Air Defense: New Missile Defense System Deals with Decoys


February 20, 2024: The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency are developing and testing systems that can identify decoys accompanying an incoming ballistic missile, then ignore the decoys and just destroy the missile. Decoys used by ballistic missile warheads are also called penetration aids. The navy tests used the standard Aegis radar system found on U.S. Navy warships, and the Navy’s Standard antiaircraft missile modified for destroying low-orbit space satellites, to detect ballistic missiles that also pass through low-orbit space as the warhead turns towards earth towards its targets. Penetration aids first come into play at this stage of missile re-entry. The navy innovation is to upgrade the Aegis radar system with software that can more quickly identify and track incoming warheads and differentiate those from penetration aids that deploy at the re-entry point to protect the warheads. The radar system software upgrade was particularly important because the software can now be more easily updated and can run on a larger number and type of computer system. Software has become an important component of decoy detection because the software has an ever growing and regularly upgraded library of known decoys and decoy systems.

Ukraine also assists NATO nations by providing captured Russian weapons and military equipment. Making these discoveries available to Western countries supplying Ukraine with modern weapons also puts more economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia.

The captured systems included largely intact Iskander short range ballistic missiles, new EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment that had proven effective in Syria and Ukraine and new Azart combat radios and associated equipment. Some defective Islander missiles were recovered largely intact, which allowed close inspection of the missile design and the countermeasures Russia often spoke of but never provided details of. The countermeasures were, as expected, small decoys deployed as the Iskander came within range of the targets, as well as Western ABM (anti-ballistic missile) systems like Patriot, THAAD and naval Standard missile defense systems. Now that there are undamaged examples of these decoys available, Western ABM systems can be modified to defeat them by identifying and ignoring them.

The situation is much the same with captured EW and communications equipment. Another valuable item captured on the battlefield was the state of Russian training and the ability to maintain modern equipment. The most modern Russian vehicles and weapons were used in Ukraine and the Ukrainians and NATO experts had been jointly studying them intently since 2014, but from a distance. Once the Russian equipment was captured you could reach some useful conclusions about their operation. This was enhanced when Russians who used this equipment were also captured.

The findings so far presented were painful, for the Russians, revelations about how ineffective their expensive military reform and modernization efforts were. Examining Russian vehicles, both tanks and other armored vehicles as well as military trucks, revealed design defects and the traditional Russian inability to perform regular maintenance during peacetime or even when preparing for large scale exercises or combat. Some largely intact Russian helicopters were also examined as well as the wreckage of Russian fighters and transports. Some of these were designed and built in Ukraine before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The Ukrainians learned from these bad Cold War habits and offered to refurbish older Russian aircraft and other equipment to eliminate some of these design flaws. Russia thought they had done the same, but they had not.

Russia also discovered that its SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) tactics and equipment did not work very well against the air defense systems the Ukrainians were using, many of them older Russian models, like the updated S300. All this is news the Russian leadership does not want made public, if only because many Russian commanders and the Russian public were unaware of how bad it was and getting worse.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close