The AGM-88 HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) is a supersonic air-to-surface anti-radiation missile that first entered service in 1985 and has seen a number of updates since. The missile is primarily used for engaging enemy radar arrays leveraged by surface-to-air missiles or counter-artillery batteries.
These weapons can be used in a number of ways by aircraft, including by using pre-established coordinates to fly in the general direction of a radar array before leveraging its internal seeker to locate and close with the system. While missiles, including the AGM-88, require a connection to the aircraft they’re fired from they’re capable of functioning with very little aircraft or pilot input when necessary. This is why they were able to be quickly retrofitted for use aboard Ukrainian MiG-29s and Su-27s for Ukraine’s war against Russia that began in February of 2022.
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What do anti-radiation missiles do?
Anti-radiation missiles detect and target the electromagnetic waves being transmitted by radar systems, which is why they’re often referred to as “radar-hunting” missiles. Weapons like the AGM-88, in particular, are capable of hunting these systems down somewhat autonomously. HARM missiles are sometimes even fired into hostile airspace ahead of American aircraft without specific targets in mind. When air defense systems come online, the already-airborne missiles detect the radar waves emitting from the systems and change course to engage them. If the system is powered back down, the AGM-88 can still close with the target’s last known location using GPS guidance.
Conversely, when air-defense system operators are aware that HARM missiles or aircraft carrying them are in the area, they may choose to remain powered down, allowing aircraft to operate freely. This is why operations that leverage these types of weapons are often referred to as Suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) systems as well as Destruction of enemy air defense (DEAD).
AGM-88 HARM missile Specs
(All specifications provided by the U.S. Air Force)
Primary Function: Air-to-surface anti-radiation missile
Contractor: Raytheon Co.
Power Plant: Thiokol dual-thrust rocket motor
Thrust: Dual thrust
Length: 13 feet, 8 inches (4.14 meters)
Launch Weight: 800 pounds (360 kilograms)
Diameter: 10 inches (25.40 centimeters)
Wingspan: 3 feet, 8 inches (101.60 centimeters)
Range: 30 plus miles (48 plus kilometers)
Aircraft: Used aboard the F-16C
Guidance System: Proportional
Warheads: High explosive
Unit Cost: $200,000
Date Deployed: 1984
You can learn more about the AGM-88 HARM missile on the Air Force fact sheet here.
Feature image: Aircraft firing an AGM-88 HARM Missile (Created by author using U.S. Air Force and Adobe assets)
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