How cellphones can get you killed on the modern battlefield, according to a US Army officer

  • A US Army officer said military trainers had warned soldiers of the dangers of cellphone use.

  • "The cellphone is the new cigarette in the foxhole," he told Foreign Policy.

  • Ukraine has used Russian soldiers' cellular data to locate and target their positions.

Cellphones have revolutionized the ways war is documented, providing snapshots of life on the front lines, glimpses of the latest military equipment, and harrowing images of death and destruction.

But they are also potentially lethal for the soldiers carrying them, a US Army officer has said.

Maj. Gen. Curtis Taylor told Jack Detsch, a reporter at Foreign Policy, that Army trainers had been warning soldiers about the dangers of taking cellphones on operations.

"We've shown soldiers, 'Hey, your cellphone can get you killed,'" Taylor, the commanding general of the National Training Center and Fort Irwin, said.

He pointed to one training incident when he said he and his team were able to locate an otherwise undetectable Apache stealth helicopter as it made its way through their air defenses because the pilot's phone was moving at 120 miles per hour.

Taylor compared the dangers posed by cellphones to that of cigarette smoking during World War II, when the spark of a match or the glow of a cigarette could help snipers pick out enemy targets.

"The cellphone is the new cigarette in the foxhole," Taylor said.

Ukraine has targeted Russian cellular data

A Ukrainian soldier reads news on his mobile phone on the front line in Southern Ukraine on October 8, 2022
A Ukrainian soldier on his mobile phone on the front line in southern Ukraine, October 2022.Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

The Russia-Ukraine war has been marked by the use of cellular data to target enemy positions.

A January report by the cybersecurity company Enea highlighted the Ukrainian strike on a Russian barracks in the city of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine on New Year's Eve 2022.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said the strike occurred after Russian reservists turned on their cellphones, allowing Ukrainian intelligence operatives to identify their location.

The area was then targeted by an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). Russian sources claim 89 soldiers were killed in the strikes, while Ukraine put the number at around 400.

In a statement following the incident, the Russian Ministry of Defense said: "It is already obvious that the main reason for what happened was the switching on and massive use — contrary to the prohibition — by personnel of mobile phones in a reach zone of enemy weapons."

"This factor allowed the enemy to locate and determine the coordinates of the location of the servicemen to launch a missile strike," it added.

Russia is likely using similar tactics to its advantage, however.

It is known to be using the Leer-3 electronic warfare system, which is capable of identifying 2,000 phones within a 3.7-mile range, potentially exposing Ukrainian locations, Sky News previously reported.

Electronic warfare uses the electromagnetic spectrum, including signals like radio, infrared, or radar, to disrupt and degrade an enemy's ability to use those signals, according to defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

It has played a crucial role in the conflict so far due to its potential for identifying targets and combating drone attacks.

While the dangers of using a cellphone on the battlefield appear plentiful, the Enea report said: "A mobile device — despite its risks — has utility as a backup communication system; a means to document enemy movements, create after-action reports or other intelligence; and as a propaganda/content generation system."

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