Air Weapons: Something For The Russian Threat

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December 26, 2016: Recently the German air force chose the AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile) as its new SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) weapon. AARGM was originally developed for the U.S. Navy and for the Italian air force. AARGM is the successor to the long used AGM-88B HARM (High speed Anti-Radiation Missile).

As a result of this choice AARGM will become the core armament of the NATO air forces specialized in SEAD missions. The German air force will became second AARGM user in Europe. Along with newly built AARGMs the Germans are also buying some conversion kits for the HARM missiles they have in storage. AARGM shares many components with HARM, like the rocket motor, so these kits are a popular cost saving measure. The Germans will begin receiving AARGMs and HARM conversion kits by 2020.

AARGM is more than an improved AGM-88B as it also includes modifications that enable it to hit moving ships. This makes this SEASD missile an effective anti-ship weapon as well. The AGM-88F has a GPS guidance added (with less accurate but jam-proof INS as a backup) and an active millimeter-band radar is to provide the missile with a capability of acting against the mobile targets even when their radar is offline. The older AGM-88D also used GPS so that the missile, which normally homes in on radar transmissions, could be used to attack targets by location alone for example when target radar was switched off. The AARGM expands on basic GPS capabilities and also includes other features that assist in defeating enemy electronic defenses together with its onboard radar. Many countries now use a decoy emitter that send out a fake radar signal to lure the HARM away from the real radar. These connected with a fast “pack and leave” tactic after being targeted by enemy was very effective method to survive typical ARM attack (tactic used by Serbian forces during 1999 Kosovo War where mobile systems survived NATO SEAD efforts). The AARGM use GPS and active sensor and new software to get around all these known deceptions (and some that haven’t been invented yet).

The first AARGM production models were delivered in 2010. This included testing for use on the new electronic warfare aircraft, the EA-18G, which entered service in 2011. In Europe it will be used likely by the Tornado ECR which is now the main user of German and Italian anti-radiation missiles. However AARGM testing ran into many problems in the three years before it entered service and there were more hardware failures than expected. The manufacturer admits that some of these problems are not completely gone but in its current state AARGM is good to go.

The AGM-88D moves at high speed (2,200 kilometers an hour or 36 kilometers a minute). Over 24,000 AGM-88s, of all types, have been produced since the 1980s. AARGM weighs 361 kg (794 pounds) and can detect and attack targets more than 150 kilometers away while travelling at a speed of 2,450 kilometers per hour. Moreover the AARGM can transmit a picture of the target, just before it is hit, so the user can be certain of what was taken out. The AARGM was developed jointly by U.S. and Italian firms. The original 1960s anti-radiation missile (ARM) quickly evolved into the HARM. Currently, there are orders for over 2,000 AARGM have been ordered or delivered since it entered service in 2012. Current users are the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, Italy, and now Germany.

The decision to strengthen Germany SEAD capabilities was made in reaction to recent Russia aggressive policies. This included things like Russian anti-aircraft systems deployed in Syria which pose threat to coalition aircrafts fighting against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Thanks to this choice NATO as a whole will have better SEAD capabilities. -- Przemysław Juraszek

 


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