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| AIR DEFENSE OF HUNGARY:
STRATEGIC, OPERATIONAL, AND TACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
|AIR DEFENSE OF HUNGARY:
STRATEGIC, OPERATIONAL, AND TACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
June 4, 2004
By Lajos F. Szaszdi
Hungary’s accession into NATO and the European Union, together with the incorporation of its neighbors into these bodies, has advanced greatly the country’s security and established a strong basis for stable relations with its neighboring countries. Nevertheless, some of those states that have common borders with Hungary harbour important political parties and constituencies possessing strong nationalist agendas and anti-Hungarian convictions, some of which are racist in their virulence against Hungarians. Consequently, it is not unwise for Hungary to possess a strong military that would provide the twofold function of safeguarding Hungary’s security and territorial integrity through deterrence while providing the required contribution to Europe’s security within NATO. In this regard, it is in both Hungary’s and NATO’s interests for Hungary to possess a strong air force that could deter any air attacks directed against her by one or multiple enemies, and which could also contribute useful capabilities to the air power of NATO.
Air power is the decisive component in a country’s or coalition of countries’ defense forces that can make the difference in a conflict between victory or defeat, at both a military and a political level. Major conventional wars had been decided and are decided by the ability of one side to achieve first air superiority and then air supremacy over an enemy’s air force. This ability, however, can only be reached through adequate capabilities in terms of quality and quantity of combat air assets, personnel training, superior weaponry and airborne sensors, and adequate logistical support. An enemy’s or enemies’ numerical superiority in fighter aircraft can be neutralized by a smaller air force that holds an advantage over its opponents in terms of technological superiority and better trained personnel.
Two geostrategic considerations must now be examined. First, from a geostrategic standpoint, Hungary is a country that lacks strategic depth, for any major air conflict over Hungarian soil would be fought over major populated areas. This lack of strategic depth makes it imperative that in the event that an air war breaks out with one or some of its neighbors, the Hungarian Air Force’s fighter force must confront and defeat attacking aircraft over the country’s border areas, preventing the enemy from succeeding in carrying out deep strikes inside Hungary. To achieve victory in any air combat, the Hungarian Air Force ought to react quickly against any foreign combat aircraft attempting to invade or invading Hungarian airspace, and should fire first against attacking enemy aircraft before these can fire at the defending Hungarian fighters. The Hungarian Air Force fighter force must achieve air superiority over the enemy, with the ultimate goal of wining air supremacy over a theater of military operations.
Second, the problem of lack of strategic depth that affects Hungary as a country is compounded and worsened by the fact that the country is exposed to long and vulnerable borders to its north, to its east, and to some extent to its south in the common border with Serbia. These long borders provide multiple channels of entry for enemy aircraft attempting to conduct strike missions against targets in Hungary, either deep strikes or “wide strikes,” i.e., multiple air strikes against any targets along the border and within the long border regions.
Although the possibilities of conflict between Hungary and its neighbors are vastly diminished with Central Europe’s integration into NATO and the European Union, the presence of influential nationalist, xenophobic, and anti-Hungarian political forces inside some of Hungary’s neighbors not only constitute a potential danger to Hungary but a real one if such political forces would one day achieve power at a national level. Geopolitically speaking, Hungary is “sandwiched” by Slovakia to the north, Romania to the east, and Romania and Serbia to the south. Although officially is not a national goal, some politicians in Romania no doubt would desire to have the Tisza as the new border with a further mutilated Hungary. If memory serves the author, not long ago and after the fall of communism radical nationalist politicians in Slovakia and Serbia spoke of one day joining geographically their respective countries in a new pan-Slavic union by seizing the Hungarian territory that currently separates them. The recent victory of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj in the first round of the Serbian presidential elections is a case in point. These results should not be surprising due to the large number of Serbs supporting extreme nationalist ideas, and indeed the SRS has been a supporter of the recreation of a Greater Serbia.1
Hungary should possess an air force capable of fighting successfully a three-front air war in case such an unlikely eventuality actually happens. Deterrence and defense should be the principles behind the strengthening of Hungarian air power. Hungary is in a position not dissimilar to Israel in that it is almost surrounded by potential enemies who, with willing regimes in power, could pursue the destruction of Hungary and its partition. Hungarian military weakness would be an invitation to blackmail and aggression from hostile neighbors. To deter potential enemies, Hungary must have strong armed forces including a powerful air force. Besides Israel, other examples of countries investing heavily in defense to deter attacks against them are Ecuador, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, all of which with the exception of Ecuador have less population than Hungary. A potential war scenario is one in which Hungary manages to defeat the air force of an attacking neighbor, but then another one or another two of its neighbors join with their air forces in attacking Hungary to support the enemy that has been beaten first. Such coalition against Hungary would be motivated to prevent the defeat of Hungary’s first opponent. Thus, and considering the numerical superiority of the combined air forces of three of Hungary’s neighbors to the north, east, and south of the country, the following recommendations are made:
1) It is advisable to possess at least a 3-squadron fighter force, so that if the need
arises, one squadron can confront at all times attacking aircraft coming either from the north, east or south of the country’s borders. In this regard, Hungary should maintain besides its single JAS-39 Gripen squadron the two it possesses of MiG-29s, which should be modernized to meet any potential future challenges to the country’s security. Since numbers matter as much as advanced technology in combat aircraft, if possible Hungary should have a 4-squadron fighter force, with 14 aircraft per squadron. The need for a 4-squadron fighter force can be justified in that in the event of a worse case scenario of war against three regional enemies, one squadron would deal with the air threats coming from the north, two squadrons would confront the air threat from the east, for the Romanian Air Force has a clear numerical advantage and is undergoing currently a program of modernization with advanced Israeli technology,2 and a fourth squadron would be tasked with guarding the southern border against any threat coming from Serbia. Acquisition of an additional second JAS-39 Gripen squadron would be recommended, so that a 4-squadron Hungarian fighter force would be constituted by two MiG-29 squadrons and two JAS-39 Gripen squadrons.3
2) The 28 MiG-29s in possession of the Hungarian Air Force should be
modernized to the SMT-II version,4 and the fighters should be retrofitted with the Zhuk-PH Russian fire-control radar, which is capable of engaging simultaneously 8 air targets.5 It would appear that the fire control radar of the JAS-39 Gripen does not possess this capability. The ability to engage up to 8 enemy aircraft simultaneously can be key to defeat in a conflict the numerical advantage enjoyed alone by the Romanian Air Force or by the combined force of two or three regional air forces in a coalition against Hungary.
3) The Hungarian MiG-29s converted to the SMT-II version should be armed
with active beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) with the capabilities of the Russian R-77 air-to-air missile (AAM). The key to victory in modern air combat is to be capable of engaging first, and thus at longer ranges, an enemy fighter. The R-77 air-to-air missile in its variants has a maximum range of 75 km (R-77) or 150 km (R-77M-PD).6 It is recommended also that the JAS-39 Gripen fighters should be armed when available with the Meteor BVRAAM, which it is reported will have a range of up to 150 km.7 Additionally, it has been reported that the Russian BVRAAM R-37M could arm specially adapted MiG-29 SMT. This missile would have a range of between 300 and 400 km.8 The R-37M AAM could be acquired in the future to arm Hungarian MiG-29 SMT-II fighters, thus moving one step ahead of potential regional adversaries in terms of possessing a longer range weapon for the BVR air combat scenario.
4) The Hungarian Air Force should acquire an airborne early warning and
control (AEW&C) aircraft as a survivable air platform that could scan the air space of Hungary and of its border areas in peacetime as well as detect, track and identify hostile aircraft first during a conflict. An AEW&C aircraft would locate the direction of enemy attacking aircraft accurately and at the same time direct Hungary’s fighter force to intercept its targets before they could conduct attacks against Hungarian objectives. An AEW&C platform can convey to Hungary’s airborne fighter force through tactical datalink communications the precise target coordinates of enemy aircraft, enabling the Hungarian fighter force in an interception course to find the enemy and even launch with precision BVRAAM against the enemy aircraft without having to either switch the fighters’ radars, which would betray their location, or without having to illuminate the target with a very long range fire control radar, for the active radar BVRAAM would be guided to the target through target coordinates fed into the missile by the launch aircraft through mid-flight updates via tactical datalink. The information used to guide the fighters to their targets with their radars switched off or the data that a fighter would be feeding the BVRAAM it fired through mid-flight updates to guide the missile to the target could have been generated initially either by the AEW&C aircraft, by a land-based radar, or by both. The Ericsson Erieye radar is recommended for a Hungarian Air Force AEW&C aircraft.9 Possession of three of these aircraft is also recommended, for one would be continuously in flight, a second would be in transit from or to an area of patrol, and the third would be undergoing servicing and maintenance at any one time.
5) The Hungarian Air Force fighter force should follow in wartime a basing
strategy of dispersal of aircraft to ensure survivability of the force against a numerically superior enemy. Although dispersed throughout air bases and roads adapted as landing strips throughout the country, the use of AEW&C aircraft in combination with land-based radars would enable the judicious use of Hungary’s fighter assets, directing these to their targets while helping Hungarian commanders to decide when, where, how and in what numbers should their combat aircraft be used to meet air challenges threatening Hungarian security in a conflict. Key to the success of this interconnectivity between commanders in command posts, an AEW&C platform, radar land bases, and the Hungarian fighter aircraft is the adoption and implementation of a doctrine based on the principle of network-centric warfare and the wide use of secure tactical datalinks that would allow a coordinated air defense of Hungary’s air space.
Further Strategic Considerations
Five further points should be considered with regard to the fighter force and air combat weapon systems the Hungarian Air Force should possess for the defense of the country.
1) In order to achieve the key advantage in air combat of firing first, and
of firing at a beyond visual range (BVR) target before the enemy fighter could close the range and fire its shorter range air-to-air missiles at the Hungarian aircraft, Hungary should acquire BVR air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) with longer range and lethality than the BVR air-to-air missiles of potential opposing regional air forces. The goal should be of being able to shoot down hostile aircraft over the enemy’s national territory, before these can enter Hungarian airspace for strike missions or before the enemy fighters can fire BVR air-to-air missiles from the relative safety of their airspace against Hungarian aircraft flying in Hungarian airspace. There is the added danger that enemy fighters from regional powers could fire BVR air-to-air missiles from their home airspace against any type of aircraft flying over Hungary, including civilian and commercial aircraft, in the unlikely event of a conflict with Hungary. Such potential dangers, even if never to materialize, would warrant the arming of Hungarian fighters with BVRAAM capable of shooting down enemy combat aircraft over enemy territory.
The JAS-39 Gripen will provide a platform for the use of the advanced active radar Meteor BVR air-to-air missile, which it is recommended for acquisition by the Hungarian Air Force when available. The MiG-29 fighter is a very capable platform for air defense purposes, excelling in the short-range air combat or dog-fight combat envelope and thus proving superior to other Western fighters, in great measure due to its superb maneuverability and to its highly agile and lethal fire-and-forget R-73 (AA-11) short-range air-to- air missile.10 Being the MiG-29 still a formidable fighter aircraft for air defense missions, and to avoid the loss of such an air combat platform judged to have a lot of potential left if modernized, the MiG-29 fighters of the Hungarian Air Force should be upgraded to the SMT-II version, so as to enable them to launch the active radar R-77 (AA-12) BVR air-to-air missile, which have a reported maximum range of 75 km.
However, it is being suggested for the Hungarian MiG-29 fighters to be modernized to the SMT-II standard instead of the SMT version so that they will be able to fire the next generation of BVR air-to-air missiles, such as the active radar R-77M-PD, which has a reported range of 150 km, the R-37M with an estimated range of between 300 and 400 km, and the current R-37, which has a maximum range in excess of 250 km.11 The worth of the MiG-29 as a frontline multirole fighter aircraft has been validated in the contract being negotiated between Algeria and the company RSK-MiG for the sale of 42 MiG-29 SMT and 7 MiG-29UBT twin-seaters to the North African state.12 However, the MiG-29SMT version or a less capable modernized version of the Russian fighter might not be able to launch or use to their full potential the R-77M-PD, R-37M or even the R-37 BVR air-to-air missiles, as the MiG-29SMT-II could. It must be reminded that such long-range BVR air-to-air missiles are neither found often nor are they readily available for purchase in the international arms market of this type of weapon, and that the MiG-29 would be ideal platform to launch these weapons due to their common national origin.
2) By having a mixed force of JAS-39 Gripen and MiG-29 capable of launching
active radar BVR air-to-air missiles of 150 km of range or more, but preferably of longer range than 150 km, the Hungarian Air Force can develop the “bastion” concept of air defense operations. The bastion concept means that a Hungarian fighter armed with BVR air-to-air missiles does not need to fly close to the enemy aircraft to launch its air-to-air weapons, for due to the longer range of its BVRAAM it can just lift-off from its air base or provisional landing air-strip to launch its BVR air-to-air missiles against the enemy from the vicinity of its airfield. By not flying far from their air bases to launch BVR air-to-air missiles against enemy aircraft, the Hungarian fighters can return to their bases to be reloaded with more BVR air-to-air missiles to continue the fight against enemy air threats. For the success of this strategy, the Hungarian fighters will need BVR air-to-air missiles of at least 150 km range, and of 250 km range or more if possible, so that the radius of action of the missile would cover large portions of territory of potential hostile neighbors, enabling the Hungarian fighter aircraft to shoot down enemy combat aircraft over enemy territory.
Also, the success of a bastion strategy of air defense operations will depend upon the availability of airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) to provide the long range coordinates for the exact location of enemy aircraft via datalink to the Hungarian fighters, which could then launch their BVR air-to-air missiles “blindly” against hostile aircraft as far as 150 or 250 km. Moreover, the AEW&C aircraft would be able to detect combat aircraft when lifting off from their air bases in neighboring countries, providing early warning of a potential air threat to the country. Another element of great importance for the success of a bastion concept of air defense operations is the possession of secure datalink communications for the transfer of target coordinates from the AEW&C aircraft to the fighter so as to allow the launch of BVR air-to-air missiles to their maximum possible effective range if required or for the transfer of target data from one fighter to another or others in a combat air formation or from a fighter back to the AEW&C aircraft or down to a command center, according to the concept of network-centric warfare with full data flow interconnectivity and integrated communications to achieve full battle space information supremacy, a goal that can be reached through an integrated command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system.
Missile range as well as missile engagement speed are both key to shooting
down an enemy aircraft first before the opponent can fire its missiles. In this regard, the current generation of BVR air-to-air missiles have a speed of about 1 km per second or Mach 3, and such is the case of the U.S. AMRAAM (50 km range) or the Russian R-77 (75 km range).13 The next generation of BVR air-to-air missiles will feature speeds of Mach 4+ with ramjet technology, and a range of 150 km, as in the case of the Meteor.14 The R-77M-PD missile has a ramjet rocket propulsion system, a range of 150 km, and possibly a speed of Mach 4 if not more. It is recommended that when BVR air-to-air missiles of speeds of Mach 5 or more become available, they should be acquired. Clearly, the advantage of faster and longer range BVR air-to-air missiles is that they could close the distance between the firing fighter and the target before an opponent could fire back and fire first.
3) Deterrence against an enemy’s intention to attack can be maintained by: first,
having an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft force capable of 24 hour patrols seven days a week, for it would be harder for the air force of an opponent to launch a surprise air attack against strategic targets such as air bases or ground radars by flying low to hide from ground radar stations, for the enemy strike aircraft would be detected by the radar of a high flying AEW&C aircraft; second, by dispersing the fighters in wartime over multiple airfields and reinforced segments of highways, it would be harder for attacking aircraft to conduct disarming air strikes against the fighter force. Defending fighters can carry out dashing attacks by popping up from their provisional airfields, and guided by AEW&C aircraft they can quickly launch their air-to-air missiles against an enemy air strike force. Also, by not knowing where the air defense fighters would be based after these were dispersed, an enemy air strike force would not know when and where the fighters would pop up in dashing attacks to engage and destroy the attacking enemy aircraft. Deterrence could be served also by providing the MiG-29 fighters with the advanced Zhuk-PH fire-control radar or an equivalent radar capable of engaging up to eight air targets simultaneously. This capability would enable a fighter force with limited numbers of aircraft to balance out an enemy air force enjoying numerical superiority. In this regard, one ingredient of victory against an opponent with superior numbers is to deploy a better-trained fighter force enjoying technological superiority over the numerical advantage of poorly trained potential opponents. Even if a potential enemy also possess good quality fighter aircraft technology, if for instance their fighters are armed with BVR air-to-air missiles with inferior engagement range and speed than the BVR air-to-air missiles of a defending fighter force,15 the attackers would be like “sitting ducks” against defending fighters armed with superior BVR air-to-air missiles in terms of speed, range and lethality, and aided by AEW&C aircraft. Often, a technological or technical advantage that would appear to provide only a small edge over an opponent armed also with advanced air combat technologies, if used to its full potential by well-trained pilots and personnel, can prove decisive in defeating an enemy.
4) The possession of air tankers by the Hungarian Air Force should be another
goal to be achieved. Air tankers can allow fighters in combat air patrols (CAP) to remain on patrol for longer periods of time during a crisis or in wartime. Use of air tankers can expand the operational flexibility of the fighter force to make use of the full potential of a multirole fighter aircraft, by increasing the operational radius of a fighter aircraft for air defense, strike and reconnaissance missions. By extending the operational range through the use of in-flight refueling, Hungary’s fighters can fully fulfill the concept of “‘swing-role’ combat aircraft – a concept that involves employing a multirole platform for multiple purposes during the same mission.”16 The JAS-39 Gripen was designed with the “swing-role” concept in mind, for the initials JAS stand for Jakt – Attack – Spaning, which translates to Fighter – Attack – Reconnaissance.17 Deterrence can be achieved when in-flight refueling would allow fighters in air defense or multirole missions the capability to remain longer on patrol, ready to intervene against any air or land threat appearing in the theater of military operations. Through the use of air tankers, the fighters would be able to remain in the air longer, ready to fire first due to their longer-range and faster BVR air-to-air missiles or owing to the accuracy of their stand-off air-to-surface weapons, allowing sustained air operations needed to achieve and maintain air superiority and air supremacy over the battlefield, operational conditions which are key to achieve victory in a conflict. Such a capability would make a potential opponent think twice before going to war with Hungary.
5) The Hungarian JAS-39 Gripen fighters should be armed with the Brimstone
medium range anti-tank active radar missile, which was developed for the Royal Air Force (RAF). A fighter can carry up to 12 Brimstone missiles in one mission, and it has a reported BVR air-to-ground anti-tank capability if the launch aircraft obtains via datalink targeting information from a third party.18 Due to the large tank and armored vehicle forces among potentially hostile neighbors, the Hungarian Air Force should have the means to defeat an enemy armored threat at stand-off ranges, without risking its fighter aircraft to short range air defense systems (SHORADS), a danger which would become an actual threat if the Hungarian multirole fighters would have to attack mobile enemy ground targets at short ranges.
6) As previously stated, it would be convenient for the Hungarian Air Force to
have a force of 2 JAS-39 Gripen squadrons and 2 with MiG-29SMT-II, for a total of about 56 multirole fighters. One advantage in having two main different suppliers of fighter aircraft is a reduction in the risks that come with reliance on one main source for the supply of additional aircraft and/or weapons. Thus, maintaining a combined fighter force of Gripens and MiG-29s would reduce dependency on a main foreign supplier of fighter aircraft and air-launched weapons.
1“Serbia faces close run-off poll,” BBC News, 14 June 2004 [news agency on-line]; available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/3801967.stm; Internet; accessed 14 June 2004; “Football beats politics in poll-weary Serbia,” ,” BBC News, 14 June 2004 [news agency on-line]; available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/3804435.stm; Internet; accessed 14 June 2004.
2British Air Vice-Marshal Tony Mason stated the issue succinctly when, in writing about the Israeli-based modernization of part of the Romanian Air Force’s large MiG-21 fighter force, said that “the updates include multi-mode look-down/shoot-down radar, digital avionics, multirole mission computer, datalink systems, passive radar warning and the ability to carry a variety of modern Russian, Israeli and Western Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs).” See Tony Mason, The Aerospace Revolution. Role Revision and Technology: An Overview, Brassey’s Air Power: Aircraft, Weapons Systems and Technology Series (London: Brassey’s, 1998), 40-41.
3Although Jane’s mentions that Hungary is interested in acquiring about 30 JAS-39 Gripen fighters, the final figure most likely would be 28, divided in two squadrons of 14 units each. See Paul Jackson, ed., Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 2001-2002, 92d ed. (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2001), 480.
4Ibid., 391; Jamie Hunter, ed., Jane’s Aircraft Upgrades 2002-2003, 10th ed. (Coulsdon, Surrey:
Jane’s Information Group, 2002), 287. Since this paper was written one MiG-29 has crashed.
5Martin Streetly, ed., Jane’s Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems 2001-2002, 13th ed. (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2001), 246.
8Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, no. 40 (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2002), 65.
9The PS-890 Erieye radar has an instrumented range of up to 450 km, and an effective range against fighter-sized targets of 350 km. It can track as much as 300 targets simultaneously. See Martin Streetly, ed., Jane’s Electronic Mission Aircraft, no. 7 (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2000), 108; Edward Downs, ed., Jane’s Avionics 2002-2003, 21st ed. (Coulsdon, Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2002), 431.
10See the testimony of Luftwaffe Captain Frank Simon of 2/JG 73 (2nd squadron, 73rd Fighter Wing), where the German MiG-29 fighters were deployed, in Red October, prod. and dir. Jonathan Zurer, 50 min., Discovery Channel, 2001, DVD.
12Jon Lake, “Algeria’s MiG-29 order imminent,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 9 June 2004, 6.