Growlers for Growlers

The suggestion that the US could acquire two S-400 systems from Turkey has been unsurprisingly opposed by Russia. Such an acquisition could yield the US and her allies a treasure trove of intelligence.

A mooted plan for the US to buy S-400 SAM systems from Turkey could prompt a ELINT bonanza.

Senator John Thune, a Republican Senator from South Dakota has proposed that the US purchase the Almaz-Antey S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) long-range/high-altitude Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems that Turkey procured from Russia.

In 2017 Turkey procured two S-400 systems, a total of four battalions, for $2.4 billion with deliveries commencing in 2019. This threw a spanner in the works of plans by the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK/Turkish Air Force) to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft.

A total of 120 aircraft were expected to be acquired before the acquisition was cancelled by the administration of President Donald Trump in July 2019. The administration was concerned that the S-400’s sensors, principally its ground-based air defence and fire control radars, could collect sensitive information regarding the F-35A’s radar cross section and electromagnetic emissions.

The cancellation of the acquisition resulted in the four THK F-35As delivered to Luke airbase, Arizona, being rerolled to furnish the US Air Force.

Nyet from Moscow

Mr. Thune suggested that the US acquisition of both S-400 systems would remove them from Turkey and hence THK control allowing F-35A deliveries to continue. Russian lawmakers protested the proposal with Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Russian Duma (parliament) committee on international affairs, condemning Mr. Thune’s proposal as “unprincipled and cynical.”

It seems unlikely that such a purchase will occur in the near term. Such a move by Ankara would make Moscow hopping mad. Yet such a purchase by the US would offer serious benefits.

Intelligent Decision

Aside from resuming F-35A deliveries to Turkey, it would give the United States Air Force, and US armed forces in general, once of the world’s most advanced air defence systems to pour over at their leisure.

The US Department of Defence already possesses a smorgasbord of Soviet-era SAMs and ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars. These have been sourced from a myriad of ex-Warsaw Pact countries. They are routinely used to provide realistic threats during US-based international air exercises like Red Flag.

The US Navy and USAF are both overhauling their Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (S/DEAD) postures. The US Navy is deploying the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare and S/DEAD aircraft, along with Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radar Guided Missile, a  variant of the venerable AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radar Missile) family. The US Air Force is optimising the F-35A to perform S/DEAD using Northrop Grumman’s AGM-88F HCS (HARM Control System) AGM-88 variant.

US and allied aircraft operating over Syria have flown in airspace thought to be protected by the S-400. Russia has deployed two systems to the northwest of the country since 2015.

However, there is doubt in some quarters of the NATO electronic warfare community as to whether either system has been activated in full for fear that Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) regarding their 91N6 (NATO reporting name Big Bird) S-band (2.3 gigahertz/GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) and 96L6E (NATO reporting name Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) early warning and target acquisition radar could be hoovered up by US and NATO ELINT aircraft.

For all intents and purposes much of the S-400’s design and capabilities remain a mystery. No wonder Moscow is nervous about NATO getting its hands on a couple.

United States – Space Fence Location Named

The United States Air Force (USAF) has named the first location for its forthcoming replacement Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSS), more popularly known as the ‘Space Fence’ cosmic debris tracking capability.

The new AFSS replaces the legacy architecture. It will use a network of radars to monitor objects which could pose a hazard to space navigation. On 28th September the USAF revealed that the first radar will be constructed on Kwajalein Island, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

As reported in the May edition of ChainHomeHigh, the new AFSS architecture will utilise S-band radars to provide a sharper resolution to the current AFSS network of radars. Presently the AFSS uses three VHF transmitting systems based in Texas, Arizona and Alabama. Receiving elements are based in California, New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia.

Crucially, the new radars will be able to see small-size debris which escapes the gaze of the legacy system. As a means of comparison, the legacy AFSS is said to be capable of tracking around 20,000 objects, whereas the new system will track up to 200,000. It will detect objects the size of a tennis ball at a range of 1,930km (1,042nm).

Currently, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are completing an 18-month Space Fence Preliminary Design contract each worth €83 million ($107 million) awarded to the firms in January 2011. This award eliminated Northrop Grumman which had been nominated, along with the two companies mentioned above, in June 2009 to provide the ‘Phase A’ AFSS development in June 2009 under the terms of a contract worth €23 million ($30 million) to each firm.

Either Raytheon or Lockheed Martin will be selected by the end of the year to develop the full AFSS replacement architecture. This is expected to be declared operational by 2017. The full value of the forthcoming Space Fence contract is earmarked at €2.7 billion ($3.5 billion).

United States – Successful PAC-3 Intercept

Lockheed Martin announced on 13th September that it had performed a successful test of a MIM-104F PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability-3) surface-to-air missile.

During the test, two PAC-3 rounds were launched, during which one intercepted the target, with the second performing a planned self-destruct.

The test took place at the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

United States – AN/FPS-115 Upgrade Award

AN/FPS-115 (US DoD)
AN/FPS-115 (US DoD)

Raytheon has netted a contract worth €96 million ($125 million) to upgrade the United States’ Air Force AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS ground-based early warning radar located at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska which is operated by the 13th Space Warning Squadron.

The low-frequency AN/FPS-115 radar provides space surveillance to detect incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles heading for Canada and the Continental United States. It provides track assessments to this end to US Strategic Command (US STRATCOM) Headquarters at Offut Air Force Base, Nebraska. The AN/FPS-115 based at Clear is one of two other similar radars located at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts, operated by the 6th Space Warning Squadron; and the 7th Space Warning Squadron-operated radar at Beale Air Force Station, California. Both these radars also send data to US STRATCOM.

The site at Alaska provides coverage over the Arctic and north Pacific Oceans. The Beale site provides coverage over the Pacific coast while the site at Cape Cod covers the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

The upgrade will allow the radar at Clear to send targeting information to ground-based missile defence systems. Raytheon will upgrade this radar with new software and electronics, with the upgrade scheduled for completion in 2017.

ChainHomeHigh reported in February that the USAF was expected to launch the upgrade of the AN/FPS-115 system, together with the service’s Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterisation System and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.

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