The US Business Insider website reported on May 11 that Ukraine’s pilots are adopting a high-risk tactic first used by the US Air Force, helping to compensate for their numerical disadvantage in the face of Russian aviation assets.

It essentially involves pilots flying in an area they know to be covered by Russian air defenses and tempting them to switch on their target acquisition radars.

As soon as a Ukrainian aircraft has been painted, it can rapidly identify the source of the emissions and then launch a missile specifically designed to combat the air defense system. Weapons include the US-made AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), which the US has supplied to Ukraine since mid-2022.

The aim is to strike the radar associated with Moscow’s surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems before they can lock onto the aircraft.

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This type of operation is known as Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) or Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD). Developed during the Vietnam war, it was originally known as “Project Ferret” after the small, domesticated mammal used to attack and kill vermin in their den. It was later renamed “Wild Weasel” because Ferret had previously been used for a similar World War II operation.

The OSINTtechnical military commentator posted a video on X (formerly Twitter) in February that showed the tactic being used, sometime in the summer of 2022, by a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 fighter aircraft (NATO Flanker) flying at treetop level before launching a HARM:

Ukrainian Forces Down Another Russian Su-25 in Donetsk Region
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Ukrainian Forces Down Another Russian Su-25 in Donetsk Region

This is the second Su-25 the anti-aircraft gunners have shot down this week.

The same milblogger posted a second video in March that saw the tactic being used, from the Ukrainian pilot’s perspective:

HARM is a 350-kilogram US air-to-ground missile with a 68-kilogram blast‐fragmentation warhead, with a maximum speed of almost Mach 3 and a range of between 30 and 150 kilometers depending on the altitude it is fired. The lower the operating height the faster the missile but shorter the overall range. It has been widely and successfully used in recent conflicts.

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Initially, Ukraine had problems integrating HARM with its Soviet-era aircraft, along with other Western-supplied missiles. It was revealed in April by US Deputy Defense Secretary William LaPlante, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) annual Global Security Forum, that Kyiv had found a solution according to the War Zone website – the use of iPad tablets to control the missiles.

Frederik Mertens, an analyst at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, told Business Insider: “Ukraine is clearly adopting the experience of the Western military.” He said that while the tactic was high risk, in Ukraine’s situation it was one worth taking.

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