Air dominance is at the center of the new American way of war and suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), is vital to air dominance. SEAD is pursued through two related means, electronic warfare (EW) that detects and jams enemy radars and the use of anti-radiation missiles to destroy the SAM or force it to shut down.
The U.S. military is now in danger of losing its advantage in SEAD, placing at risk its ability to achieve air dominance. The basic technologies for SEAD are more than three decades old and need to be modernized to deal with modern, mobile SAM systems firing high-speed missiles. However, two of the most promising programs in development, the Improved Capabilities III (ICAP III) upgrade to the venerable EA-6B Prowler and the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM), are about to be eliminated. The Prowler is a Navy/Marine Corps aircraft but it provides EW protection for the joint force. The ICAP III program is a critical bridge until a new system such as the F/A-18 Growler or a follow-on standoff jamming aircraft enter service. The Navy eliminated ICAP III funding in its FY2004 budget and Congress followed suit for the FY2005 budget, effectively killing the program.
Navy Under Secretary for Acquisition John Young wants to kill AARGM. For more than 20 years, the chief U.S. weapon against radar-guided SAMs has been the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) employed by all the Services. The HARM homes in on the electronic emissions the radar uses to guide a SAM. But HARM has significant limitations. In particular, if the targeted radar is turned off, the HARM will fly off unguided, possibly causing collateral damage.
The successor to HARM, the AARGM, promises to fix that system’s problems and improve the ability of U.S. forces to defeat enemy SAMS. The AARGM uses multiple sensors plus advanced guidance technologies to find the enemy radar even when it turns off. AARGM has an active radar and can accept off-board data giving it an expanded detection capability. Finally, AARGM can be told where not to fly, avoiding the problem of collateral damage. Because the Air Force and Marine Corps also use HARM, AARGM also will improve their SEAD capabilities.
Without ICAP III and AARGM, the military will be forced to live with 1960s technology to defeat modern, mobile SAMs. Certainly the Navy’s budget is tight and there is competition for every procurement dollar. But AARGM is clearly superior to HARM and will be a major force protection asset, one that the uniformed Navy is said to strongly desire. It is also a program with international potential in those countries that currently use HARM. The Navy needs to fund both of these critical SEAD capabilities.
Find Archived Articles: