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.

Operation Unified Protector: Bouchard Details Libyan Ground-Based Air Defence Threat

Speaking to ChainHomeHigh after an electrifying presentation detailing his experiences as the Commander of NATO’s Operation Unified Protector (OUP) over Libya last year, Lieutenent General Charles Bouchard provided some valuable insight regarding the condition of Libya’s ground-based air defences (GBAD) during last year’s air campaign. Gen Bouchard was speaking during the Swedish Aerospace Forum held in the city of Linkoping on 1st June.

Gen. Bouchard said that the US-led Operation Odyssey Dawn, the combined air and sea campaign which commenced on 19th March and continued until 31st March, at which point the campaign transitioned to NATO command as OUP was instrumental in subduing Libyan GBAD. This provided a relatively benign environment for NATO to perform its air campaign.

However, Gen Bouchard added that low-level systems, particularly Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) did continue to be a concern, although such weapons were chiefly employed in the fire support role for Gaddafi loyalist ground units.

He added that both the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and NATO faced a GBAD environment which displayed a distinct lack of coordination and integration. He stated that this was the result of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi possessing a profound distrust of other military units, particularly the air force and the potential threat that it could present to his regime.

During the entire operation he said that NATO never once encountered a medium-to-high altitude Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) being fired at any military aircraft. He added that any GBAD radar which the Libyans activated were attacked with anti-radiation missiles at the start of the conflict during an intensive Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) campaign that took place during Operation Odyssey Dawn. This successfully suppressed and destroyed much of Libya’s GBAD prior to NATO’s assumption of command.

In terms of medium-to-high altitude SAMs, Libya was known to possess 2K12 Kub (NATO reporting name ‘SA-6 Gainful’), 9K33 Osa (NATO reporting name ‘SA-8 Gecko’), S-125 Neva/Pechora (NATO reporting name ‘SA-3 Goa’) and S-75 Dvina (NATO reporting name ‘SA-2 Guideline’).



Sweden: Royal Swedish Air Force Details Libyan SAM Threat

The Royal Swedish Air Force (RSAF) has provided an interesting update on its experiences of Libyan Ground Based Air Defences (GBAD) during the country’s support of NATO’s air campaign over the troubled country last year.

The details were provided by Lieutenent Colonel Hans Einerth who was Chief of Operations during the RSAF’s deployment to Sigonella naval air station, Sicily, in support of Operation Unified Protector. He was speaking at the annual Aerospace Forum in Sweden on 31st May.

Lt. Col. Einerth was reluctant to disclose specifics, although he did says that the Libyan  ground-based air defence environment was not totally degraded by the time that the RSAF deployed on 3rd April lqst year. He added that the deployed aircraft did face some threats from Libyan GBAD, principally medium-level systems. Although Lt. Col. Einerth declined to specify the exact systems which presented a threat, it is possible that some of Libya’s mobile medium-altitude Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) were still able to present a threat to the air campaign, principally the 2K12 Kub (NATO reporting name ‘SA-6’) and 9K33 Osa (NATO reporting name ‘SA-8’) systems in possession of the Libyan armed forces.

In addition, Lt. Col. Einerth revealed that the Gripens, which were authorised by the Swedish government to provide reconnaissance provision, but not to perform air-to-ground strikes, played a key rôle in keeping track and identifying mobile Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) systems. These did provide an existential low-altitude threat, and also providing fire support to loyalist forces on the ground.

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