HARMing Russian Air Defenses – Bayraktar TB2 Drones Soar Again Thanks To AGM-88 Missiles Fired By Ukrainian MiG-29s

The American AGM-88 High Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) seems to be helping the Turkish TB-2 Bayraktar drones and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in working more effectively. Both systems could make a comeback if recent Ukrainian strikes and defense watchers’ claims are to be believed.

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The HARM is said to take out Russian Air Defense to clear the skies for the TB-2s, which then strike other Russian ground targets.

However, Russia claims to have shot down one Ukranian MiG-29 fighter – used to fire the HARM – and two AGM-88 HARM missiles since August 31.

In a minute-long video on Thursday claiming to be of a TB-2 strike, a Russian 152 mm 2C3 Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) is seen in the drone’s electronic optical system’s crosshairs for several seconds.

This is before, what appears to be a missile fired by the TB-2, hits the SPH, obliterating it. A comment in the thread said Ukraine was using the AGM-88 against Russian AD to make the TB-2 more “viable.”

EurAsian Times reported how in June, with mounting drone losses to Russian surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, Ukrainian soldiers and lower-level officers were reluctant to employ the drone any further.

This had led to a virtual absence of any Bayraktar action for two months, based on the fact that no new videos of the drone’s attacks were visible on social media.

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Another video of the same duration shows a claimed TB-2 strike on a Russian 2B11 120 mm mortar encampment and a supply truck. Both videos are in thermal vision modes. Many comments on this video, too, credited the HARM for aiding the TB-2 strikes.

How Has The HARM Been Used?

Bulgarian Military, a defense news website, said the attacks had been possible because of the HARM. It even credited the successful August 9 strike on the Russian air base in Saki in Crimea with the missile. \

“The fact that somehow the Ukrainian Air Force broke through the air defense of the air base raised many questions,” the article on the portal said. It said that the HARM “punched a hole” through Russia’s air defenses.

Ukraine has been using its Soviet-origin MiG-29 fighters to fire the HARM, and a video released on Thursday, of the MiG firing the missile, took social media by storm. Five to six missiles can be seen being fired, and the likelihood of them being air-to-air missile is low since the jets are shown flying at very low altitudes.

The version given to Ukraine is believed to be the AGM-88D, which has both an Inertial Navigation System (INS) and a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver.

Fired from an F-16 or other US-origin fighters helps the HARM utilize the jets’ radars, sensors, guidance systems, and a specially designed AN/ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System (HTS). The HTS is the HARM’s most effective mode in demanding and complex Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) roles.

Another mode is the HARM as Sensor (HAS), which dramatically reduces the missile’s radar emission, detection, and capability. From the MiG-29 jets, it appears to be fired in a ‘fire-and-forget’ mode or ‘Pre-Briefed Mode,’ where the target enemy radar site coordinates are already fed into the missile.

As for the Bayraktar, Vasili Cuykov, a defense commentator, tweeted in Turkish: “The fact that the Ukrainian MiG-29s started firing AGM-88 HARM missiles after the American modernization eroded the Russian air defenses at some points. This gave Bayraktars the chance to fly comfortably. Bayraktarlar, who has played the no-go until today, can now move more comfortably (sic).”

Russia Found A Way Around HARM?

Earlier this month, Russian forces had recovered the remains of an AGM-88 HARM missile from a house in Kherson, based on which they concluded that it was meant to locate and target the S-400 missile system.

Since the house must not have been a target, Russian publication Eurasia Daily (EAD) said that the missile must have been detected by the 9S18M3 Kupol detection radar of the Buk-M3 complex, the all-altitude VVO 96L6 detector of the S- 400, or even the Gazetchik-E complex.

Moreover, the GPS inside the missile could have been jammed by the Russian R-330Zh Zhitel or R-330M1P Diabazol Electronic Warfare (EW) systems, leaving the AGM-88 with the INS alone. \Another indication of limited Ukrainian success or only tactical victories – if not successful Russian defense – is the Russian claim about consistently destroying US-made systems.

Neither are the HARMS being launched with the Heads Up Display (HUD) of the MiG-29 lit up with readings and indicators, as seen in the video released by Ukraine.

Mike Mihajlovic, a Canada-based defense technologies specialist, contrasted this to an F-16 C/D, speculating that HARMs are being “launched blindly hoping to acquire any Russian radar signal after the launch.” “Very ineffective and expensive tactic,” Mihajlovic added.

On August 31, Russia’s Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) said that it had “downed” 44 HIMARS “rockets” and 2 AGM-88 HARMs.”

A comment by a former Russian helicopter pilot with experience in Electronic Warfare (EW) on Russian social media said it was “likely Ukrainian forces are coordinating HIMARS attacks with AGM-88 launches to neutralize transmitting Russian AD system.”

On Friday, it claimed shooting down a Ukrainian MiG-29, converted to use the HARM, in the Andreevka region in Kherson.