Military Aviation

Former Electronic Warfare Officer explains why the F-4G was the best Wild Weasel aircraft USAF Has ever Had

“In all ways the F-16 Weasels were technically very inferior to the F-4G, although the F-16 as a fighter outperforms Double Ugly by orders of magnitude,” Jim Howard, former F-4G EWO.

F-4G Wild Weasels were modified F-4E fighters with their cannon replaced by AN/APR-47 electronic warfare equipment. Their mission was to attack enemy air defenses, including surface-to-air missile (SAM) air defense radars. One hundred sixteen F-4Es were rebuilt as F-4Gs for this special purpose. 

Carrying AGM-88A/B/C High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM), the F-4G worked in concert with other F-4Gs or as a hunter aircraft directing fighter-bombers, such as the F-16, against SAM sites. The F-4G carried a pilot and an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), who navigated, assisted with communications and coordinated attacks on the SAM sites.

As Jim Howard, former F-4G and EF-111A EWO, explains on Quora “The F-4G Wild Weasel [that first flew in 1975 and was retired in 1996] was at least 30 years ahead of its time in capability.

“In fact, I don’t think there is a flying system today that can geolocate radars as well by itself. The modern technique is to use multiple platforms to locate radars and share this information via datalinks.

“It had ‘DC to Daylight’ frequency coverage, had 52 flat plate antennas that used digital interferometry to measure the angle of arrival of radar pulses within seconds. Knowing the angle of arrival, the APR-38/47 system could compute the range, bearing, and probable type of a radar within seconds.

“The APR38/47 system monitored 360 degrees around the F-4G.

“This information was displayed to the electronic warfare officer on a plan position indicator scope (PPI). This display was essentially an ‘inverse radar’, displaying radar emitters the same way a radar displays airborne targets.

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“The APR38/47 system computed attack envelopes for anti-radiation missiles and displayed this information to the crew.”

Howard continues;

“When the F-4 platform became unsupportable the Weasel mission was passed off to F-16s using a cobbled-up pod system that primarily used the AGM-88 seeker head to detect threats.

“In all ways the F-16 Weasels were technically very inferior to the F-4G, although the F-16 as a fighter outperforms Double Ugly by orders of magnitude.

“The F-4G Weasels were spectacularly successful in Desert Storm in suppressing Surface to Air missile sites.”

He concludes;

“Although not designed for air-to-air use, one F-4G did succeed in blowing most of the tail off an airborne bomber with an AGM-88 anti-radiation missile.

“OK, it was a friendly B-52, everyone got home, the BUFF crew all got medals, and the whole thing is forgotten now. By the Weasels anyway, maybe not so much by the BUFF guys.”

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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