Weapons: SEAD For The Frugal And Demanding

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March 13, 2019: In February 2018 India ordered another 54 Harop (Harpy 2) UAVs from Israel. India already has 110 of these and is obviously pleased with their performance. India purchased 110 of them for about $910,000 each back in 2009, soon after Harop was introduced for SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) and other dangerous work.

In early 2016 the recently introduced Israeli UAV, Harop, had its first combat use. Harop is a small hybrid design UAV that can either be used for reconnaissance multiple times or once as a cruise missile. Harop is a conventional small aircraft with a cranked delta wing with the propeller in the rear. Harop is actually a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle) controlled by a remote operator and capable of flying more than 1,000 kilometers or loitering for up to 6 hours while carrying a 23 kilogram (51 pound) high explosive warhead. It can be launched from an aircraft or from a sealed storage/launch container mounted on vehicles or ships.

Developed in 2005 from the earlier (1990s) Harpy UCAV, the Harop improves on the original design by achieving better performance because it is a little longer with added outer wing extensions and a canard. Harop is 2.5 meters (8 feet, 2 inches) long, has a 3 meter (9 feet, 10 inches) wingspan and weighs 135 kg (298 pounds). Top speed is 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour.

The first combat use of Harop did not involve Israeli troops, although the latest one, against Syrian forces, did. The first combat use took place in the Caucasus during another outbreak of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan is one of five current users of this Harop, the others being India, Turkey, Germany and Israel. The Harop was used against a bus carrying Armenian soldiers to the frontline, killing at least seven soldiers and destroying the bus. Another time a Harop was used to destroy an Armenian command post.

Unlike the original Harpy design, which was primarily designed to operate autonomously on SEAD missions, the Harop has was designed to either operate autonomously (like many UAVs) or under remote control. When operating autonomously it cannot be jammed and it is sent out to detect and home in on radar signals from specific types of enemy aid defense radars. In this respect it is like the classic HARM anti-radiation missile, using an anti-radar homing system to cripple enemy air defenses. Unlike Harpy, Harop can also be remotely controlled. This enables the operator to find and select static or moving targets using an onboard vidcam or FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) heat-sensing camera. While under remote control targets can be hit whether their radar is on or not. The remote control operation uses line-of-sight communications that are effective at up to 150 kilometers from the operator. That range can be extended using another aircraft or UAV to relay the control signals farther.

Even when sent out with a warhead Harop can return and land if it did not find a target and be reused. Harop also is a stealthy design which, in addition to its small size and quiet engine, makes it very difficult to detect by radar or infrared (heat detecting) sensors. This stealth feature was meant mainly for SEAD missions because most air defense systems have sensors meant to detect approaching hostile aircraft. If these sensors detect an approaching unidentified aircraft the radar can be promptly turned off to avoid a HARM missile or other SEAD airstrike. Modern HARM missiles get around that by capturing the location of a radar signal and them homing on where it came from, not the signal itself.

The early 2018 Israel used Harop against a Syrian Pantsir mobile anti-aircraft system. This was the first known SEAD use of Harop. India apparently plans to use many of its Harops against Pakistani or Chinese air defenses in wartime. Now Russia, Syria and Iran know that Harop works quite well in the role and more export orders may follow because of that. The original Harpy is still in use because when you need a SEAD capability you need as much of it as you can get. Harpy and Harop are inexpensive to maintain as reserve weapons, can easily be updated and are known to be effective.

 


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