United States Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl confirmed on Monday (August 8) that Washington has supplied some “anti-radiation missiles” to Ukraine, which could be fired from some Ukrainian Air Force aircraft. The statement has put meat on Russian allegations that an American anti-radar missile, AGM-88 HARM, which is part of NATO’s inventory, has been used in the theatre of conflict. What kind of missile is this and what impact can it have in the ongoing war in Ukraine?
The acronym ‘HARM’ in the AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface missile stands for High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile. It is a tactical weapon fired from fighter aircraft, and has the capability to detect and home into radiation emitted by hostile radar stations that have surface-to-air detection capabilities.
The missile was originally developed by the Dallas-headquartered Texas Instruments, but is now produced by the major American defence contractor Raytheon Corporation. An advanced version of the weapon is manufactured by Dulles, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman.
The AGM-88 HARM is 14 metres in length, but only 10 inches in diameter. It weighs around 360 kg and carries a fragmentation type warhead that is optimised for radar targets. It also has an anti-radar homing seeker broadband RF antenna and receiver, and a solid state digital processor. The missile has a range of more than 100 km.
How do we know that it was being used against Russia?
For the past several days, Russian social media users have been sharing open-source information on Telegram to the effect that remnants of the AGM-88 HARM have been found near a Russian surface-to-air missile site. The pictures of the seeming remnants of the missile appeared to show genuine serial numbers, which were traced to AGM-88 HARM by open source intelligence analysts. The statement by the US has now confirmed these deductions.
Do the Ukrainians have a platform to use these missiles?
This is a question that military analysts have pondered over. It would appear that only Western military groups have the required fighter aircraft to use these missiles, and that the AGM-88 HARM cannot be fitted and used on the Russian-origin aircraft that Ukraine has in its fleet. Several NATO aircraft in Europe — including the Tornado ECR, F-16CM Block 50, and F/A-18-EA-18G — can fire the AGM-88 HARM missiles.
A CNN report noted that the Russia-Ukraine war is the first in which the weapon has been confirmed to have been used by a military other than the US. However, its usefulness, considering the limited number of aircraft in the Ukrainian Air Force, remains in question. The same CNN report also said given that Ukraine does not have aircraft known to be compatible with the missile, there is speculation that the missiles may have been fired by NATO aircraft secretly supporting the Ukraine military in combat roles.
Is there no way the missile can be used by Ukraine’s Russian-origin aircraft?
Theoretically, it is possible to use the AGM-88 HARM in a limited mode in a Russian-origin aircraft. However, this would have required a lot of fast-moving research and development which may not have been possible in Ukraine itself due to the extended conflict. Northrop Grumman had tested a land-based version of the missile, but it did not achieve the required parameters.