2008/12/02

Weapons & munitions hype

.
There's always the same when the procurement of a new weapon or munition is being announced in the press; a hype.

I recall estimates about one early 70's AH-1 attack helicopter being the equivalent of 18 tanks. A later AH-1 version was x % better. The next helicopter, AH-64A, was much better again. The later AH-64D should be able to take on an armor brigade according to these hypes.

There's a similar, and due to isolation more subtle example in the new issue of DTI on page 29:
The new AGM-88E version can apparently keep the lock on a targeted radar after the radar was switched off. Earlier versions depended entirely on a passive radar seeker to find their target - which was useless when the target stopped emitting as the Serbian radars did often in 1999.
Well, the problem was apparently approached technologically with a second seeker that shall keep the target in sight.

Problem solved. Right?

Not really.

Such a change doesn't make the enemy suddenly dumb. Just like the original designers expected the radar to emit till impact, simple countermeasures can protect the radar against the new missile version just as well. If a radar is in use at all - passive thermal sensors work just as fine in many short-range air defenses and have about the same range potential like any thermal and electro-optical sensors used by the aircraft to detect, identify and aim at targets on the ground.
Only radar-based and observer-based air attacks can outrange passive air defense sensors.

Let's look at it;

- the passive seeker might be fooled by a decoy radar emitter close to the recently switched-off real radar

- the active seeker might be fooled by decoys nearby the real emitting radar

- the active seeker might be jammed by a jammer close to the emitting radar

- chaff might be launched nearby the radar to degrade the active seeker's performance

- the radar might be parked along several trucks, some of which move away and offer the active seeker themselves as decoys

- the radar might be well-armored to withstand the hit, few antenna elements would be replaced after the hit

- the radar might be separated from its antenna

- the radar vehicle (with radar antenna on a mast) might be in the inner courtyard of a building where the active seeker cannot see it

- the incoming missile might be intercepted by another missile (a capability claimed for some missiles, including RBS-23 BAMSE)

- the incoming missile might be intercepted by autocannon shells with proximity or timed fuze

- objects (remember barrage ballons!) might be inserted into the flight path to provoke a premature missile warhead detonation

It's also important to note that a air defense network with functioning communications can replace a switched-off radar with another radar while the radar-guided missile is in flight. That would be an organizational-technological response that doesn't save the targeted radar in itself, but keeps the threat for the aircraft active.
The same applies to anti-air missiles that employ passive infrared or active (possibly even passive) radar guidance or a mix of these terminal guidance technologies. Such missiles don't depend on a ground radar's emissions after launch - or at least not during the whole flight.

These countermeasures have two things in common;
- I was able to figure them out in a matter of minutes
- they're cheap
Furthermore, most can be done in few months or even weeks and most involved technologies are mature.

It's possible to lengthen the spiral of arms technology race between offense and defense with projects like this, but the effect is marginal against smart opponents.
The missile improvements add other, non anti-radar features into the missile, but they don't do one thing that's being claimed; prohibit an escape of the opposing radar. A smart air defense will still be much easier to suppress than to destroy.

The good news; we can stick to "SEAD" (suppression of enemy air defenses" and don't need to switch to the terrible acronym "DEAD" (destruction of enemy air defenses).


Very rarely does a technological approach succeed in settling the race between offense and defense forever or for a very long time. An effective countermeasure is pretty much a sure thing. That's why absolutely no weapon or munition deserves to be hyped up.
In fact, any such hype only hurts - those innovations that get very little attention and offer no drastic improvement have the best chance to retain their effectiveness because a quick countermeasure is least likely for such an innovation.

Sven Ortmann

No comments:

Post a comment