Turkey is joining the select club of nations building their own anti-radiation missiles.
Early July saw reports that Roketsan has developed the Akbaba (Vulture) Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM). The missile seems destined to equip Turkish Aerospace Industries’ TFX fifth-generation fighter. Sources state that this aircraft is expected to enter Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK/Turkish Air Force) service early next decade. Akbaba should replace the Raytheon AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs) the THK deploys with its General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon combat aircraft.
Armada’s records state that Turkey received 100 AGM-88B/C variant missiles between 1994 and 1995. It is unknown how many of these remain in the THK inventory.
The THK does not appear to have shown interest in either of the new AGM-88 variants. Northrop Grumman has developed the AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM). Meanwhile Raytheon has developed the AGM-88F HCSM (HARM Control Section Modification). Both designs improve the AGM-88’s accuracy.
The AGM-88E/F’s enhancements include a Global Positioning and Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS). This lets the missile target a radar based on its coordinates even if the radar’s transmissions are switched off. This is a popular tactic which aims to break the missile’s lock. A millimetric wave radar transmitting at frequencies above 30 gigahertz/GHz is also included. This helps battle damage assessment by gathering detailed imagery of the missile’s end game.
Why the THK chose not to procure the AGM-88E/F is unknown. It is possible that the Turkish defence industry has chosen to ‘go it alone’ and develop its own ARM. This would help reduce reliance on US materiel. At the same time, it would deepen domestic defence engineering expertise. Turkey may also be casting an eye towards the export market. Countries which need ARMs but either do not, or cannot, procure the AGM-88 from the US would be potential customers.
Turkey has acquired the Almaz-Antey S-400 (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) high-altitude, long-range surface-to-air missile system from Russia. Armada records show that as of 2020 four S-400 batteries had been delivered to Turkey.
Ankara’s procurement of the S-400 raised heckles in Washington. In July 2019 Turkey’s participation in the Lockheed Martin F-35A/B/C Lightning-II combat aircraft programme was suspended by the US government in retaliation. Turkey’s S-400 acquisition may have stymied her ability to procure other materiel like the AGM-88E/F. This could have been another motivating factor prompting the Akbaba programme.
On the one hand, Turkey’s S-400 acquisition gives engineers the opportunity to ascertain the system’s vulnerabilities. Each S-400 battery includes a 91N6 (NATO reporting name Big Bird) S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz) 324 nautical mile/nm (600 kilometre/km) range surveillance and tracking radar. This is flanked by a 96L6E (NATO reporting name Cheese Board) C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) early warning and target acquisition radar with a range of up to 162nm (300km).
By examining these radars it might be possible to configure the Akbaba’s Radio Frequency (RF) seekers to recognised and geolocate transmissions from either. Nonetheless, sources familiar with Russian air defence systems have told Armada that this is easier said than done. Export versions of Russian electromagnetic equipment is often ‘down tuned’ compared to versions of the same kit used by Russia’s armed forces. The potential to reverse engineer exported equipment to understand vulnerabilities may only partially help comprehend the vulnerabilities of similar equipment used by Russia.
While precise details on the Akbaba’s performance remain all but non-existent, some reasonable assumptions can be made.
The missile can most probably detect and engage ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground-controlled interception radars transmitting on frequencies of at least two gigahertz to 18GHz. The missile may also include a GPS/INS to nullify the switch off tactic. Software may enable the missile’s RF seeker to prioritise the most threatening radars and show this information to the pilot. The seeker may be able to identify the radar type and share this information with the TFX’s Electronic Support Measure (ESM). This electronic intelligence could be stored by the ESM for later analysis. For now, other details regarding the Akbaba remain scant. We may learn more in the coming months. Stay tuned!
by Dr. Thomas Withington