Here’s Another Thing the British Military Can’t Do Anymore
Royal Air Force retires its only anti-radiation missile
The British military just keeps dwindling.
IHS Jane’s reports that the Royal Air Force has retired its only dedicated anti-radiation missile used to destroy enemy radars.
The news might seem relatively minor. But the ability to suppress and destroy enemy radars is crucial, particularly with Russia and China developing increasingly advanced air defense systems.
During the opening hours of a conflict—such as the 2011 air war over Libya—one of the first priorities for a modern air force is to make it as hard as possible for the enemy to see, track and shoot down your planes.
For the RAF, the ALARM missile was the weapon of choice. Capable of being fired from a Tornado attack jet 58 miles away from a target, the missile traveled up to 1,525 miles per hour, using its sensors to home in on faint—but perceptible—radar signatures.
The ALARM had some other tricks. If an enemy radar powered down to avoid being targeted, the missile could fly up to an altitude of 40,000 feet and deploy a parachute. The munition would then slowly descend, and if the enemy radar powered back up, it would release its parachute, re-acquire the target and … boom.
Granted, even with ALARM gone, the British military can still destroy radars with other weapons.
“U.K. armed forces have a range of capabilities that can be used to counter enemy air defense, including kinetic strikes via long-range cruise missiles, such as Tomahawk and Storm Shadow, and a multitude of highly effective precision air-to-ground weapons,” the Ministry of Defense noted in a statement to IHS Jane’s.
But none of these weapons have the ALARM’s fine-tuned capabilities.
For one, anti-radiation missiles have specialized sensors to sort out the mess of electromagnetic noise emitted by lots of different radars emitting all at once. If an enemy is using one radar for tracking aircraft and another for guiding missiles to destroy those aircraft, it’s better to have a missile of your own that can tell the difference and prioritize accordingly.
Without that, the RAF is a lot more vulnerable, its aircraft forced to get in closer and use dumber weapons.
But there could be successors to the ALARM. The U.S. is currently replacing its aging stocks of 1980s-era radar-homing HARM missiles with an upgrade jointly developed with the Italian air force.
This new Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile, or AARGM, has some of the same abilities as the ALARM. To counter spoofing and an enemy radar team powering down, the AARGM remembers the radar location and strikes it anyways.
The missile is configured for Italian Tornado jets optimized for anti-radar missions. It shouldn’t be too great a leap for the RAF to fit AARGMs to its own Tornadoes, if it chose to.
The U.S. Navy, for its part, has also looked at integrating HARM-style sensors on Tomahawk cruise missiles.
But the end of the ALARM also points to a larger trend. The British military is shriveling—fielding fewer weapon systems, aircraft and ships and becoming dependent on war coalitions led principally by the United States.
That’s not a good thing.