Ukrainian Pilots Adopt Risky US Tactic to Counter Russian Air Defenses

Ukrainian pilots are using "wild weasel" missions to counter Russian air superiority, employing AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles to destroy enemy air defenses. The tactic, adapted from the US Air Force, has been successful despite challenges in integrating Western technology with Soviet-era jets.

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Nitish Verma
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Ukrainian Pilots Adopt Risky US Tactic to Counter Russian Air Defenses

Ukrainian Pilots Adopt Risky US Tactic to Counter Russian Air Defenses

In a bold move, Ukrainian pilots are employing a high-risk tactic known as "wild weasel" missions to contest the skies above the 600-mile frontline in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. This strategy, first developed by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War, involves deliberately drawing the fire of enemy air defenses to reveal their locations before destroying them with specialized anti-radiation missiles.

Why this matters: The adoption of this tactic by Ukrainian pilots highlights the country's determination to counter Russia's air superiority, which has significant implications for the balance of power in the region. The success of these missions could also influence the development of air warfare strategies in other conflicts.

Since mid-2022, the US has been supplying Ukraine with AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), providing Ukrainian pilots with the capability to suppress and destroy enemy air defenses. These missiles have a range of approximately 90 miles and can locate and strike enemy radar even after the systems have been turned off. Ukrainian pilots have fired hundreds of HARMs at Russian air defense radars, adapting their techniques to counter the evolving tactics of Russian surface-to-air missile operators.

Frederik Mertens, a Strategic Analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, emphasized the significance of these missions, stating, "Ukraine is putting great emphasis on SEAD and DEAD missions. These missions can be very dangerous, especially for wild weasels." Despite the risks, Mertens believes that "this game is worth the candle," highlighting the strategic importance of neutralizing Russian air defenses.

Adapting Western technology to Soviet-era Ukrainian jets has been a challenge, but Ukrainian ingenuity has prevailed. US Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante noted, "They're flying it in conflict like a week after we get it to him," referring to Ukraine's use of iPads to make their jets compatible with Western weapons.

The arrival of F-16 fighter jets from the Netherlands and Denmark, planned for delivery this autumn and summer, respectively, is expected to help level out Russia's air superiority. The current modified Soviet-era fighter jets used by Ukraine do not allow for the full utilization of HARM missiles' features. Justin Bronk, a Senior Research Fellow for Airpower & Technology at RUSI, explained that "now, HARM launches serve a suppressive rather than a destructive purpose."

The developments in Ukraine's aerial tactics are concurrent with reports of Russian forces struggling to employ munitions correctly, resulting in accidental bombings on Russian territory. As the conflict continues, the evolution of Ukraine's tactics and the integration of Western technology will undoubtedly shape the dynamics of air warfare in the region. The ingenuity and courage displayed by Ukrainian pilots reflect the significant adaptive strategies employed by Ukraine to counter a numerically and technologically superior adversary.

Key Takeaways

  • Ukrainian pilots use "wild weasel" missions to counter Russian air superiority.
  • US supplies Ukraine with AGM-88 HARM missiles to destroy enemy air defenses.
  • Ukrainian pilots adapt tactics to counter Russian surface-to-air missile operators.
  • F-16 fighter jets from Netherlands and Denmark to be delivered to Ukraine.
  • Ukraine's aerial tactics and Western tech integration shape air warfare dynamics.