The need for SEAD: events in Syria notably the deployment of sophisticated Surface-to-Air Missile systems such as the Russian Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf to support Russia's ongoing air campaign is giving NATO pause for thought.


The area that systems such as the S-400 can cover, which has a reported interception range of 215.9 nautical miles/nm (400 kilometres/ km) with its 40N6 SAMs, enables it to provide coverage across a significant swathe of territory, making it a powerful Anti-Access/Area Denial weapon. Speaking at this year's Electronic Warfare Europe conference and exhibition held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in early May, experts working closely with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) provided an insight regarding how the alliance expects its Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) capabilities to grow in the future.

The alliance's heads of government September 2014 summit held in Newport, Wales, stipulated that from 2025, NATO's European membership, and Canada, must provide 50 percent of the alliance's SEAD capability. At present, the vast majority of the kinetic and electronic aspects of NATO's SEAD posture is provided by the United States Air Force (USAF) and the US Navy (USN), via the Raytheon/Orbital ATK AGM88E/F High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile, which is carried by the USAF's General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16CJ Wild Weasel SEAD aircraft, and the USN's McDonnell Douglas/Boeing FA-18 family fighters and electronic warfare aircraft. Nevertheless, European NATO members do possess some SEAD capabilities in the form of the Panavia Tornado-ECR SEAD aircraft furnishing the German and Italian air forces.

The presentation added that the alliance would have, in the future, to face an operating environment where radar could detect incoming aircraft at ranges of circa 539.9nm (1000km), with SAM ranges potentially increasing to 269.9nm (500km). In addition, radar detection frequencies are moving down the spectrum to Very High Frequency (VHF/30 to 300 Megahertz) ranges as such systems can make it easier to detect aircraft with a low Radar Cross Section (RCS). Comparatively low frequency radars can be difficult to detect and geolocate with existing airborne EW systems. Secondly, passive radars which detect the RF emissions from an aircraft's communications systems such as its radios, datalinks and emissions from its radar, can be detected using so-called 'passive radar' which detects these transmissions and then geolocates the aircraft.

The presentation continued that NATO foresees a trio of approaches as the optimum way to neutralise these threats, employing the tried and tested EW approach which uses destruction, disabling, deception, denial and degradation. NATO says that destruction can be achieved by using traditional kinetic means such as ARMs, conventional weapons, electronic warfare and Special Forces operations. Disabling the hostile electronic systems which an integrated air defence system relies on, namely radar, radio...

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