Ukraine-Russia War: Can Cell Phones Reveal Russian Location in Makivka?
The Russian Ministry of Defense says that mobile phones used by its forces have killed dozens of military personnel and destroyed a building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Makiivka.
“This factor allowed the enemy to determine the location and coordinates of the soldiers for the missile launch,” he said in a statement.
Ukraine claimed that about 400 Russian soldiers were killed in the attack on New Year’s Day. Russian authorities said 89 people died.
Could Cell Phones Locate Soldiers?
Since the start of the war, Western media have widely reported the ability of both sides to eavesdrop on phone calls and geolocate targets.
In March of last year, weeks after the invasion, The New York Times quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the Ukrainians were able to listen to a Russian general’s call, geolocate him and kill him better than their own personnel.
A Sky News report in March also highlighted Russia’s Leer-3 system, which flies drones over a target area that allow them to mimic and communicate with cell phone masts.
These drones can then transmit this information to a base station in a nearby safe area, from where the phones’ positions can be located.
But while both sides are believed to have the ability to track cellphones, some commentators are skeptical of this explanation for the Makiivka attack.
The BBC’s Russian Service has previously spoken to newly mobilized conscripts who said their phones were being confiscated upon arrival at their units.
But at the same time, there were reports that the Russians used mobile phones at the front because of the lack of other equipment. This may explain why some conscripts are able to retain their soldiers.
Analysis by Defense Correspondent Jonathan Beale
Russian authorities accuse their soldiers of using mobile phones. But if this is true, why has discipline been so slow?
Most militaries emphasize the importance of operational security and personal safety during operations, including limiting the use of cell phones.
Apparently, there were other drawbacks as well. A high concentration of troops in a building where ammunition is also stored would be an obvious target.
Movements and lifestyles could be monitored by satellites or drones. While long-range missiles like the Himars helped Ukraine, it was the intelligence behind those strikes that made the real difference.
Makivka’s attack shows that Russia is still struggling to learn from past mistakes. This is not the first time Ukrainians have targeted a military barracks.
But something has changed. Justin Crump, director of security consulting firm Sibyline, said the criticism in Russia shows a lower tolerance for such incompetence.
However, many critics in Russia see this as justification for escalation rather than focusing on casualties.
What was destroyed in the attack?
The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Ukrainians hit the temporary military headquarters in Makiyevka.
A video of the aftermath of the attack shows a building completely destroyed by the attack. Commenters on social networks quickly identified it as vocational school number 19.
While researching this name online, we found a photo that we compared to a satellite image of the building at the site of the attack (before it was destroyed) to find a match.
There is no evidence of large quantities of ammunition being stored in the building.
But the UK Ministry of Defense said in a tweet that this scenario was possible “given the extent of the damage” at the site.
Russia says that US missiles were used
Russian officials said that the Himars missile system supplied to Ukraine by the United States was used in the attack.
Shortly after the strike, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense posted a tweet depicting the missile launch, with the only text: “Surprise.”
The Himars – M142 High Mobility Artillery Missile System – is a five-ton truck-mounted missile launcher capable of firing six guided missiles in rapid succession.
The missiles supplied to Ukraine have a range of up to 80 km, which is twice that of the howitzers that the US previously provided to Ukraine.
The US has committed to supplying 38 of these systems to Ukraine, and 20 have reportedly been delivered since the conflict began.