Home on the Range

RAF Spadeadam (USAF) – A US Air Force Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter is seen here overflying the RAF Spadeadam electronic warfare training range.

The Royal Air Force’s RAF Spadeadam electronic warfare training range gets a new commander.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills,” wrote William Wordsworth in his eponymous 1815 poem, commonly known as Daffodils. Mr. Wordsworth is pre-eminent in a legion of bards roused by the breath-taking vistas of north west England’s Lake District.

Yet this green and pleasant land is home to one of the world’s foremost electronic warfare training centres. RAF Spadeadam, takes its name from ysbyddaden, the word for hawthorn, in the now-extinct early medieval Brittonic language of Cumbric. Originally developed as a test site for the UK’s de Havilland Blue Streak nuclear-tipped intermediate range ballistic missile the Royal Air Force (RAF) took over the site in 1976 following Blue Streak’s cancellation. Since then, it has been used for close air support and electronic warfare training. RAF and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation aircraft can fly against real and simulated ground-based air defence radio frequency and infrared-guided threats that they might expect to see during operations.

Simulated Threats

In early June Wing Commander Matt Lawrence returned to lead RAF Spadeadam, much as he had done six years before. He told Armada Analysis that the station’s mission continues to be the provision of “world class operationally-representative electronic warfare training and trials facilities to UK and Allied military personnel, wherever and whenever required.” These training and trials facilities include several ‘real world’ threats:

  • A full NIIP/Vympel 2K12 Kub (NATO reporting name SA-6 Gainful) low/medium range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system.
  • Two Znamya Truda Plant 9K33 Osa (NATO reporting name SA-8 Gecko) low-altitude SAM systems.
  • A MMZ ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) system.
  • An Oerlikon Contraves/Rheinmetall Skyguard X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz) ground-based fire control radar.

Wg Cdr. Lawrence says that “these systems remain widely deployed globally, and could be used against RAF aircraft in future conflicts.” Alongside these systems, the facility uses a US Dynamics Corporation AN/MPS-T1/43 simulator. The AN/MPS-T1/43 can mimic the transmissions of the radars equipping the Laochkin S-75 Dvina (NATO reporting name SA-2 Guideline) high altitude/long-range SAM system.

These radars include P-12 (NATO reporting name Spoon Rest-A) very high frequency (133 megahertz/MHz to 144MHz/216MHz to 225MHz) ground-based air surveillance radars and SNR-75 (NATO reporting name Fan Song) S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) fire control radars. The AN/MPS-T1/43 may also simulate the IRL13/P-15 (NATO reporting name Flat Face-A) ultra-high frequency (420MHz to 450MHz/890MHz to 942MHz) ground-based air surveillance radar and PRW-11 (NATO reporting name Side Net) S-band height-finding radars equipping the S-75’s regimental headquarters.

The US Dynamics Corporation says that the AN/MPS-T1/43 can also simulate radars used by the Almaz-Antey S-125 Neva/Pechora (NATO reporting name SA-3 Goa). These include the SNR-125 (NATO reporting name Low Blow) L-band fire control radar, the IRL13/P-15 system and the PRV-11 (NATO reporting name Side Net) S-band height-finding radar. Systems like the AN/MPS-T1/43 can transmit representative radar signals for detection by an aircraft’s radar warning receiver. Alongside these simulated RF threats, RAF Spadeadam has tools for mimicking infrared and ultraviolet-guided threats, notably the Textron Systems Man-Portable Aircrew Survivability Trainer or MAST.

Interestingly, the base can be used to train large packages of aircraft with geographically dispersed threats. Some of the simulators at Spadeadam are mobile and can be moved to other locations in the UK. Similarly, representative threats at Spadeadam can be networked to provide a very dense electromagnetic environment says Wg. Cdr. Lawrence. This allows the simulation of complex threats like integrated air defence systems.

Although day-to-day business at RAF Spadeadam has been disrupted by the global Covid-19 pandemic, Wg. Cdr. Lawrence states that the range sees aircraft performing EW training daily. Users include RAF combat aircraft such as Eurofighter Typhoon F/GR4A jets, and planes from across NATO.

Flight Safety

Safety is a major consideration at RAF Spadeadam. Combat aircraft often fly at low altitudes when training to avoid radar threats, says Wg. Cdr. Lawrence. Spadeadam has primary and secondary air traffic control radars. These track aircraft using the range and to ensure that threat systems are pointing in the right direction towards their target. Air traffic controllers at Spadeadam also monitor local airspace to guard against civil aircraft infringements. “This provides an additional layer of safety for everyone,” Wg. Cdr. Lawrence remarks.

The Future

Several of the SAM systems at the base have been upgraded over the last five years. These have made them “representative of the modern threats deployed across the globe today,” notes Wg. Cdr. Lawrence. In the future, he expects “incremental enhancements to our existing threat fleet” and command and control systems to continue, improving “the capability of our existing threat systems.”

by Dr. Thomas Withington