US Navy Operations Specialist explains why although the S-400 SAM System radar can detect the F-35 it can’t target it

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why although the S-400 SAM System radar can detect the F-35 it can’t target it

By Dario Leone
Apr 3 2024
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The F-35 and the SEAD mission

The F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced node in 21st Century Security: It brings stealth, sensor fusion, and interoperability to enable access in contested environments and enhances situational awareness.

It offers multi-mission capability, including strategic attack, offensive/defensive counter air, anti-surface warfare, strike coordination and reconnaissance, close air support and suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD).

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The Navy plans to field the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) as well as the AGM-88G AARGM Extended Range (AARGM-ER), both successors to the HARM anti-radiation missile. The Air Force is considering these weapons, 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.

The S-400 SAM System radar can detect the F-35 but it can’t target it

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why although the S-400 SAM System radar can detect the F-35 it can’t target it
A US Navy F-35C drops a GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)

But can radars of advanced air defense systems like the Russian S-400 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) detect the F-35?

‘Sure, they can…they just cannot target it. The F-35 will still be able to attack at will,’ Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist, explains on Quora.

‘It’s like being able to see that a tsunami is coming, but unable to escape it in time. You just know that death is coming sooner.

‘Russia’s Nebo-M radar system, a component part of the S-400, can “see” that F-35s are in the area, but the L-band radar is of such low fidelity, that it cannot direct a weapon at what it sees.

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why although the S-400 SAM System radar can detect the F-35 it can’t target it
Russian Nebo-M radars

‘Stealth aircraft are optimized to be low-observable versus targeting radars in the S, C, X, and Ku radar bands. These are the radar frequencies that can guide weapons to an aerial target. But, until an F-35 gets really close (20 – 30 miles depending on conditions), these radars cannot see the F-35.’

Wicklund concludes;

‘Long before a targeting radar can lock up an F-35, that aircraft has already fired an anti-radiation missile, like the AGM-88 HARM (or a bomb like a JDAM), has already turned around, and is flying home. It no longer makes any difference if the radar operator turns off his machine. Modern radiation-homing missiles “remember” the location and can still engage a non-radiating radar.

‘In the end, seeing is believing, but that won’t stop an F-35.’

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Photo credit: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation and Lockheed Martin photo by Chad Bellay

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Dario Leone

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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  1. kalpet says:

    There is a lot of problems with this statement. True, the Nebo-M alone cannot guide a missile to the F-35, but it can box in and provide in flight course correction data to an active radar homing missile, which get so close to the F-35 that its onboard radar can do the terminal guidance despite the stealth features and hit the target. Also Nebo-M cannot be targeted with a harm missile, because first, it is impossible to build such missile on a 1 meter wavelength. The minimal required antennae size is too big to fit. Also Nebo-M is an AESA radar with Lpi mode. Its signal cannot be integrated, and the frequency is too rapidly changing to homing on it. So HARM missiles are useless against modern ESA radar systems. Also F-35 stealth features are only significant on the front aspect. From other directions even older systems can engage it. So no. F-35 is far from safe in russian SAM controlled space.

  2. Joe@trend says:

    Your scenario sounds too simplistic . im sure the S400 radar capabilities are genuine. But do take into consideration that by the time the s400 operator understands what is on its radar it is too late.
    Also F35 do not fly solo. Its is a hive or wolf pack scenario. You ping one and let all know your location.

  3. Roberts says:

    Kalpets response is just flat out incorrect. The Nebo-M is not a single radar- it is a complex that works together to detect and track. The RLM-M radar in VHF mode is the only one that will detect the F-35 at any range. The RLM-M is only an early detection radar that cannot collect precise targeting data. The point of it is to tell the targeting radars (RLM-D and RLM-S) what direction to look. It cannot tell a missile where to go, because “where to go” is “kinda somewhere in that direction, I’m not sure of distance, altitude, or speed”

    LPI doesn’t matter, LPI is just a low output mode, which is not used when targeting. The F-35 radar will receive the multi band signal from the RLM-D/S and relay that to the HARM before launch. The HARM itself doesn’t need to detect anything itself. The HARM can be used against any AESA target if launched from a platform with an AESA radar- which is most US aircraft. No radar is safe from a HARM launched from an AESA platform.

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