Because they can precisely track and hunt for their targets, guided missiles are among the most intelligent and lethal bombs on the modern battlefield. Moreover, unlike traditional ballistic missiles with a fixed trajectory, guided missiles can track their targets indefinitely and even change course if necessary. As a result, anti-radiation projectiles equipped with a guided system become more dangerous.
During World War II, the Germans pioneered the development of guided missiles, the Blohm & Voss BV 246 “Hagelkorn,” to bolster their air campaigns against the Brits. It became the foundation for next-generation missiles, such as anti-radiation missiles (ARMs), specifically designed to destroy enemy radio emission sources—radar and communication jammers and radios.
Great nations, including the United States, are racing to develop advanced systems for these armaments, which can be armed with warheads capable of reaching up to 6,000 miles away. Some modern designs can even carry a nuclear warhead and travel worldwide.
Most guided missiles are usually made up of these four key components: the engine, warhead, flight control system, and guidance system. To give you a quick rundown on how this works, the engine propels the missile from the launcher to its target while the warhead safely carries the explosives—or at least until it reaches its target. Meanwhile, the flight control system is in charge of maneuvering the missile and ensuring its accuracy as the guided system searches for and locates the target.
There are five primary methods of missile guidance, namely, command, active, semi-active, passive, and inertial, which are gaining popularity among modern guided missiles as they can pre-determine their flight path through gyroscopic platforms and GPS. Such systems are advantageous because they do not include electronic emissions from the missile or launch platform—making it harder for enemies to detect the incoming threat and change its course if needed.
US-made Anti-Radiation Missiles
The AGM-88 HARM is undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s most effective missiles in this class. This supersonic air-to-surface tactical missile evolved from other US ARM weapon systems, including the AGM-45 Shrike, the massive AGM-78 Standard ARM, and the AGM-122 Sidearm was cheapest and lightest of all.
In the early 1980s, the US Defense Systems Acquisition Review Council approved the design initially made by Texas Instruments, and production began soon after. It officially entered service in 1985 and has played an essential role in the Gulf Wars, Kosovo Wars, Iraq War, the 2011 Military Intervention in Libya, and, most recently, the Russia-Ukraine War.
What makes the AGM-88 stand out is its built-in inertial guidance system. As mentioned, this typeface system can remember the enemy radar’s direction and location even if turned off and continue on its trajectory.
AGM-88 HARM Specs
- Function: Air-to-surface anti-radiation missile
- Power Plant: Thiokol dual-thrust rocket motor
- Length: 13 feet, 8 inches (4.14 m)
- Launch Weight: 800 pounds (360 kg)
- Diameter: 10 inches (25.40 cm)
- Wingspan: 3 feet, 8 inches (101.60 cm)
- Range: 30 plus miles (48 plus km)
- Speed: Supersonic
- Guidance System: Proportional
- Aircraft: Used aboard the F-16C
- Warheads: High explosive
- Date Deployed: 1984
It has had a couple more variations and evolution throughout the years, including the AGM-88E Advanced Antiradiation Guided Missile (AARGM) in 2010 produced by Northrop Grumman; the AGM-88F HARM Control Section Modification (HCSM) developed by Raytheon in the mid-2010s; and the AGM-88G AARGM-ER, Northrop’s enhanced version of the AGM-88E, in 2016.
AGM-88G AARGM-ER Specs
- Function: Air-to-surface anti-radiation missile
- Propulsion: Thiokol dual thrust solid propellant (AGM-88 Rocket Motor)
- Length: 13 ft 8 in (417 cm)
- Diameter: 10 in (25.4 cm)
- Wingspan: 44 in (112 cm)
- Weight: 795 pounds (361 kg)
- Speed: Mach 2+
- Guidance System: GPS/INS (Global Position/Inertial), Anti-Radiation Homing, Terminal Millimeter Wave (MMW), multi-spectral guidance
- Platforms: F/A-18C/D, FA-18E/F, EA-18G (compatibility): F-35, F-16 C/J
- Initial Operation: 2012
- Status: In Production
While the AGM-88 HARM continues to be in service, the US Navy and US Air Force both invested in the further development of the AGM-88G that would be carried on Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and F-35 C Lightning II. As of January this year, the AARGM-ER completed its second flight test at the Point Mugu Sea Range, Northrop reported.
Until this point, most ARMs have been designed to be used against ground-based radar systems. However, as technology advances and the race to claim space territories intensifies, this might change—and it’s only a matter of time before unmanned drones or even a system based in space come into play.
Pentagon recently confirmed that the US sent unspecified ARMs to the Ukrainian armed forces to help combat the ongoing war against the Russian invasion. This is the first time the US has acknowledged sending the previously undisclosed missile to Ukraine—likely to be used to take down Russian anti-aircraft systems, particularly the S-400.
‼️ Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl: In recent packages for #Ukraine we've included a number of anti-radiation missiles that can be fired off Ukrainian aircraft.
Previously, Pentagon did not announce the specific provision of such missiles to #Ukraine.
— Ostap Yarysh (@OstapYarysh) August 8, 2022
Although the Undersecretary of Defence for Policy did not specifically state what kind of ARM was transferred, a US defense official previously disclosed that it was the AGM-88 HARM that was sent to Ukraine. This would confirm the speculation about the recent news reports about Russian troops having to collect debris from the AGM-88 HARM around their area following a Ukrainian missile strike.