Failed to Help Ukraine, US F-35 Fighter Jet Could Not Detect Radar Russian S-300 Missile System

Failed to Help Ukraine, US F-35 Fighter Jet Could Not Detect Radar Russian S-300 Missile System
Failed to Help Ukraine, US F-35 Fighter Jet Could Not Detect Radar Russian S-300 Missile System

International Military - It is known that the United States Air Force's (US) F-35A stealth fighter jets are known to be unable to detect the Russian S-300 missile defense system radar. The mission, which was originally to help Ukraine, ultimately failed.

It came as the fighter jets were deployed on patrol along the eastern wing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the first three months of the Russo-Ukrainian war. During the mission, the American F-35A covertly collected electronic intelligence data (ELINT) on the radars of Russian air defense systems. However, the fighter jet detected unusual S-300 radar emissions, which did not match the existing air defense system radar database cataloged on the fighter's computer.

The EurAsian Times website reveals the experience of the American 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing, which secretly eavesdropped on Russian radar emissions. But they were surprised to find an unknown peacetime frequency from the S-300 that the pilots knew to be the system, but the sophisticated on-board computers could not identify it. It is common for ground radars not to operate on their actual frequencies in peacetime—referred to as "war reserve"—to prevent adversaries from discovering their capabilities.

According to the report, 12 fighter jets and around 300 airmen arrived at Spangdahlem in Germany on 16 February 2022, eight days before the start of the war.

F-35 in Stealth Mode Eavesdropping on Radio

The F-35 builds a comprehensive radar emission image of Russia's highly advanced Distributed Aperture System (DAS) air defense system and shares it with other NATO Air Forces and their own crews. “(The mission is to) suck up as much electronic data as possible from surface-to-air missiles and aircraft scattered over Eastern Europe to build a map to guide NATO operations,” wrote the Air Force Times reporting on the mission.

"We didn't cross the border. We didn't shoot anything or drop anything. But jets are always sensing, gathering information. And it does it very, very well,” said Colonel Craig Andrle, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing. Then, in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland, the F-35s are able to find and identify surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites and pass that information on to the rest of the coalition.

The presence of the S-300 in Kaliningrad is natural, because the region does have the S-400 defense system platform. It is standard military and Russian practice to have increasingly sophisticated air defense systems form part of "echelon" or "layered" defenses. But the unusual failure to match the database inside the F-35 has taken pilots by surprise. "We're looking at an SA-20 (NATO name for the S-300PMU-1 surface-to-air missile system). I know it's an SA-20. Intel says there's an SA-20 there, but now my jet can't identify it because the SA-20 The 20 could potentially operate in a war reserve mode that we haven't seen before," Andrle said.

The report adds that F-35 jets do not always recognize objects in their vicinity because assets such as air defense systems have a digital way of evading notifications. Former Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-25 pilot Group Captain Johnson Chacko describes this "war reserve" or "training frequency" as camouflage features of AD radars such as 'pulse width', etc. these frequencies and plan for Electronic Countermeasures (ECM),” he told the EurAsian Times.

San Diego-based systems engineering specialist in radar, sonar and satellite communications Stephen Pendergrast said the Army's war and training radar modes also have different pulse width frequencies or other modulation parameters. "Militaries use Electronic Support Measures (ESM) which have a library of modulation parameters that their adversaries use in peacetime to classify emitters," Pendergrast told the EurAsian Times.

This means the S-300 has an additional peacetime mode that the US has never recorded before. Former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) J-7 Squadron Leader Ali Hamza said if the F-35 cannot detect the S-300, then that means the S-300 is also a complex challenge. But he also pointed out that the F-35's electronic warfare (EW) capabilities are still unknown.

Hence, it can be concluded that Russia has anticipated the F-35 will attempt to identify and establish a Russian radar image, given the much-promoted role of EW/ELINT. They are using peacetime frequencies that the West has not yet recorded.

The F-35 is Troubled but Still Dangerous

Over the next three months, the jets were transferred from Spangdahlem to Estonia's Amari Air Base, Lithuania's Siauliai Air Base, and Romania's Fetesti Air Base. That's according to a press release from the US Air Force in Europe at the time.

That validates the exponentially sophisticated EW, sensors, data sharing, networking, processing, and powerful computing features of the troubled jet—a new military requirement today that prioritizes situational awareness. That has created a pressing need to expedite planned software and hardware updates mired in technical problems and multi-million dollar cost overruns.

The mission helped the U.S. Air Force hone a new short notice approach to deployment. It also illustrates advances in the F-35's ability to communicate with joint forces and quickly adapt to unrecognized threats.

The F-35 is centered around an increased form of situational awareness. It absorbs electronic emissions from nearby radars, geolocates them, then classifies them by automatically running a database, compiles pictures of friendly and unfriendly troops, and displays them as a comprehensive and holistic picture for the pilot to make the most appropriate tactical decisions.

Retired Royal Canadian Air Forces (RCAF) Squadron Commander and former F-35 Lightning II senior test pilot Billie Flynn emphasized the jet's pioneering features as "new and unparalleled", one that is a decade ahead of what Russia and China are trying to accomplish. “This is a data-gathering spacecraft with 8.6 million lines of software code. It is the ability to bring together all data and sensors to provide pilots with a simplified and prioritized view of battlespace knowledge. There is no data or information other than knowledge of what was in the battle room," Flynn said in a previous interview with EurAsian Times.

This implies a distinct and viewable picture of the battlefield that pilots don't have to sit down and analyze. Combine this with the F-35 of the NATO Air Force in addition to other 4.5 generation aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale or SAAB Gripen.

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