war-fighting strategy.

    4.1. The Initial Phase: Halt Russia’s Invasion

    When Russia initiated its full-scale invasion of Ukraine at dawn on 24 February 2022, the initial strategy seemed to be a blitzkrieg of Kyiv. At the time, the world watched what they expected to be a short campaign based on earlier assessments of Russian military strategy. Massive air strikes followed Russian efforts to penetrate Ukrainian territory on the ground.

    In the northeastern regions, however, the offensive met a quick halt. Small, decentralised units operating in a highly decentralised manner efficiently countered the invading forces. With superior flexibility, using combined arms targeting Russian logistics, Ukrainian troops overcame the Russian numerical and material superiority. As Ukraine pushed Russian troops back into the South and the summer was closing in, the conditions changed when deliveries of Western weapons systems increased.

    4.1.1. NCW: The Main Success Factor

    The combined use of artillery, communication, intelligence, electronic warfare and target acquisition from decentralised command and control centres in a unified network appeared imperative for the soon-to-come, southern counteroffensive in late August.

    NCW is now the main success factor, thanks to Western support of developed weaponry and adequate training from Western armed forces.

    According to Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation, Ukraine has developed a world leader in NWC based on its crucial information awareness on the battlefield. The ability of Ukrainian troops to locate their enemy, as well as its numbers and capability, is suppossedly the primary advantage [source].

    A Bayraktar TB2 drone operated by the Ukrainian Navy. Image: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. License.

    4.2. The Delta System to Counter Russian Electronic Warfare

    As the Delta system enables highly decentralised control and command, Ukrainian electronic signatures hold limitations. Hence, Russian cyber capabilities intended to shut down Ukrainian communication channels have been less successful than first anticipated. Further on, as the Russian military is a highly centralised apparatus lacking synchronisation and an ability to conduct large-scale joint operations in Ukraine, the highly flexible and mobile Ukrainian forces are hard to locate.

    The decentralised Ukrainian command-and-control structure, operating highly independent from centralised command, is enabled through the Delta system. However, the system does not function barely on its own but is dependent on reception, as any digital system. The source and primary enabler behind the Delta system’s success are Starlink.

    Starlink is a broadband satellite-enabled internet developed by SpaceX, which makes Ukrainian forces independent from fibre optic cables or mobile networks vulnerable to Russian attack. Currently, there are approximately 20,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine, most of which are funded by Western support [source]. The terminals are crucial for the ability to conduct network-centric warfare in Ukraine.

    The critical characteristic of Starlink is that its satellite-based design is more resilient towards jamming than regular radio signals. Furthermore, due to the quick installation time, approximately 15 minutes, Ukrainian forces can maintain a high level of communication without relying on Internet cables. Therefore, access to Starlink hardware is crucial to enhance and sustain Ukrainian NCW capability through the Delta system. In addition, drones use Starlink to keep connected when Ukraine lacks internet and power because of Russian  artillery targeting its critical infrastructure.

    As the system highly depends on Western support, there is reason to assume that NATO countries are interested in its operational capability to counter Russian threats.

    The user terminal of the Starlink system of satellite Internet access in Kyiv (faces blurred by the author). The terminals and access to the system were provided to Ukraine by Elon Musk shortly after beginning of the 2022 Russian invasion. Image: Kyiv City Council. License.

    5.0. Prospects for NATO-Ukraine Cooperation

    The Delta system fulfils NATO standards because of Western advisors’ assistance and funding in its development. The US has reportedly spent millions of dollars on the project and its resilience towards Russian electronic warfare [source]. Further on, they reportedly tested the system during the Sea Breeze military exercise in the Black Sea in 2021, showing  its NATO adaptability.

    According to Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s minister of defence, Ukraine is currently a testing ground for Western weapons systems [source]. As hiding signals and electronic signatures have become essential in the electronic warfighting environment, there are prospects for NATO to collect information and develop tools to counter Russian electronic warfare and SIGINT tools efficiently. As the world is monitoring the war in Ukraine, the know-how of how to conduct and counter electronic warfare is bound to spread. Therefore, NATO member states are likely to further develop and maintain their information exchange with Ukraine to develop innovative technology.

    A NATO-operated Boeing 707-320C. Image: Ignacio Ferre Pérez.

    6.0 What’s Next?

    Enhanced NATO-Ukrainian cooperation on technological development is likely in the future. With the world as observers, network-centric warfare in Ukraine is drawing attention. While there are significant benefits for NATO to develop its capability to counter Russian aggression, such an ability is crucial for Ukraine.

    7.0. Summary

    The Delta system is at the forefront of modern warfare and a key enabler in conducting efficient NCW. The system is one of the key factors behind the success of Ukrainian troops’ efficient Network-centric warfare in Ukraine. Further on, it serves as a blueprint for NATO and its member states to counter Russian aggression effectively. Thus, it illustrates prospects for increased and maintained support for Ukraine.

    Oscar Rosengren
    Oscar Rosengren
    Oscar Rosengren is a student at the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm. His main focus area is the Sahel Region and West Africa. Specific interests are asymmetric threats, mainly terrorism, covert action, and cyber threats.

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