Anti-Radiation Missiles And The AH-1W Cobra In The SEAD Role

CSC 1993



Title: Anti-radiation missiles and the AH-1W Cobra in the SEAD role

Author: Major Jeffrey L. Speer

Thesis: The effectiveness of enemy air defenses may cause SEAD operations to be the major

part of the commanders battle plan, so victory requires close coordination between

intelligence planners, fire support planners, and operational planners at each level of

the force. It also requires that all assets be considered; however, these operational

planners have overlooked to a large extent the AH-1W Cobra helicopter as an integral

element in the successful destruction of enemy air defenses.

Background: The proliferation of modern air defense systems will have a significant effect

upon any military operation. History has shown that complacency in the development

of weapons and tactics against enemy air defense systems can result in devastating

consequences. Fixed and mobile defense systems provide a umbrella that attacking

forces must contend with. The suppression of enemy air defense systems (SEAD)

represents a specific fire support requirement that commanders must deal with.

The Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) realizes the importance of SEAD and

is fully capable of performing campaign, localized, and complementary SEAD

operations. The MAGTF utilizes anti-radiation missiles as the centerpiece of its

electronic SEAD. The AH-1W Cobra is fully capable of supporting electronic SEAD

by employing the AGM-122A Sidearm anti-radiation missile. Unified commanders

should consider the capabilities and limitations of the AH-1W Cobra for employment

in the Joint- SEAD role. Proven advances in the field of missile technology have led

to the development of a advanced (helicopter compatible) anti-radiation guided

missile (AAGRM). This new weapon needs to be fielded to enhance the combat

capability of the MAGTF and Unified Commanders.

Recommendations: Unified Commanders need the capabilities that the AARGM provides and

should push the Navy's Air Warfare Department to field this weapon.

Anti-radiation missiles and the AH-1W Cobra in the SEAD role


Thesis: The effectiveness of enemy air defenses may cause SEAD operations to be the major

part of the commanders' battle plan, so victory requires close coordination between intelligence

planners, fire support planners, and operational planners at each level of the force. It also

requires that all assets be considered; however, these operational planners have overlooked to a

large extent the AH-1W Cobra helicopter as an integral element in the successful destruction of

enemy air defenses.

I. Historical role of SEAD operations

A. Korean War

B. Vietnam War

C. Yom Kippur War

D. Falklands War

E. El Dorado Canyon Operation

II. Significant mobile air defense systems

A. SA-6

B. ZSU-23-4

C. South African Zumlac

III.Current world situation

A. Luftwaffa development of the ECR Tornado for the SEAD role

B. U.S.Army requirements in Joint SEAD

C. MAGTF requirements in Joint SEAD

IV. SEAD operations in Desert Storm

A. After action considerations

B. Fratricide

C. Task Force Normandy

V. Capabilities for the Unified Commander

A. AH-1W employment implications

B. Future developments


by Major Jeffrey L. Speer, USMC

Once man began to utilize the balloon and airplane to create a three dimensional battlefield,

defense supression became a critical concern. The ability to control the airspace above one's

adversary, whether for observation or the direct delivery of weapons, has proven invaluable

throughout recent military history. To prevent an enemy from controlling this airspace, defense

systems were developed. Then suppression of these systems became essential and has

developed through the use of technology. My intent here is to deal with the concept of

suppression of enemy air defense systems (SEAD), and show how joint staffs can utilize the

AH-1W Cobra as a credible weapons system in the SEAD role.

The advent of radar in the second world war heralded the beginnings of modern-day air

defense systems. This use of the electromagnetic spectrum gave the defender some unique

capabilities to counter the airplane. The concept married a small and mobile radar with the

actual gun battery to direct aircraft and gunfire toward the inbound threat.(1:18)

Radar integration improved anti-aircraft artillery accuracy many times over by providing an

effective and efficient concentration of fire power. This improved lethality, forced fighters and

bombers to attack from higher altitudes to stay above the maximum effective range of the

antiaircraft guns.(1:19)

Developments in radar-directed antiaircraft artillery created a defense system that had to be

dealt with during the Korean War. An effective counter measure used during the Korean War

included TB-25J "Ferrets." These modified Mitchel Bombers performed radar suppression

duties while leading formations of B-26 Invaders. (3:113) The Korean War experience

demonstrated how electronic combat could cut losses of attacking aircraft. Following the

conflict, all major powers made great strides in producing new types of equipment for bomber

protection. This allowed aircraft to enter enemy airspace without detection by threat radar and

ultimately prevented engagement by the radar-guided weapons systems.(2:253)

Learning from the Korean War, both Soviet Bloc and Western Nations during the cold war

used World War II era developments in radar and missiles to form a formidable antiaircraft

weapon. The Germans had studied the concept of surface-to-air missiles as early as 1941, but

the Soviet Union was the first to operationally employ this system against an enemy aircraft.

During a reconnaissance flight on 1 May 1960,the Soviet Union fired upon, and downed, the U-

2 aircraft piloted by Francis Gary Powers.(2:15) The Soviets had developed the surface-to-air

missile system to counter medium altitude penetration tactics used by the United States: (a

defensive tactic designed as a countermeasure to the effective use of radar guided antiaircraft


The Vietnam War was a "watershed" in the development of the concept of SEAD. On 24

July 1965, during a raid over North Vietnam, a Soviet built SA-2 surface-to-air missile shot

down an American F-4 Phantom. This was not the first aircraft shot down in Vietnam, nor the

first time an American aircraft had been destroyed by Soviet missiles. It was, however, the first

appearance of Soviet built surface-to-air missiles in Southeast Asia. This introduction into

North Vietnam exposed the American fighters to a new and deadly threat when they had

previously enjoyed air supremacy.(2:18) Until a new airborne electronic combat system could

be developed to neutralize the guidance system of surface-to-air missiles, aircraft could only

evade the missiles by violent maneuvers.(1:20)

Although the SA-2 had a probability of kill of only 10 percent, the rising losses due to this

missile were mounting. The United States lost about 160 aircraft by the end of 1972,the

majority due to the SA-2.(1:29) To meet this threat the United States resurrected the idea of

using radar busters similar to those used during World War II. During Operation Market

Garden, P-47s used radar homing devices to attack antiaircraft artillery sites along the coast of

Holland and France.(18:30) Then in Vietnam the F-100F Super Saber was chosen and the

conversion of seven aircraft began immediately for the "Top Secret" mission of radar detection

and location.(18:32) The F-100F Super Saber was joined with the F-105 Thunderchief to form

a hunter-killer team known as "Iron-Hand."(18:37) The concept would use a F-100F to

identify, locate and mark an enemy radar site for an attack by the F-105s. Additionally, the F-

100F would suppress the radar site with Shrike anti-radiation missiles while the F-105s were

inbound to a target. Thus the radar threat was prevented from detecting the killer aircraft and

increased their survival.(18:38)

During the 1972 Linebacker I operations, the SA-2 brought down 11 B-52 aircraft. Tactics

were modified and Wild Weasel aircraft were changed from the F-100's to the more capable F-

4C Phantom employing AGM-45 and AGM-78 anti-radiation missiles and a self protecting pod.

(18:38) The result was a sharp decline in losses because the North Vietnamese radar operators

shut down their radar once the hunter-killer team appeared in their sector.(18:38) With the

success of the Wild Weasels against the SA-2 missile system in 1966, the North Vietnamese

incased the number of radar controlled guns to a total of almost 10,000.(3:113) The

following year, most aircraft losses were due to anti-aircraft fire rather than surface-to-air

missiles.(18:40) An increased emphasis on electronic counter measures and refinement of

tactics contributed to a decreased in attrition to 2 percent, compared to the initial phase of the war

when attrition rates were nearly 14 percent.(2:269)

The concept of Wild Weasel operations has traditionally relied on hunter-killer teams in

which the critical factor is the ability to "transfer relative position of the threat." Tactics and

equipment would have to be developed to keep pace with the threat, especially since this would

be the last war which targeted only stationary or fixed radar sites. Intelligence indicated the

Soviets would introduce their newly designed mobile threats within a few years.(18:90)

While the Vietnam War was shaping the future of SEAD, the 1967 war between Israel and

Egypt was reinforcing the importance of air superiority. The Egyptians saw losses of over 300

aircraft on the ground and the destruction of 23 radar sites.(1:23) Using lessons learned from

Vietnam, the Egyptian air defense was reorganized by Soviet advisors who provided an

integrated air defense system. Included were improved SA-2 missiles and the recently

introduced SA-3. Mobile threats included the SA-6 missile system and ZSU-23-4, an automatic

radar guided anti-aircraft artillery gun. The concept of a radar controlled gun had been taken

one step further by placing the system on a tracked chassis to provide mobility. The missile and

anti-aircraft defense on the West Bank of the Suez Canal now provided an integrated and

mutually protective system for the Egyptian forces.(19:313)

In 1973 the Yom Kippur War provided many lessons for warfare. On the tactical side, the

Israeli Air force was denied initial air superiority over the battlefield--not due to enemy air

power but to ground mobile air defenses.(10:5) The effectiveness of the mobile surface-to-air

missiles was only exceeded by that of self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery. This was the first

employment of mobile air defense system in support of an advancing army.(9:6) The plan of

the Arab forces was to achieve a surprise attack across the Suez Canal without using aircraft to

gain local air superiority, so this had to be done by ground power:

To limit the effect of Israeli air power, the ground force would not

venture for beyond the missile and air defense system until the

Israeli Air force was exhausted by attacks on that system, allowing

the Arab Air force to contend with what was left. (17:135)

The Israeli Army could not stop the Egyptian canal crossing. Within hours, tactical air

operations would be restricted by darkness so the pilots were instructed to "ignore the missile

batteries and attack any and all targets." (17:145) Two hours later, the Israeli Air force had lost

12 aircraft on the Egyptian front.(17:146)

Concurrently the Syrian thrust in the Golan Heights was threatening Israel's heartland and the

Israeli Airforce was directed to fly maximum strikes against the Syrian tanks until sufficient

Israeli armor could reinforce the front. The pilots disregarded the anti-aircraft umbrella and

bore the brunt of the initial onslaught at the cost of 39 aircraft.(17:150) For one week the

Israeli Air force was held in check by ground-based defenses. It was not until the second week,

and a favorable ground battle that pilots could focus primarily on defense suppression.(17:151)

Of the 114 Israeli aircraft lost, 94 were lost to ground-based air defenses.(17:152) The

ZSU-23-4 was the most effective anti-aircraft weapon of the war and was credited with downing

38 Israeli aircraft despite being employed in small numbers.(13:81) The mobile SA-6 was

responsible for downing the majority of the remaining 53 aircraft with the SA-7 being credited

with only seven kills.

The result of the Yom Kippur War was the fundamental altering of the relationship between

the fighter and attack aircraft and the ground threat. Losses in this war were largely due to a

conscious decision to provide close air support before defense suppression had been achieved.

The mobile defense system was key in providing an overlapping umbrella that advanced as an

integral part of the army. However new technology and air power doctrine had to change due to

this increased lethal fire power across the spectrum of the battlefield.

Many nations failed to study the lessons from the Vietnam and Yom Kippur Wars. The

British and Argentine conflict over the Falklands showed how critical it was for nations to keep

pace with SEAD developments. The lessons learned from the Falklands conflict show several

old trends had re-emerged. The first was the occurrence of heavy losses of aircraft on both

sides during attacks on well-defended targets, because attacks focused only on the targets rather

than on the defenses which protected them.

The second was that the electronic combat capability of both British and Argentine forces

was inadequate as well as outdated. The British Sea Harrier's jamming pods were not tailored to

the Argentine radar threat. In addition, Argentine fighters had no electronic countermeasures

capability, resulting in the loss of over one third of their aircraft.(11:27)