For a very long time the battle in the air was relying on men and their ability to fly the planes at their disposal. Still, as the time passed and as the new homing missiles entered the aerial battlefield, the skills slowly became less important and the technology became the leading factor in aerial battles.
The western armies had the upper hand for a very long time when it comes to the development of the guided AA missiles and the countermeasures but in the last 10 years the Russian Federation made the quantum leap in the field. Many new additions that came with the modernized SU-27 family warplanes proved to be rather unexpected and utterly effective.
The first appearance of the modern jamming systems was in the early 2000’s when the pair of the Russian SU-24 fighter bombers simply cruised over a fleet of the NATO ships in the Baltics without being intercepted by any of the ship SAM systems. The incident briefly appeared in several newspapers and was soon forgotten or deliberately ignored.
There was a rumour that the new jamming pods developed for the SU-32/34 family were used but the entire incident was never fully discussed and explained and at the time the internet was still not a major source of information. Still it was clear that the Russians are on a right track and that they will come up with something that will disturb the balance, at least for the short period of time.
Design and development
Later on, the Khibini M system was revealed but the details are even now shrouded in mystery. It is known that the system is the evolution of the Sorbtsiya system but its real potential was pretty unclear, as well as the technical characteristics.
The system was mainly designed for the SU-34 fighter bombers and there are some suspicions that the first such device (a prototype) was used in Georgian war when a single SU-34 destroyed the air defence systems of the Georgian army. It the end it turned out that this jamming pod will be equipped on all SU and MiG family airplanes and hat it will become the standard for the entire Russian air force.
The Donald Cook incident
The system was fully revealed and seen in action in the beginning of the 2014 in the middle of the Crimean crisis. The US navy has sent its AEGIS destroyer Donald Cook to demonstrate its readiness in the Black Sea. It was predicted that the ship will remain there for some time and oversee the happenings on the Crimean peninsula. Still, a few days since it came there, a single SU-24 came and demonstrated the attack on the vessel. This cat and mouse game was pretty regular during the Cold War era, but in the last 20 years there were just a few incidents of this sort.
The aftermath was pretty unexpected. The Donald Cook retreated to the nearby Turkish harbour and left the Black Sea much before it was planned. The Russian media reported that the ship was completely unable to get a lock-on the airplane and the entire ordeal took over an hour. For such a long period the Su-24 simulated 12 attacks on the ship. The reports say that over 20 members of the ship’s crew filed the decommission request. The US side firmly discarded such allegations but the fact is that something unexpected happened.
If it turns out that this system really has the capabilities to blind even the most sophisticated NATO radars it will greatly change the balance in the aerial combat as it can turn even the old planes into targets that can’t be easily engaged in BVR (beyond visual range) combat. If we add the fact that in classic dogfight situations Russian fighters simply can’t be matched, it becomes clear that Khibini M is an add-on that is worth every single penny invested in it. At least until the effective countermeasures are developed.