Military Aviation

Former US Navy Operations Specialist explains how the F-35 coupled with the AGM-88E AARGM-ER will be able to effectively counter Russian S-400/S-500 SAMs

Thanks to its stealthiness, the F-35 will become the main platform for the SEAD/DEAD mission in the coming decade.

As already reported, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $26.7 million contract by the Pentagon to develop a structural modification for the F-35 Lightning II strike fighter to improve its Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses capability (SEAD/DEAD). The retrofit design will be applied to both US and foreign F-35s in Lots 14 and 15.

The company explained that the contract, that was issued by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) on behalf of all F-35 users, will see the company to perform the engineering necessary to modify the aircraft to perform “full up” SEAD and DEAD. Actually, a structural modification is needed because the aircraft will be fitted with new munitions and/or sensors to carry out the role (which usually involves detecting, fixing, and attacking ground-based air defense threats, that can be mobile or stationary).

The Navy plans to field its AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER), a successor to the HARM anti-radiation missile. The Air Force is considering the weapon, as well.

The ASQ-239 electronic warfare system of the F-35 can passively detect an enemy air defense system’s emissions and geo-locate these targets in concert with the F-35’s other systems.

USAF leaders have said that thanks to its stealthiness, the F-35 will become the main platform for the SEAD/DEAD mission in the coming decade.

But will the F-35 be able to effectively counter advanced air defense systems like the Russian S-400/S-500 Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs)?

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Yes, if the F-35 is ‘coupled with the AGM-88E AARGM-ER,’ Eric Wicklund, Former Operations Specialist at US Navy (USN)1984–1992, says on Quora.

‘While the S-400 has apparent improvements over the S-300, both are still stuck with the same limitations versus stealth aircraft; they may be able to see stealth airplanes, but they cannot see them until aircraft like the F-35 has already moved into weapons range, and engaged the SAM site. Further, even the newest Russian designs cannot get a weapons-grade lock until the stealth aircraft is very close, and well within its own ARMs (Anti-Radiation Missiles).

‘Part of stealth is simply “mission planning,” which means always presenting the stealthiest aspect of the plane to enemy radar systems, while minimizing exposure of the airplane’s least stealthy aspect. It also means, systematically engaging SAM sites bit by bit until a safe passage through is established.’

Wicklund concludes;

‘When you add in the new longer-ranged version of the AGM-88, AARGM-ER, approximately 300km range, that means an F-35 can engage the S-400/S-500 well before those systems can get a lock on it. Together, both systems are very survivable against even the newest Russian air defense.’

Photo credit: Israeli Air Force, Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

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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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