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Russia is so poor it’s taping gear to fighter jets, UK defense chief says

Russian Su-34s flying over the 2014 Victory Day parade on Red Square in Moscow (Kremlin.ru/Released)
May 11, 2022

Russian air forces have resorted to using tape to secure Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to their dashboards and taking other unconventional measures during their invasion of Ukraine due to a lack of resources, according to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace this week.

In a speech at the National Army Museum in London on Monday, Wallace said Russian forces invading Ukraine have been hindered by inadequate equipment and support.

“Almost none of their vehicles contain situational awareness and digital battle management,” Wallace said. “Vehicles are frequently found with 1980s paper maps of Ukraine in them.”

“But it’s not just ground forces,” Wallace continued. “‘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.”

It’s unclear whether the unconventional attachment of taping the GPS to the dashboard is a new discovery, however, Russian fighter jets were found to be using GPS devices in Syria at least as far back as 2016. Russia’s GLONASS – its own version of GPS – is installed on its fighter jets, but has notoriously experienced catastrophic failures through the years, leading them to rely at least somewhat on GPS devices.

In July 2021, a photo circulating Telegram dated 2016 showed a Su-34 fighter jet using a U.S.-made Garmin eTrex Venture HC GPS device that was clamped onto the dashboard. In response, longtime Russian pilot Viktor Alksnis said in a Facebook post, “In my 25 years of service in the Air Force, I have never seen this type of attaching on an aircraft,” according to his translated remarks.

“Using a tourist navigator in the cabin of a combat aircraft is a gross violation of aviation guidelines and rules,” Alksnis continued. “This photograph once again confirms the unwell condition of our army and makes you wonder if everything is really as good there as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief claims it.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing on Tuesday that U.S. sanctions had made it harder for Russia to get components for their defense industry, including precision-guided munitions.

In his speech this week, Wallace also said the Russian military’s apparent lack of situational awareness has contributed to Russian forces carrying out imprecise and indiscriminate attacks.

“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,” Wallace said.

Wallace also said Russia’s military knew its armored forces would be up against anti-tank missiles, but didn’t invest in effective systems to protect them. Wallace said even Russia’s most-advanced T-14 Armata tanks lack advanced protective systems. He suggested Russia is not actually prepared to field those T-14 tanks and they instead exist only as a show of force in Russia’s military parades.

“The Russians didn’t invest in effective systems to protect even their most advanced tanks,” Wallace said. “Remember the T-14? Presumably still just for victory parades.”

Wallace also noted Russian forces have turned to makeshift means of up-armoring their vehicles, including fastening pine logs to their sides or welding on crude metal slats overhead. Wallace even referred to these welded metal slats on Russian tanks as “cope cages,” a derisive slang term popularized in numerous memes since the start of the war.

“Russian soldiers’ futile use of pine logs as makeshift protection on logistical trucks and attaching overhead ‘cope cages’ to their tanks, it’s nothing short of tragic,” Wallace said. “But their commanders’ failures to adapt before entering them into such a conflict is criminal.”

Wallace’s speech coincided with Russia’s annual May 9 “Victory Day” celebrations. Russia celebrates Victory Day as the day Nazi Germany was defeated in World War II. Russia has historically celebrated the day with military parades.

This article was updated to clarify that Russian fighter jets have used GPS units before the Ukraine invasion.