2008/08/21

The success story of hard kill defenses

I wrote in May about how technological concepts creep almost predictably from naval and air war applications into land warfare.

One such concept is to destroy incoming munitions instead of only the launching weapon systems.

The earliest application was the interception of anti-ship missiles. Even some ballistic missile interception systems were used early on.
It's common knowledge today that ships can shoot down incoming missiles, and a failure to do so is usually being considered as a gross failure. Such anti-missile technologies did initially require quite elaborate sensors, launchers and large munitions - and were only justified by their protective value for costly and important warships.

Publicly known air war applications of the principle are mostly about interception of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

We've seen a lot of land warfare in the past and very few new naval combat schemes in the past, so attention has moved to intercepting munitions for army force protection.

Active defense suites (like the now-obsolete but well-known Drozd and Arena Systems) can intercept anti-tank missiles (and some are even claimed to be able to intercept Mach 5 APFSDS dense metal projectiles) to protect tanks.
C-RAM (counter rocket artillery mortar) technologies attempt to protect stationary targets (Israeli towns, expeditionary army camps) against indirect fires. High-energy lasers have received a lot of attention as CRAM weapon, but they can easily be countered with insensitive munitions and aren't as proven and combat-ready as autocannon-based solutions.

Who knows? Maybe we'll attempt to deflect sniper bullets in 20 years.

But wait! There are some really nasty guided munitions that trouble air forces and navies a lot, but hard kill defenses are rarely mentioned!?


Target: Anti-radar missiles (ARM)
I've not seen many references about effective protection against such missiles (which tend to be rather small and are often pretty fast and difficult to locate).
The ability to intercept ARMs was claimed for the Swedish command-controlled RBS-23 BAMSE missile, though. I suspect that this capability is much more widespread and simply classified. This is potentially very relevant, because the public has used to the good success of SEAD (suppression of enemy aid defenses) campaigns and weapons. Maybe we won't see successful SEAD against 1st rate opponents in the future?
The addition of a IRIS-T derivative to the German version of the MEADS air defense system might be such a hard-kill self-defence weapon against ARMs. It's a bit odd that the missile uses an infrared seeker, though.
By the way; guided and glide bombs can be intercepted as well, of course. That's not really difficult (insensitive explosives in the bomb would be a promising counter-measure, though).


Target: Torpedoes
Surface warships are targets for submarines. That's a Cold War wisdom (it might actually have lost its relevance due to SONAR advances), and the apparent lack of hard-kill defences against torpedoes was always a bit confusing. Many hard-kill defences were developed against sea-skimmer missiles, but none against torpedoes?
Not really. Soviet multiple anti-submarine rocket launchers were sometimes considered as a possible defense against torpedoes. That would most likely be a so-called 'soft defence' as it would rather ruin the seeker capability than destroy the torpedo, though. Anti-torpedo capability (sometimes only as upgrade possibility) was sometimes mentioned as a possible feature of lightweight (324mm) torpedoes, though. The MU90 lightweight torpedo is being claimed to be able to intercept torpedoes (even though only in a special version).
This anti-torpedo hard kill defence hasn't entered common knowledge yet as well.


Target: Air-to-air missiles (AAM) and Surface-to-air missiles (SAM)
It's challenging to put a hard-kill defense against such anti-aircraft missiles into a typical combat aircraft. It's not only difficult because of the volume, weight, velocity - fragments of the intercepted missile must not hit the vulnerable aircraft!
Most publicly known anti-missile defenses are of the 'soft kill' category (ECM, flares, chaff, flying decoys, IR dazzler, IR laser dazzlers) - soft kill merely attempts to achieve that the missile misses.
Most combat aircraft have several short-range missiles. Modern short-range missiles can (at the very least the IRIS-T and a R-73R) even lock on their target after launch - and can therefore even engage targets behind the aircraft (if fed with sufficient firing solutions).
I have yet to experience a discussion about modern fighters that considers the possibility that fighters in air combat intercept each other's medium range AAMs with short range AAMs. It's likely just a classified capability.


As usual, the next wars with really modern weaponry will likely change the public understanding of modern military technology and show additional, previously classified applications and capabilities. Current discussions that don't take into account likely existing capabilities like these need to be observed with a gran of salt.

Sven Ortmann

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