Brightening with Lightening

The United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) will get 150 Northrop Grumman AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles (AARGMs) via the country’s proposed arms deal with the United States.

Announced on 10th November, these missiles will adorn the 50 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning-II combat aircraft the UAEAF is seeking as part of the deal. The F-35A is to receive software and hardware updates optimising the jet to support the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) mission following a contract awarded by the US Air Force to Lockheed Martin this June.

Back in late September it was reported that the UAEAF has shown interest in acquiring the Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare and SEAD aircraft. However, some members of the Israeli airpower community had been unhappy about the UAE receiving the aircraft. The EA-18G is thus conspicuous by its absence in the proposed purchase inventory.

The UAE has requested 50 F-35A jets from the United States. These aircraft are expected to be configured to perform SEAD. (USAF)

SEAD Upgrade

The F-35 SEAD upgrade could confer improvements to the jet’s BAE Systems’ AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare system. This is thought to cover wavebands of 500 megahertz/MHz to 40 gigahertz/GHz. Software improvements to the AN/ASQ-239 could provide necessary precision to target hostile radars with the AGM-88E.

AGM-88E

The AGM-88E is the latest version of the venerable Texas Instruments AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) series. The AGM-88E design adds a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receiver and a Millimetric Wave (MMW) radar.

The AGM-88E is a step change for the capabilities of the legacy AGM-88 series of anti-radiation missile. (Northrop Grumman)

The former lets the missile be loaded with an emitter’s GNSS coordinates meaning can still be targeted even if the radar transmission is switched off in an attempt to break the missile’s lock. It also allows the missile to be programmed with geographical zones outside of which it cannot fly. The MMW radar improves battle damage assessment as the short wavelengths accompanying frequencies of 30GHz and above depict targets in striking detail. This aids post mission analysis as the radar imagery can be viewed to ensure that the missile struck its intended target.

Between 2006 and 2007 the UAEAF acquired 159 legacy AGM-88B/C rounds. It is most likely these missiles which will be remanufactured as the AGM-88E.

The UAEAF may have failed to secure the EA-18G for now but, pending authorisation by the US Congress, the force should still receive a potent SEAD capability via the F-35A and AGM-88E.

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.

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