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Aug 10, 2020
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SDEAD Suppression and Destruction of Enemy Air Defences is a term first coined during the Vietnam War, when units of specially modified Air Force and later aircraft were formed with the express purpose of seeking out and destroying North Vietnamese SA-2 SAM sites. As the range, radar performance and countermeasure resistance of SAMs have grown, so the SEAD role has evolved, and there are several different approaches which air forces can take towards the threat posed by air defences in the 21st century. As has already been described in detail, an isolated SAM system is a far cry from the threat posed by the same system operating within an IADS, and the latter poses a much greater threat to aircraft engaged in SEAD or DEAD missions. SEAD involves the suppression of enemy SAMs by various methods, but is generally only aiming to temporarily create the conditions for friendly aircraft to enter defended airspace to conduct a mission. By contrast, DEAD missions aim to physically destroy SAM systems and radars, which can be more difficult but produces a more lasting degradation of an IADS over time. Before considering the exact SEAD and DEAD approaches available to modern air forces, it is important to clarify that, if possible, most forces will simply opt to avoid known SAM systems rather than attempting to suppress or destroy them. If the SAM is not a threat to ongoing missions, then it is generally safer and cheaper to bypass it. However, with the increasing range of modern SAM systems, as well as their mobility, it is getting harder for aircraft to simply avoid threats. It is difficult to know where these systems are at all times, and their ability to pose a long-term pop-up threat – even if not immediately a problem when first detected – may lead commanders to order their destruction to reduce the risk to later sorties. If SAM systems or a broader IADS is covering strategically or operationally important airspace and ground assets, then SEAD/DEAD may become a necessity. The first SEAD/DEAD approach to outline is perhaps the most traditional remaining outside the engagement range of a SAM system or broader IADS and attempting to fire long-range missiles at the most important radars and launchers to suppress or destroy them. Known as a ‘standoff attack’, this method relies on two main conditions being met.

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The first is that the SAM systems and radars in question can be accurately detected, identified, located and tracked to enable a missile to hit them from beyond their effective engagement range. Radar warning receivers RWRs on modern combat aircraft passively ‘listen’ for the radar emissions of enemy systems and then try to identify and, if possible, give bearing and range information. Those on SEAD aircraft are more specifically optimised for detection of SAM radars, and in previous generations multiple aircraft would work together, sharing and cross-referencing bearing information from each to triangulate a SAM’s exact position. More modern aircraft like the Stealth can automatically calculate changes in bearing over time to enable location and ranging rapidly even with only a single aircraft, whilst the Stealth Aircraft multi-function advanced data link software allows it to blend both techniques to triangulate extremely accurately when flying in widespread formations. Location fixing was difficult enough when SAMs ranges were limited to a couple of tens of kilometres, but against strategic SAMs like the S 300 and S 400 with ranges in the hundreds of kilometres, this is a real challenge. In terms of the ability for aircraft to actively search for SAM radars which are not emitting, it is important to remember that the radar horizon also affects aircraft, meaning that if the on-board sensors usually radar are able to see the SAM system, then it can also potentially see them unless they are very-low observable. Likewise, if the aircraft is flying very low to minimise the range at which the SAM system will detect it, then the aircraft’s own radar will also be limited by a very short radar horizon. Passive detection, relying on the SAM system’s own emissions, is also getting more difficult as Russian and Chinese systems are equipped with modern digital and frequency-agile radars. With modern datalinks, however, aircraft or other launch platforms for standoff missiles such as ground-based rocket launch systems or naval vessels can be sent the target coordinates from other assets, such as satellites or other aircraft. This third-party targeting data can enable a standoff launch without a direct sensor view of the target. The second dependent variable is whether the launch platform can get within range to launch its own missile at the SAM system or radar without being detected, tracked and destroyed first.

Missiles have a longer range the higher and faster they are launched, especially if they are rocket powered rather than jet powered. This is because a high and fast launch gives the missile plenty of kinetic energy to start with, and because rocket motors only burn for a short amount of time, accelerating a missile to a very high speed but leaving it to ‘coast’ for the majority of flight on what energy the initial burn imparted. By contrast, a missile equipped with a jet engine can cruise for long periods but generally at a much slower average speed. The IAF's Rudra anti-radiation missile NGARM is an example of a modern rocket-powered standoff missile designed to seek out and destroy radars, whilst the Bharmos cruise missile is a modern jet-powered standoff weapon which can be used for SEAD/DEAD but can also hit other fixed targets using multiple guidance methods. However, jet-powered missiles are slower in flight than rocket-powered ones, which is a factor to consider when attempting standoff attacks against modern mobile SAM systems.


If a subsonic cruise missile is launched 400 km away from an SA-21 to ensure they stay completely out of range, for example, then the missile will have a flight time to target in the region of 30 minutes, giving plenty of time for the S 400 to move before the missile arrives and avoid the missile’s terminal guidance sensor field of view. This means that there is an additional requirement when attempting standoff attacks against mobile systems, to be able to pass real-time target position updates to the missile in flight. An emerging new approach to standoff attacks against air defence systems is to employ large numbers of smaller munitions which are powered by either small jet or propeller engines, have wings and can seek out and destroy targets as a swarm. Loitering munitions such as the Israeli Harpy have been around for decades, but with relatively unsophisticated anti-radiation seekers which simply home in on enemy radar emissions. Today, advances in micro-electronics and seeker head miniaturisation have enabled loitering munitions to combine anti-radiation seekers with electro-optics, GPS guidance and limited target classification and prioritisationcapabilities. Examples include the IAI Harop and the cruise missiles. These systems offer advantages in terms of cost and how many can be carried per launch aircraft compared to large cruise missiles or traditional anti-radiation missiles. However, they are fundamentally constrained in terms of range by their small size, with even the more sophisticated examples like Harop limited to around 140 km, Rudra is 300 Km compared to well over 600 km for Bharmos. On the other hand, if they can be carried close enough to major components of an IADS to be launched without interception, they do offer a potent means of saturating defences with large numbers of small munitions in a very short time. As automatic target recognition, prioritisation and swarm coordination technology improves, this form of standoff SEAD/DEAD attack will continue to get more potent, though range limitations will remain, placing a premium on launch platform survivability well inside the theoretical launch range of most high-threat SAMs.

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The second SEAD technique is to use electronic warfare, or jamming, to try to degrade the ability of the radars and missiles making up an IADS to function as intended. As with standoff attacks, identification of the enemy threat systems is usually a prerequisite for successful SEAD through electronic warfare, as the jamming signal must be tailored to the correct frequency and waveforms. Dedicated standoff electronic warfare aircraft such as the US Navy’s EA-18G Growler carry advanced RWRs and signal analysis capabilities in addition to their large external jamming pods which emit high-powered jamming signals to disrupt enemy radar and communications systems.

The Another approach is to use modified cruise missiles or loitering munitions with electronic warfare payloads in place of the usual explosive warhead. Examples include the decoy/jammer missile and the upcoming Rudra and Bharmoa NG. Such weapons are often known as stand-in jammers, and combine the ability to simulate the radar signature of larger jets in decoy modes, or exploit the fact that jamming is more effective the closer the jamming platform is to the target radar by carrying out targeted disruption against enemy SAM systems from close ranges – often in conjunction with kinetic attacks by traditional standoff munitions. Both standoff and stand-in electronic warfare systems rely on national or allied signals-intelligence analysis and exploitation capability, to allow new enemy radar emissions to be analysed after being recorded by an EA-18G or another asset. Once the new emissions are identified, specific mission data files need to be written and updated on the electronic warfare aircraft and stand-in jammers to give their systems the ability to recognise and jam that signal in the future. This all takes time and resources, and each time a SAM radar is updated with new radar waveforms or engagement modes, the process must be done again, leading to an almost endless cat-and-mouse game between IADS operators and electronic warfare specialists looking to facilitate SEAD efforts. Given that any advantages gained by either brute-force signal jamming or more subtle electronic attacks to interfere with SAM systems will only be temporary, electronic warfare alone is seldom sufficient for SEAD tasks. However, the ability to degrade enemy radar and seeker head performance is extremely valuable, so electronic warfare remains a vital component of almost all SEAD/DEAD techniques. Cyber attacks also form part of some states’ ability to degrade IADS, at least temporarily. Like jamming, cyber attacks generally aim to degrade or temporarily destroy key radar or C2 nodes to create a temporary opportunity to breach the broader IADS.

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However, unlike jamming, cyber attacks use the insertion of malicious code rather than high-energy jamming to disrupt or gain control of key nodes within an IADS. This code can be introduced to the IADS in multiple ways, from covert agents to aerial transmission using specialised AESA radars from aircraft directly to the target radar receiver. Like jamming, however, this technique relies on having an excellent knowledge of the system architecture of the radar, SAM system or command node being attacked, and how it interfaces with the rest of the IADS. Furthermore, once used, the enemy forces will not only work quickly to bring the system back online but will also discover the cyber weapon in their system and patch the vulnerability that allowed it to function effectively making cyber payloads one shot weapons with effects that are often only temporary. The third SEAD/DEAD technique is to employ aircraft with very low observability to radar stealth properties to greatly reduce the ranges at which the various components within an IADS can detect them. This does not make aircraft invisible, but by reducing detection ranges dramatically, can open up corridors through the various threat systems within an IADS which would not be viable for conventional aircraft. This can enable stealth aircraft to either get close enough to key radars and other threat nodes in an IADS to attack them directly with their own internal weapons, or at least to use their own sensors to precisely locate, identify and track those radars for standoff attacks by others. When combined with the other two techniques already discussed, stealth aircraft offer ahuge advantage to any SEAD/DEAD force, providing the ‘eyes’ inside the IADS to guide standoff weapons to their elusive mobile SAM and radar targets and contributing their own direct attacks where possible.

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Having electronic warfare capabilities to disrupt the enemy IADS only increases the ability of stealth aircraft to get closer to threats with a low probability or detection, and the Stealth Aircraft, in particular, also has potent electronic warfare capabilities of its own to bring to the fight. It is important to remember that even with modern stealth aircraft thorough mission and strike package planning and coordination, supported by in-depth standoff analysis of the IADS, is essential for SEAD/DEAD missions against a modern IADS. Successfully coordinating all the elements required for successful SEAD/DEAD necessitates not only the right equipment, but also forces which are well trained, have exercised regularly as a coalition in realistic conditions and are given the requisite political freedom of action to carry out strikes on enemy territory. Given the size and complexity of Russia’s and China’s IADS, and the limited availability of air-launched standoff munitions in IAF's inventories, long-range precision fires contributed by naval and ground forces would significantly improve the ability of Air Forces to rapidly degrade these networks.

However, as with air-launched standoff munitions, ground-launched or naval precision strikes would still require real-time target location and track data to reliably hit elusive, mobile SAM radar targets. These will have to be mostly supplied by air forces, adding a networking requirement to be able to pass track-quality target data from air assets inside the IADS to friendly joint force assets without revealing their position. It is also worth remembering that while the scenario of having to fight into a modern IADS as a joint force can seem like a remote possibility in the context of a war against Russia or China, these systems are proliferating rapidly around the world, with Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Venezuela having acquired S 300 or S 400 in recent years. Many of these states also either already operate or are acquiring a range of medium and shorter-ranged SAM systems and even capable electronic warfare systems. Fundamentally, IADS are a comparatively cheap way to raise the costs of intervention by airpower-dependent hostile powers so they are likely to continue to be a tool of choice for near-peer and sub-peer states over the following decades. In other words, having to fight against a modern IADS may soon be the theatre-entry standard for intervention operations around the world, rather than solely a spectre of peer conflict against great powers.

Haldiram & Haldilal Co. :)

Note : some inputs were taken from the Various Sources.
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