HARM-ful

An AGM-88F zooms off the hardpoint of a US Air Force General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16CJ Viper Weasel during a test launch. (Raytheon)

Up to 260 AGM-88B anti-radar missiles owned and ordered by Bahrain, Qatar and Taiwan could be converted to the modernised AGM-88F configuration following a contract award on 23 May.

Bahrain, Taiwan and Qatar will receive Raytheon’s AGM-88F HCSM (HARM Control Section Modification) variants of the legacy AGM-88B HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) as a result of a $355.5 million contract awarded to the company by the US Department of Defence.

The AGM-88F HCSM configuration of the AGM-88B is achieved through the retrofit of existing rounds with, as its name suggests, a new missile central section which includes a GPS/IMU (Global Positioning System/Inertial Measurement Unit). Although the AGM-88 series of missiles can home in on radio frequency emissions from radars transmitting across a two gigahertz/GHz to 20GHz waveband, legacy versions of the weapon have shown their vulnerability to the so-called ‘switch off’ tactic. This is used by ground-based air surveillance radar and fire control/ground controlled interception radar operators who, believing or confirming that their systems are under attack, deactivate their equipment in the hope of breaking the missile’s lock.

The GPS/INS addition enables the missile to be pre-programmed either in flight, or pre-mission with the missile’s geographical coordinates potentially rendering the switch-off tactic null and void. Similarly, the GPS/INS lets the missile to be programmed with a specific area in which it is permitted to fly. This is intended to reduce the risks of collateral damage from such weapons. During the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s Operation Allied Force over Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 an AGM-88B fired at a Serbian ground-based air surveillance radar ended up hitting a street on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, causing damage to houses and cars, but mercifully no casualties. According to the author’s records in 1996 Qatar purchased 100 AGM-88B/C rounds, Taiwan acquired 50 AGM-88B examples with 10 training rounds in 2017 with Bahrain being cleared in early May for the acquisition of the same number of AGM-88Bs and four training rounds. These will supplement the 60 AGM-88Bs the country ordered in 2017. In total this could mean up to 260 AGM-BBB examples will be upgraded to the AGM-88F configuration. In addition, several AGM-88B missiles owned by these customers maybe converted into CATM-88B Captive Air Training Missiles. The contract is expected to be completed by 2027.

Published by Thomas Withington

Thomas Withington is a writer and analyst specialising in electronic warfare, radar and military communications.

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