Video: Ukraine Air Force retrofits modern anti-radar missiles into analog cockpits

The MiG-29s can now fire U.S.-supplied anti-radar missiles.
Ameya Paleja
A MiG-29 firing a AGM-88 HARM
A MiG-29 firing a AGM-88 HARM

Twitter/ Ukrainian Air Force 

The Ukraine Air Force only has access to the Soviet-era MiG aircraft in its defense against Russian aggression. However, a recent video shared by the military outfit shows the MiG-29s firing U.S. supplied anti-radar missiles, Business Insider reported.

Six months into the ongoing conflict, Ukraine has held its ground against the mighty Russian onslaught. We have previously reported how Ukrainian drones have troubled Russian supply lines and how munitions supplied by Ukraine's Western allies have been helpful against Russian aerial attacks.

Russia has also learned from losses and consolidated its air defenses in Ukraine's east, where much of the combat is now limited. This has resulted in the weakening of the Ukrainian strategy of using low-cost drones, as reported last month. The battle dynamics might be about to change since there is evidence that Ukraine is deploying anti-radar missiles against Russian air defense systems.

Suppression of enemy air defense

High-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARM) are an effective way to counter adversarial air defense systems since they strike at the detection capability of these systems by attacking their radars. Called suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), the strategy can even be used to annihilate air defense systems if they are a few.

The technology used by Western forces is relatively new and compatible with modern fighter jets. Earlier this month, we reported that Ukraine had received the AGM-88 anti-radar missiles. However, since the Ukrainian Air Force only has Soviet-era MiG fighter aircraft, there were considerable doubts about how they could be deployed in the field.

How is Ukraine using AGM-88 missiles?

Business Insider reported that the AGM-88 could be controlled with multi-function displays, which the MiG does not have. Integrating a new missile system isn't about fixing them to the underwing pylons either. The pilots need a whole array of guiding devices to control them, which cannot be upgraded overnight in an analog cockpit of a MiG-29.

As seen in the video above, the Ukrainian Air Force has made some rapid arrangements to get its fighter aircraft compatible with the U.S-supplied AGM-88 HARM. One among them is a commercial-grade GPS device that provides pilots with more accurate positioning information.

Another seems like a custom tablet that likely retains control of the missile system. It isn't precisely clear whether the HARM target is programmed onto the tablet before the fighter jet takes off. An alternate way to use it would be in its Sensor Mode, where the missile detects the radar emitters and provides the pilot with a list of potential targets to be acted upon.

According to The Drive, these quick fixes in the MiG cockpit appear to obstruct some instruments, one of which seems to be a flare counter. The add-on devices can likely be quickly removed from the cockpit when the fighter is on a different mission, or the forces are ready to forgo some capabilities from the existing aircraft for some desperately needed new ones.