SEAD, Russian style


I don't know much about how the Soviets intended to attack Western air defence radars. I know they had a couple radar jamming helicopters that were highly effective against IHAWK and they had a MiG-25 version that would fly at very high altitude at very high speed and launch some big anti-radar missile before running away.

The French had a less spectacular approach. They used their own anti-radar missiles for use by ordinary Mirages and Jaguars and had Elint suite to support their employment. They had no dedicated anti-air defences aircraft.

The Americans developed their sophisticated and expensive SEAD/DEAD (suppression enemy air defences / destruction ...) over North Vietnam. It included dedicated wings with specialised antenna-laden two-seat aircraft and two different anti-radar missiles (one of which was terribly expensive and the other had a variety of seekers against different radars). Standoff Elint and jammer aircraft supported all this. The dedicated anti-radar aircraft would find and engage radars, but the actual destruction would often be left to accompanying fighter-bombers that went close in and bombed the air defences similar to how American fighters of WW2 strafed and bombed Japanese air defences to reduce the threat tot he following bombers. This American approach was developed further and they now have a versatile anti-radar missile, satellites help with finding radars and they mess with the radio communications of an integrated air defence. The American approach excelled over Iraq in 1991, but it failed to destroy most of the old Yugoslavian air defences in 1999.

The Israelis used quantity low level strikes to roll up the Egyptian air defences in 1973 and later introduced ground-launched anti-radar drones and ground-launched anti-radar missiles to their DEAD mix.

All this is public knowledge. So what do the Russians do over Ukraine?

  • They sometimes targeted air defence high value targets with a precisions trike by ballistic PGM  Iskander.
  • They provoke air defences with cruise missiles and drones. 
  • They sometimes use remotely piloted vehicles (Lancet drones) to attack air defence high value targets close to the front
  • Some of their fighter patrols and strike fighters carry a (rather big) anti-radar missile, ready to shoot at targets of opportunity and presumably hoping that this capability also protects the aircraft itself.
  • They fail to overcome Ukraine's Soviet-era air defence systems even though they know them to 100% detail and had 30+ years time to train against them.
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective airborne jamming of Ukrainian air defence radars
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective airborne jamming of Ukrainian air defence communications
  • No published information (AFAIK) about effective use of satellites (presumably because the Ukrainians change positions briefly after certain Russian reconnaissance satellites passed them)

Even the German air force might be more effective than that in DEAD (using its few Tornado ECR, a couple radar satellites, commercial photo/IR satellites, GUMLRS PGMs, Taurus and a small stock of old HARM missiles)!

I could draw up a fantasy force with an extremely resilient yet still affordable air defence. It would be necessary to deny the Americans effective use of bomb runs, even against their strike package tactics. Yet it's entirely unnecessary against the Russian armed forces, which are so crappy that they fall well short of meeting expectations based on a 1991 air campaign that lasted a few weeks. They had one and a half years. 

We need not look further than the 40 years old Buk-M1 system if we want to see what an effective counter to Russian combat aviation looks like. You'd at most need some gun-based system to keep them from being effective at terrain-following flight (less than 200 ft altitude).

Meanwhile, the Western military-industrial complexes focus on gold-plated cutting edge air defences. This makes sense to some degree (you need lock on after launch missiles to engage targets at very low altitudes and modern datalinks and processors sure make sense), but it's also very expensive. I'm guilty of this as well, but in my defence; at least I saw the need for some cheap missiles to defeat munitions (cruise missiles, smart glide bombs) in the mix.








  1. Umkhonto seems to be the only modern SAM with standalone CLOS as an option, should this change?

    A "Hi-Lo" mix would make sense to me in the modern environment of high performance fighters but also medium altitude drones and cruise missiles.

  2. Can air defences be used offensively in support of fighters? If so with what reach?
    My guess is that air defenses themselves are less surviveable on their own than in a combination with manned or unmanned fighters. By giving them a range that supports fighter bomber operations, technologically less sophisticated fighters stand a better chance.

    1. Air defences benefit greatly from AEW, but the active radar seeker missile air defences don't need fighters.

      The SM-6 missile is likely the missile with enough reach to aggressively fight for air superiority over hostile ground.
      It's terribly expensive, though.

    2. How expensive? I imagine long range missiles might be an interesting approach to the aerial warfare problem for many less developed countries such Russia, China, India, Indonesia. Would it be possible to put them on a ship?

    3. About 4 and a half million dollars as per wiki. For a single missile.

      That is terribly expensive, indeed!

    4. 4...5 million dollars per missile.
      SM-6 are originally a missile for ships.

  3. >I could draw up a fantasy force with an extremely resilient yet still affordable air defence. It would be necessary to deny the Americans effective use of bomb runs, even against their strike package tactics.

    Why not? Sound like interesting post.

    1. It's part of a Word format 10-page article draft about leading edge warfare without manned aviation.
      It's terribly written and frustrated me so much that I stopped working on it.

    2. Break it up into small chunks. Sounds interesting.

    3. Would be an excellent read.

  4. There is a lot of propaganda surrounding this hellish war. I'd refrain from commenting until the dust settles, so as not to look like a fool in the future. ­čśü

    1. Russian airforce fail SEAD. Its a fact.

    2. Propaganda and don't forget censoring. The authors assumptions sound already now quite misplaced if you are sitting a bit closer to what is actually going on. My bet is that after all of that there will not be enough of Rambo movies to be made to cover for the utter disaster that this actually is.

    3. It's not propaganda that the Russians are obviously not bombing Kyiv and other cities from the air.
      It's not propaganda that the Ukrainian air force lacks the fighters (no modern AAMs equal to R-77!) to stop it from bombing with them.
      So it's obvious that the Ukrainian area air defence remains effective (short range air defence would not prevent bombing from 4+ km altitude).
      This in turn means the Russians have neither much success with SEAD nor with DEAD.

      You sound like the cope machine guys because on one hand you reject observations that Russians are failing by claiming we don't know enough and on the other hand you pretend to know that the war is an utter (military) disaster (presumably for the Ukrainians).

      An "utter disaster" would have been if the Russians had occupied Kyiv in 2022.