Russian media have claimed that the country’s military has developed technology capable of neutralizing an adversary’s planes, ships and missiles within a 5,000-kilometer radius. According to the Vesti news program on state television’s Channel One, a Russian warplane successfully tested this electronic jamming device on an American destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, in the Black Sea. Quoting anonymous Russian sources, the report also claimed that this technology could wipe out the entire U.S. Navy.
Polygraph.info found these media reports were based on fabricated “facts” and that no such electronic attack on the USS Donald Cook took place. In an email to Polygraph.info, the U.S. Department of Defense described the behavior of the Russian warplane during the encounter with the U.S. destroyer as “unsafe and unprofessional.” Experts interviewed by Polygraph.info described the Vesti report as “typical propaganda” that uses a mythical “wonder weapon” to cover up weaknesses of the Russian armed forces.
The incident involving the USS Donald Cook took place in April 2014, when a Russian Su-24 buzzed the U.S. warship for some 90 minutes, coming within a thousand feet. A video shot from the ship showed that the Russian aircraft had neither external weapons hanging under the wings and fuselage, nor any external pods essential to house the electronics it supposedly used against the vessel.
The electronic jamming shown in animation broadcast by Russia media purports to show the use of an electromagnetic or radio frequency weapon. Polygraph.info found that such technology would requires the use of external pods hanging from the wings and/or fuselage of the aircraft. On the Su-24, no such external pods were visible.
The Vesti report claimed Russian specialists had achieved an “unbelievable breakthrough” in electronic warfare. The “Khibiny” system (named after a mountain in range in Russia’s Far North), the report claimed, uses “powerful electronic waves to deactivate a ship's systems.”
Vesti also claimed that in the April 2014 incident involving the USS Donald Cook, “American servicemen did not know that the Russian plane was equipped with the latest radio-electronic warfare system, ‘Khibiny.’”
“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 added.
The report then claimed to quote from an account of the incident posted to social media by a USS Donald Cook crewmember, who, it said, wrote that the Russian plane had completely disabled the ship’s navigation and then the Cook’s anti-missile AEGIS system, turning “the pride of our fleet” to “our shame.”
“Russia’s claims about harming the Donald Cook are false,” Jorge Benitez, director of NATOSource and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, told Polygraph.info. “The Russian fighter jet was unarmed (i.e., no missiles beneath its wings) and there is no evidence that it damaged the U.S. ship in any way.”
The U.S. Navy confirms no damage was done to the destroyer. In an email response to Polygraph.info, 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 [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.”
Benitez believes that Russian media report these false stories “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 electro-magnetic 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.”
This story about the Russian “wonder weapon” is “a standard Russian propaganda trick” involving the dissemination of “false articles” meant to “impress audiences with Russian military-technological might and superiority over the U.S.,” said Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council.
In an email response to Polygraph.info, Blank said that the Russian media stories aim to “impress the ignorant abroad,” as well as to enhance “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.”
Experts told Polygraph.info that in using state media to bring up this April 2014 incident and claim that Russia possesses such an electro-magnetic weapon, Moscow might have been trying to cover up its weaknesses in light of the recent U.S. military actions in Syria and Afghanistan, and the Korean Peninsula.
These U.S. actions, said Benitez, “exposed the vulnerabilities of Russian air defense” and highlighted “Russia’s lack of similar warships and airpower that could be deployed to a crisis zone. Instead, the Russian media not only recycled the fiction that Putin has an electro-magnetic 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.”