We may finally know how the American AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles have been integrated with Ukraine’s MiG-29 fighter jets. The US missiles were reported to have destroyed the illumination radars of the S-400 systems.
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A video has emerged of a Ukrainian fighter pilot writing a message for the Russians on an AGM-88 missile mounted on one of the Ukrainian Soviet-made fighters, which shows a pylon-adapter attached to the fighter’s pylon.
“You stink of radar,” the pilot can be seen writing on the missile in the video.
❤️🔥Твітерська громада просила – маєте.
🕵️♀️Один добродій таки замовив напис "Воняєш радаром" на протирадіолокаційні ракеті AGM-88 HARM.
🚀Ракета вже полетіла в ціль.
— Мілітарний (@mil_in_ua) September 15, 2022
The pylon-adapter seen in the video appears to be specially fabricated to incorporate the American anti-radiation missile.
According to ‘Ukraine Weapons Tracker,’ an OSINT Twitter handle that tracks the war in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Air Force is employing the AGM-88 missiles using the standard LAU-118/A launcher that is mounted on a newly fabricated pylon-adapter, intended especially for AGM-88.
The LAU-118/A missile launcher provides the mechanical and electrical interface between the AGM-88 missile and the launch aircraft, usually the American F-16s or F/A-18s.
Through this interface, the HARM can communicate with the aircraft’s radar warning receiver (RWR) and the launch computer of the aircraft.
How Exactly Is The AGM-88 Launched?
How exactly the LAU-118/A missile launcher was integrated with the systems of MiG-29 is still not clear. However, an Israeli newspaper Calcalist has provided a possible explanation for this, saying the missile is not powered by the plane but by an external battery that was attached to the aircraft body.
As for the launching of the missile, the author of the Calcalist article, dated September 10, says that instead of connecting the launcher with the MiG-29’s computer, a cable stretching from the launcher to the cockpit is connected to a radar sensor and a launch button.
The sensor is said to work 24/7 because it also receives power from an external battery, solving the problem of outdated Soviet-era electronics of the MiG-29.
Also, the article’s author notes that there is a caveat to such an arrangement, as it reduces the launch range of the HARMs, whereas, in the case of American fighters, the missile enjoys a launch range of up to 150 kilometers.
The author says after the pilot receives a signal from the sensor in case an enemy radar radiation is detected, he/she raises the nose of the plane by 20-30 degrees to fire the missile in an arc trajectory to extend the launch range of the missile as much as possible.
According to the author, specialists from Raytheon Corporation, which manufactures the AGM-88, assisted in integrating the missiles with the Ukrainian fighter jets.
The author’s claims remain unverified, as the US defense officials have only credited the Ukrainians for having successfully integrated the missile with their MiG-29s.
— Giorgi Revishvili (@revishvilig) August 30, 2022
In August, a senior US Defense official was asked how the missiles were integrated with Soviet-era jets. He responded by saying — “they (Ukrainians) have actually successfully integrated it as something that we determined would be technically feasible, and based on that feasibility determination, we provided them with this capability.
Role Of AGM-88 Missiles
The author made another interesting assertion that the main target for Ukrainian fighter pilots with their HARMs is actually the Russian’ 1L260 Zoopark-1 M’ counter-battery radars and not the air defense radars.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) September 10, 2022
The author argues that the reduced launch range of the missile means the pilot has to fly the aircraft deep into the enemy air-defense bubble before launching the missile.
Also, the Ukrainian trick of raising the nose of the aircraft will not work in east Ukraine, which lacks the hills, valleys, and ridges that could hide the MiG-29 from Russian air-defense radars while it performs such a maneuver.
This means there is no way for the Ukrainian pilots can launch the anti-radiation missile before getting detected and fired upon by the Russian air defense systems. The author also notes that modern Russian systems like S-300 are a worry even for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Evidence From Ukraine & Russia
However, in recent weeks, there have been claims from both Russian and Ukrainian sources that the Ukrainian Air Force is using AGM-88 missiles to destroy Russian Air Defense forces.
Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor and former deputy minister in the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, shared a video on September 6, showing what he referred to as an aftermath of an AGM-88 missile hitting the Buk air defense system in Kherson.
#Ukraine: The aftermath of a Ukrainian high-precision strike on a Russian Buk air-defense system – presumably 9A317 TELAR for the Buk-M2. As a result, the vehicle was completely destroyed. pic.twitter.com/6GCRXgRsVw
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) September 5, 2022
The air defense system shown in the video is reportedly the Buk-M2 system, and the target destroyed is presumably the 9A317 Transportation Erector Launcher and Radar (TELAR).
The Buk-M2’s TELAR consists of four 9A317 missiles and a NIIP 9S36 passive phased array engagement radar, which can track and illuminate multiple targets together. This radar is supposed to have attracted the AGM-88 anti-radiation missile, going by Gerashchenko’s account of the incident.
Even the Russian media sources have claimed that the Ukrainian military has been trying to use AGM-88 HARM missiles to destroy illumination radars of the S-400 and Buk-M3 anti-aircraft missile systems that are positioned to provide air defense umbrella over Kherson and Nova Kakhovka.
These claims appeared to be based on the images allegedly showing the remains of an AGM-88 missile in an apartment building in Kherson.
It has some damage similar to shrapnel hits which may have been received from air defense interception, however a malfunction is also possible. pic.twitter.com/gaaTAizKlS
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) August 11, 2022
Since there was no indication that the house was the target, and the presence of the possible shrapnel holes in the remains of the missile suggested that it might have been intercepted.
According to a Russian-language media outlet, the missile failed to reach its target and landed in the apartment building in Kherson because the Russian air defense forces detected the missile and shut off its radars.
The Russian electronic warfare complexes jammed the GPS inside the missile.
In fact, very recently, some new images have surfaced, purportedly showing the remains of a destroyed AGM-88 missile in the Kherson region.
— Su-57 5th Gen Fighter (@5thSu) September 15, 2022
In the images, the missile in question can be seen having holes on the body, suggesting it was intercepted by an anti-aircraft missile. Russian media sources suggest the missile was shot down by the Buk anti-aircraft missile system.