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How Ukraine Is Successfully Adapting US “Wild Weasel” Tactic on the Battlefield

Outmaneuvering their much larger rival, Ukrainian pilots are deploying a cunning tactic — the “wild weasel” strategy — originally developed by the US.

This maneuver involves Ukrainian jets luring enemy air defenses into activating their radar. Once the radar is switched on, the Ukrainians can pinpoint its location and unleash US-supplied anti-radar weapons like AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), taking out the threat before the Russians can lock onto them with their surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).

Weighing in at roughly 770 pounds and boasting a range of 90 miles, HARMs have bolstered Ukrainian airpower, starting in mid-2022, These weapons enable Ukrainian pilots to conduct both Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD) missions. These weapons can also detect and destroy enemy radar systems, even if they’ve been switched off.

The US Air Force paved the way for modern SEAD tactics during the Vietnam War. Project Wild Weasel involved specialized aircraft equipped with radar detectors to locate enemy air defenses.

The strategy initially relied on bombs, transitioning later to specialized anti-radar missiles for destroying enemy radar systems, clearing the way for bombers and other attack aircraft.

As documented by the National Museum of the US Air Force, the term “wild weasel” stemmed from this pioneering anti-SAM strategy that utilized direct attacks to suppress enemy air defenses.

Frederik Mertens, a Strategic Analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, highlighted that Ukraine is actively utilizing the lessons learned from the Western military and its strong focus on SEAD and DEAD missions.

While Mertens acknowledges the inherent dangers, particularly for the “wild weasel” tactic, he emphasizes the critical nature of neutralizing Russian air defenses.

“This game is worth the candle,” Mertens states, signifying the importance of the mission despite the risks.

However, he suggests that Ukraine’s tactics extend beyond the classical wild weasel missions solely involving anti-radiation missiles.

From deploying special forces to launching land-based missiles like GMLRS and ATACMS, and utilizing a wide range of UAVs (drones), “Ukrainians use all weapons, troops, and systems they have at their disposal to suppress and destroy Russian air defenses,” according to Mertens.

Despite enabling Ukraine to utilize HARM missiles, their current, modified Soviet-era jets lack the full capabilities to exploit these weapons' potential. This makes the delivery of F-16s a critical factor in boosting Ukraine’s control of the airspace.

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