Ukraine Adopts Vietnam War Tactics To Hunt Russian AD Missiles; Know About US Air Force’s ‘Wild Weasel’

The Ukrainian fighter pilots are reportedly using US-supplied HARM missiles to carry out the “Wild Weasel” air defense suppression missions, adopting a popular tactic that the United States Air Force (USAF) used several decades ago in the Vietnam War.

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Videos from recent months seem to depict pilots from Ukraine flying “Wild Weasel” missions, as recently pointed out by several military bloggers and media reports. The tactic has been adopted by Ukraine at a time when neither side has been able to establish air superiority.

The tactic entails jet pilots enticing opponent anti-aircraft or missile defense systems to aim their radars at them. Once the source of the radar signals is identified, the Ukrainian pilots attack them using the US-made AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs) before the Russians can lock onto them with their surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

The Ukrainians first received the HARM from the US in 2022. By the fall of that same year, reports in both Russian and Ukrainian media indicated that the Ukrainian fighter pilots were using the AGM-88 missiles to decimate Russian air defenses. The effort, thus, is not new.

The elimination of all Russian air defenses would allow the Ukrainian Air Force to carry out airstrikes and close air support missions along the contact line, as well as deeper strikes and interdiction missions against strategically important Russian forces and assets.

The Ukrainian military has been using AGM-88 HARM missiles to destroy illumination radars of the S-400 and Buk-M3 anti-aircraft missile systems that are positioned to provide the air defense umbrella over Kherson and Nova Kakhovka. These missiles have armed Ukrainian fighters with Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD) capabilities.

The missile has garnered the reputation of an air defense killer on the battlefield, at least among Ukrainian troops. In recent times, however, the frequency of these missions has increased using the Wild Weasel tactic. Several videos involving MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters have emerged, showing Ukrainian jets aiming at frontline Russian radars and escaping unscathed – in most cases.

However, not all of these missiles hit their intended targets. For instance, on May 13, the wreckage of one of these missiles was found on the outskirts of Nekhoteevka, Belgorod region, Russia. The missile, as per Russian military bloggers, tried to attack one of the air defense systems but lost its target.

These missions could be classified as risky, given the advanced air defense system currently in use by Russian forces. These systems fire anti-aircraft missiles after locking onto the aircraft before it can escape. This makes the Wild Weasel mission very dangerous since the Ukrainian Air Force is outnumbered by its opponent.

When asked about the effectiveness of these missions, Indian Air Force veteran Group Captain M J Augustine Vinod (Retd) told EurAsian Times, “It is difficult to predict the effectiveness of these missions at this point because it would largely depend on the electromagnetic environment prevailing at the frontline.”

However, several military analysts pointed out on social media that the arrival of F-16 fighters would bolster these SEAD missions using the Wild Weasel tactic. Ukraine is expected to receive the first batch of its F-16s in over a month. One analyst said that the F-16 armed with HARM would find and decimate every radar deployed within the range of the missile.

USAF officer Lt Col Jahara Matisek told EurAsian Times: “The “Wild Weasel” approach has modernized since the Vietnam war. It was used in both Iraqi Wars (1991 & 2003), to include being most recently used during the 2011 Libya No Fly Zone. Wild weasel missions are about tactics, electronic warfare, and the right weapons. The whole point of this is to eliminate Russian air defenses so that the Ukrainian Air Force can create a permissive environment for their aircraft to operate in.”

When probed further about the dangers associated with these missions, Matisek said, “Flying any airplane near the contact line is dangerous and depends on how you define risk. High risk to me as a pilot means losing a plane every sortie. Flying any Russian or Ukrainian jet or helicopter near the frontlines is dangerous; that’s why both sides usually lose an aircraft every week.”

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The development came days after the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, told the media that Washington does not “enable or encourage” Ukraine to use American-made weapons on targets inside Russia.

When deployed against a SAM system, such as an S-300, any aircraft equipped with this missile will identify active radar emissions from radar units and target them. Although vital components like the ACDP (Armament Control and Display Panel) or TELs (Transporter Erector Launcher) are unaffected, the system as a whole is compromised since the SAM system’s capacity to identify inbound threats—a necessary step for interdiction—will be impaired.

The “Wild Weasel” is an age-old tactic the Ukrainian Air Force has adopted. It was first used by the US Air Force in the Vietnam War to suppress the enemy air defense systems. While the Vietnam War was not particularly a successful military campaign for the US military, the ‘Wild Weasel’ tactic has been one of the most revered battle tactics since then.