F-35 pilot: My aircraft doesn’t identify the S-300PMU-1 as such

The war in Ukraine continues to bring us interesting stories from people involved in it in one way or another. Although Ukraine does not receive the most modern technologies, they are self-seeded in the war. Especially in the field of military intelligence and data collection. Data that is used by both parties.

There will now be six air-to-air missiles in the F-35 'belly'
Photo by Bartek Bera

If Russia relies solely on its beyond-visual range intelligence capabilities in a large range, Ukraine relies on the support of NATO member countries, and above all on the capabilities of the United States.

An interesting story is told by a US Air Force colonel stationed in Germany. Craig Andrle is the commander of the 388th Fighter Wing and spoke to the media almost a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He explains that with his F-35 they carried out reconnaissance missions. Gathering data is a key role in a war, the colonel says, recalling that he has never “crossed the border” [entered the airspace over Ukraine].

Colonel Andrle says that he and his stealth have performed very well in the data collection task at hand. This is one of the main functions of the aircraft. Many laymen believe that the F-35 is designed for combat. However, it is designed to win battles without entering them. “But the jet is always sensing, gathering information. And it was doing that very, very well,” the US colonel said.

F-35 vs S-300PMU-1

S-300PMU-1 missile defense system
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The “flying supercomputer” provides information awareness that gives an advantage to the part that works with it in the air. The war is changing, and the number of the army on the ground is no longer as important as the correct geolocation of the enemy, or its companion platforms.

However, the colonel recounts one of his failures, if the following incident can be called that. Military intelligence informed him in which area the Russian army’s air defense system, model S-300PMU-1, is located. The colonel said that despite the data provided, he and his aircraft did not identify the S-300PMU-1 as such.

According to the colonel’s expert opinion, his F-35 did not identify the S-300PMU-1 as such because the Russian air defense was operating in “a war reserve mode”. “This is a regime we have not seen before,” the colonel said. Various media called this incident “how the S-300 fooled the F-35”. Actually, that shouldn’t surprise us, because that’s what war is all about – you use your technology in a way that should give you an advantage.

Western experts also comment on the reverse side of the story. According to them, Russian air defense systems did not play as big a role in the war against Ukraine as was initially assumed. They played a greater role as a tool for providing situational awareness over the airspace.

S-400 vs Su-27

Photo credit: MWM

Perhaps the most memorable ground-to-air combat since the beginning of the war was precisely at the beginning of the war. Reports then confirmed that a Russian missile fired from an S-400 [the upgraded version of the S-300] had downed a Ukrainian Su-27 over Kyiv. What was remarkable about the case was the radar influence of the system. This S-400 was stationed in Belarus and thanks to its radars, it identified the plane over Kyiv and shot it down at an impressive distance of 150 km. This moment of the war reveals some of the capabilities of the Russian S-400 and why this system has so often been the “apple of discord” in recent years.

The US relies heavily on its F-35s. There are good combat aircraft capable of revealing the “secrets” of the enemy, Washington even intends to build its Air Force backbone only from such fighters, replacing even the legendary F-16. Russia, for its part, does not have such a volume of fifth-generation fighters. The Su-57 is serially produced, but we cannot compare the American serial production of the F-35 with that of the Russian Su-57.

S-300PMU-1 in Syria

Therefore, Moscow relies on its ground-based air defense systems to provide situational awareness. The use of the S-300PMU-1 to hide from the eyes of the F-35 is not accidental. This is the last modernized version of the S-300 since the beginning of the new millennium. Immediately after it comes the S-400.

F-22 Raptor has a suitability and cyber survivability issue
Photo credit: Pixabay

S-300PMU-1 received missiles not only with a longer range but also larger in size – 48N6. The radar and system ranges were greatly increased. The performance and speed were increased many times compared to the older version S-300PM. The system received better TVM targeting and ABM capability. This version also saw the introduction of the new and more powerful 30N6E TOMB STONE radar.

However, it is not the first time, and not only in Ukraine, that Russian and American air technologies meet. Syria, for example, was one of the places where Russian air defense systems received quite good information about F-22 Raptor operations in mid-2010. Perhaps that is why the F-35 was not part of the American campaign in Syria.


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