Two vehicles of the Russian state-of-the-art signal intelligence station Torn spotted in occupied Makiivka in January 2018. Top right: reference image.
For years, Russia has denied the involvement of its military and security forces in the war raging in the Donbas. However, extensive evidence of Russian military presence in the Donbas has been gathered during the five-plus years of the ongoing conflict.
Among the evidence are numerous investigations by the InformNapalm community. They have collectively identified more than 2,500 regular Russian soldiers from 98 regular Russian military units. They have also identified 51 types of Russian military equipment. None of these has ever been used in the Ukrainian army nor been part of the Soviet-made military hardware used by Ukraine. Conclusively, not one of the 51 has ever been lost to the enemy in the Donbas battlefields. In other words, they are indisputably Russian.
As of 2017, at least 43 pieces of advanced EW (electronic warfare) equipment, and at least 14 types of various EW and communication stations have either been spotted by the OSCE SMM or identified in photo and video footage by independent investigators.
On 31 July, InformNapalm published a 30-second video showing two 6×6 Kamaz trucks driving down a snow-covered street near a row of five-storey Soviet-built “Khrushchovka” residential buildings. Both trucks were equipped with standard Russian army compartments known as KUNG — the Soviet-developed, standardized military vehicle module system. KUNG is used by various military vehicles, including communication and EW stations, mobile labs, repair workshops, command and sanitary vehicles, and others.
According to InformNapalm’s description of the video, it shows vehicles with standardized military vehicle module systems, installed with TORN, moving northward along Vulytsia Heroiv Stalinhradu (Stalingrad Heroes Street) towards Vulytsia Manuilskoho in Makiivka — a suburb of the regional capital Donetsk. The video was filmed in January by local residents.
“We publish it abridged for the first time only now. The InformNapalm community has the full version available, however, the editorial staff decided to abridge it before the publication to protect witnesses, since other people were caught on camera,” reads the description.
The danger of being arrested for “espionage” filming of Russian military equipment or troops is very real for those Donbas residents living under Russian occupation. Many of the civilian hostages Ukraine managed to exchange at the end of 2017 had been held behind bars in occupied Luhansk and Donetsk, on such “espionage” charges. Moreover, charges of espionage on behalf of a foreign state” (i.e., Ukraine) as well as “subversive activities” remain the most common accusations for hostages still imprisoned in ORDLO, by occupation authorities.
The article on the InformNapalm website gives more details and provides coordinates for the probable location of the video.
What is TORN?
TORN is one of the most sophisticated Russian-designed signal intelligence (SIGINT) complexes, belonging to the electronic warfare support (ES) equipment.
Russian official sources mention two types of TORN — it is unclear whether one of them is an upgraded version of the other, or if they have different functionality. It’s not certain which was spotted in the Donbas.
The 2017 purchase plan of Russia’s National Guard troops mentions a “mobile complex of radio control and active monitoring TORN-8PMK.”
A news item on the Russian Ministry of Defense website, dated 23 May 2019, noted Russia was going to equip its peacekeeping brigade near Samara with “automated mobile complexes of radio intelligence, TORN-MDM.”
A slide of a presentation, published at the Russian Arms Forum, without reference to any sources, mentions the TORN as an “automated mobile complex of radio control at the tactical level TORN-MDM” that is designed for “searching, snap analyzing and registering the signals ranging between 1.5 and 3,000 MHz, as well as for finding and locating their sources by the angle measuring method at the distance up to 70 km.” The latter wording almost literally repeats some of the specs quoted in the news item.
The complex TORN-MDM is comprised of two vehicles, both based on the chassis of KamAZ-5350 — one of the two major truck models most widely used in the Russian army. The apparatus vehicle includes three stations for direction-finding of high (HF) and very-high (VHF)/ultra-high (UHF) frequencies, and for radio reception of VHF/UHF, as well as equipment for communication and navigation. The second vehicle, which has a similar appearance, is a rigging truck.
Pinpointing the location
InformNapalm states that two TORN trucks were recognized near #42, Vulytsia Heroiv Stalinhradu in Makiivka, as they were passing by the five-storey residential building towards Vulytsia Manuilskoho, i.e., northwards.
The location is absent from Google Street View, which makes it harder to verify the geolocation data and pinpoint it more precisely. However, the comparable Russian service, Yandex Karty, has 2010 panoramas of Makiivka’s Stalingrad Heroes Street available. It shows that the #42 is a three-storey building, and that the five-storey #1 and #3 on the other side of the street are separated from the road by a treeline that isn’t visible in the video. The actual video location is some 180 meters further north, near #36 on the same street. Thus, the video clearly shows that the two TORNs were southbound. Further, it is evident that they could either turn to Vulytsia Kokkinaki or head further south down Heroiv Stalinhradu towards its intersection with Vulytsia Ferhanska:
The images reveal that kiosks at the marketplace have changed since 2010. Air conditioners have been installed near the windows of #36 and one balcony has been winterized. However, other major elements match — the additional balconies of #36; the unusual triangle-shaped entrance to the pharmacy with a red signboard; the distant house; and elements on the rooftops of both buildings.
TORN equipment spotted several times before in Donbas
The video from Makiivka is not the first time Russian-made TORN stations have been spotted in occupied areas of the Donbas. In 2015, InformNapalm volunteers identified a TORN EW complex in the Donbas.
Both in 2015 and now, volunteers were able to pinpoint the location of images appearing on the Russian social network vk.com, which were posted several times by various members of the Russian-hybrid forces.
One set of images showed a TORN and other military equipment at the stronghold on Vulytsia Zlitna street of Donetsk, in the area of Donetsk Airport. The other set featured a piece of EW at the base of the battalion “Sparta” in Makiivka.
On 10 February 2019, a mini-UAV of the OSCE SMM spotted a truck with the TORN system on the Kamamz chassis, parked near a residential house in Novohryhorivka. There are four villages with this same name in Donetsk Oblast. Unfortunately, the SMM didn’t mention the distance from the actual village to a nearby city in their report, as they usually do. However, only one of four Donetsk Novohryhorivkas is situated in the occupied territory — the one near the city of Debaltseve,
On 2 July, a Ukrainian Army officer shared on Facebook a drone video showing the destruction of two electronic warfare (EW) or signals intelligence (SIGINT) stations of the Russia-backed occupying forces in Donbas. The officer stated that the attack took place on 29 July near the village of Maiorove and that two pieces of the TORN-MD were destroyed.
InformNapalm confirmed the date, citing its sources, and pinpointed the location of the stations in Maiorove. However, the online sleuths noticed that the shape of only one of the two pieces of covered equipment, shown in the video, resembles that of the TORN.
“We have grounds to believe that there were two different stations involved. We are confident that one of them is a modern Russian automated mobile tactical SIGINT system TORN-MD, and the second is the Russian jamming station R-330Zh Zhitel.” according to InformNapalm.
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