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Heat seekers on Helos as enhancement to shorter range SAM systems?


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Dork here... just wondering out loud what it might be like to see one Python 5 per Apache, as a way of providing short range SAM coverage for ground units? Purely hypothetical of course, but consider: they will often be right on the frontline, where stopping an enemy from doing CAS on your troops, if the occasional Apache could provide a credible kill on planes comming in.

Why on an Apache instead of ground units? Well, for one thing, typically, an armor advance will only go maybe 20-50km / h of average speed (not top speed, but the average speed over the day), depending on comms, planning, mechanical breakdowns vs field repairs, logistic tail capabilities to effectively keep up with the armor, enemy resistance ambush and tank traps/obstacles, night capabilty, crew rest and state of mind, morale, state of food and pottable water.  To effectively protect an entire convoy from attack would theoretically require a LOT of vehicles with air defense, given it's shorter ranges, and the length of the convoys.

But... Apaches would be on station at the front. And behind enemy lines. And following some waypoints near the convoy vehicles. Far from averaging 50km/h or less, they'll be doing roughly 300 km/h when cruising along, covering a lot of ground, and when alerted from ISR /C4I could be rerouted much quicker. Not as fast as say jet interceptors... but these would already be airborne, already near friendly ground units... often faster to get a good Python or 9X shot on an SU-57 than an F-22 that had to be ground scrambled. Vipers Hornets Beagles... they can provide some CAP capability for ground units from time to time, but reality is that they will often be tasked with a very wide variety of mission types, switching even during a single sortie. The fact is, there's a high probability that a fancy CAP aircraft may just not be anywhere near our ground units.

Not saying that an Apache with heaters is anywhere near as good as a Raptor... but Raptors are few and far between, and would have SOOO many important taskings that CAP over ground units would be a fairly lower priority.

So this would not be a massive program. It would be a quick retrofit for gunships. Stick one Python on each gunship, except for special missions. Use that to bolster ground air defense systems like Avenger, SHORAD and Gepard. Use the Longbow radar to help detect/track eneme fighters, and or use the IHADS monocle to aim the heater seeker. Can be hidden/passive, getting enemy position from datalink, then once you have target ID and tone, vaporize it. Python is a Mach 4 that can shoot targets behind you, a serious no escape zone. If the ground vehicle is in a small valley, or surrounded by trees, it'll have almost no coverage for anyone until that enemy fighter bomber is releasing his weapons, while the Apache can still scan and cover an area from hiding, and can pop-up to attack line of sight in two seconds, no matter the terrain, engage high off boresight from helmet cues, radar, datalink, and so on.

Why not use old heaters that are at the end of their service life? Well, surely you could. And that alone would be quite the deterent. But carrying 9x or Python5, would be significantly cheaper than fielding an entirely new ground vehicle, engineering for the hydraulic aiming racks, considering fuel, crew training, ongoing maintenance costs and so on, while providing a very effective wpn against incomming CAS. The newer heaters have better acceleration, better range, better Pk ratings, better countermeasure rejection... you get a MUCH more effective result just by using the latest AAM's.

Oh, and Apaches would not be the only ones contributing to this concept, as Hogs and maybe even a few UH-60's could do the same. Not all of them of course, but maybe a select few.

Here's a scenario: a friendly nation finds itself suddenly very worried about an iminent invasion. You need to send 5 Globemasters ASAP to either repel invaders, or cause a serious re-think of their plans. You send a few Raptors as escort and regional CAP. You send say 8 Apaches. HIMARS. Two Abrams. Patriot missiles are for the next series of flights, because they are complex big systems that need multiple flights to deliver, and time to set up to operations. Currently, those Apaches could only deal with ground targets, but add a serious heater, and suddenly they can help defend from enemy ground attacks, within an hour of being unpacked from the C-17, over a couple hundred KM of terrain each. Eight of them could cover a fairly large area, and would not be stationary at known fixed locations easily seen on satelite imagry, but rather at very different locations every 6 hours, remote sites, FARPs and such. No, it's not a Raptor and never would come even remotely close. But there just isn't enough Raptors to stop every enemy ground attack jet or HIND, from sneaking past to wreck your ground units... this concept might give it a fighting chance.

 

What do you think? Silly? Or maybe worthy of further consideration?

 

PS, I'm not advocating for ED to change it's policy on ATAS for the Longbow module, they have very good reasons for locking in a specific configuration and I very much support their great track record of getting things right... I'm just doing a thought exercise to see if maybe there's an overlooked benefit to reversing course in combat helicopter armament for the overal Armys of the world. And until now I thought the idea was silly... but now thinking it through, I think it makes more sense than ever.

 

Edit:  Alternative platforms for super advanced IR AAM's as SAM's, could include MQ-9 Reaper drones, General Atomic Mojave drones, a  small number of UH-60's off a pylon, A-29 Super Tucano... 

 


Edited by Rick50
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  • 3 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Spike NLOS

The Spike NLOS missile from Israel features a + 25km range, and a nose camera for "man-in-loop" targetting updates. One of the benefits is that unlike "fire forget" missiles, this one can allow an operator to shift targets or impact point even up to the last few seconds before impact. Thus if you suddenly see the closeup image of an ambulance, you can shift away from hitting it. Or if you see the target is on fire, you can shift to an alternate target. All WITHOUT line of sight... as it can be fired from behind hills or other objects, fly over them, and aquire the target after launch. Has a GPS for guidance to a search area, presumably you'll get GPS targeting from satellites, UAV's and ELINT, and the operator uses the onboard camera for target selection and terminal guidance.

The official stated max range is 25km, but clearly 20 miles ( demonstrated from this recent test), or 17.5nm is closer to 32km. Keep in mind that's WAY further than any version of Hellfire.

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/39826/an-army-ah-64-apache-used-an-israeli-made-missile-to-blast-a-small-boat-20-miles-away

 

 Keep in mind, the first version of this missile dates back to 1981, and was kept secret for decades by the IDF.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spike_(missile)#Spike_NLOS

I don't expect this system to replace Hellfire, Brimstone, or it's possible future replacement the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), in part because it's much heavier and larger to fit on already heavy helos. Also, I expect it's not as quick in engagements involving a dozen or more targets... meaning it's probably not really for busting lots of tanks in an armored column. But for deep penetration raids like commando missions, mission flexibility, and special applications, such as SEAD, it could prove very useful.


AGM-179 Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), dual-mode laser and millimeter wave radar seeker.  Now in service, cleared in 2022 for operational use on the USMC AH-1Z Viper gunship helicopters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AGM-179_JAGM

 

=====


So we've all heard of the Switchblade, looks interesting and useful, and might be getting good results in Ukraine.

The larger version of the two, the 600, however, seems to have quite a standoff range while still being able to loiter downrange observing and tracking before hitting it with a warhead straight from the Javalin ATGM. 

Switchblade 600 :  40 km (25 mi) or 40 min flight time

 

Why bring this up? Because I feel this is a direct competitor to the Spike NLOS, with many of the same advantages:

far greater standoff compared to Hellfire / Brimstone
man-in loop control for operating in heavily populated areas, danger of accidentally hitting civilians and non-combatants, gives a last-second ability to "not kill", or even re-target if needed
possibly getting a quick glance at the battlespace for recon purposes
 

I wonder if the Switchblade 600 might be a good item for launching from Apaches, for special purpose missions, much like NLOS ? Certainly it's got near double the range of Spike... if that's a need.

Ok the downsides compared to SpikeNLOS:

much slower speeds, if time of flight is a significant concern. On the other hand, that slower speed better enables target ID, searching for other enemies


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AeroVironment_Switchblade

 

I see both of these missiles as being ideal for taking targets like an S-300 SAM site. Command and control centers. Elint and Sigint gathering vehicles. Critical enemy aircraft on the ground at a FARP or enemy airfield. Take down an HVT in a populated region. 


Edited by Rick50
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  • 4 weeks later...

The age of attack helicopters is over. Drones & loiter munitions will replace it for 90% of their current tasks. There are only a few very specialized missions where attack helicopters have an advantage and maybe a few will be kept for those purposes. Other then that, they are just too vulnerable and too expensive.

Equipping them with AA missiles will just make them even worse at their primary mission. They can’t loiter 24h to protect the ground forces, and too slow to intercept fighters, thus their ability to engage with heat seekers will be based on random chance. Unlike ground units, helicopters can’t shoot missiles straight up, thus they can’t engage fighters flying above them.

Equipping scouts with 1-2 manpad sized AA missiles may make a bit more sense, but this will be to engage other helicopters or large drones, or low flying jets if very very lucky. However scout helis are also on their way out of modern armies.

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“Mosquitoes fly, but flies don’t Mosquito” :pilotfly:

- Geoffrey de Havilland.

 

... well, he could have said it!

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5 hours ago, Bozon said:

Equipping them with AA missiles will just make them even worse at their primary mission. They can’t loiter 24h to protect the ground forces, and too slow to intercept fighters, thus their ability to engage with heat seekers will be based on random chance. Unlike ground units, helicopters can’t shoot missiles straight up, thus they can’t engage fighters flying above them.

Equipping scouts with 1-2 manpad sized AA missiles may make a bit more sense, but this will be to engage other helicopters or large drones, or low flying jets if very very lucky. However scout helis are also on their way out of modern armies.

 

This is why I was asking. Get a critique, a second opinion! 

It's true, it would degrade the AH mission capability. And also true that they don't loiter all day and night... though nothing but drones do that either. Interceptors can't loiter for all that long even with extra tanks and tanker support... and gets expensive fast.

The inability to "intercept" isn't what I was going for though. I imagined more the enemy jets not being chased down, but rather coming into the trap, as they come to destroy armor, they get shot in the face from an all-aspect missile shot. It's not an offensive move I imagine, but rather a defensive one, make it costly to attack your armored units.  Using SAM's as a more "offensive" way also makes a lot of sense but I imagine that to be a different use, different system.

I guess the "savings" would be eliminated by systems integration costs, additional training requirements, compared to a quick and dirty upgrade to existing Army vehicles.

 

5 hours ago, Bozon said:

The age of attack helicopters is over. Drones & loiter munitions will replace it for 90% of their current tasks. There are only a few very specialized missions where attack helicopters have an advantage and maybe a few will be kept for those purposes. Other then that, they are just too vulnerable and too expensive.

 

I'm not so convinced. The Main Battle Tank has been pronounced dead since 1951, then again in 1973 Yom Kippur when Saggers and TOW's destroyed tanks and APC's in significant numbers. And again in the 1980's as ever more ATGM's became available and the Hellfire rode on Apache beasts. Yet even today, with the Brimstone ATGM now having been fired in Ukraine, we still see that armies are NOT abandoning the tank. Upgrades continue to the Leopards and Abrams, the Russian tanks and others.  The general public is declaring the tank "done", while tankers are asking themselves "wtf?!? why are they so untrained?!?!? Why aren't they using infantry support?!!". And the headquarters of so many nations aren't thinking "let's ditch these useless tanks", but rather "how can we send tanks to our friends, and get newer better tanks for ourselves, upgrade them and not go broke?"

Sure, in current conflict and the last 20 years,  it does seem the case that drones and loiters are much better than attack helos. But in none of these have we seen an enemy that is capable of proper electronic warfare. Barely any jamming at all.  I expect that platforms that can't operate in radio silence could become so degraded as to be useless half the missions. Will it be that bad? Well not if your worst enemy is a few Technicals with MANPADS or 23mm... but if you suddenly have an enemy that has serious SAM capability, and has done a lot of R&D into EW, and is smart about it's employment... how effective will the drones comms, critical to most phases of the mission, be?  At a certain point, it's also a question of whether JDAM will even work, though I do think those are much less vulnerable. I'm not saying that all drones become useless from now on, rather that we shouldn't put all of our eggs in one "drone/loiter" basket.

Keep in mind that apparently at one point the whole fleet of Predators and Reapers were infected with a computer worm that they just couldn't ditch. The IT techs struggled with it for a few years. Presumbably in future, such a worm might be more harmful, either rendering a system useless in combat, or worse cause it to target it's own facilities. Then again it could affect attack helos and other manned systems too.

That said, attack helos, as you state clearly, ARE indeed very expensive an very  vulnerable... and I do expect some changes in strategy employment and focus coming up. 

I think the future will see a push to "skynet". Advanced AI for targeting decisions... which will make war faster, easier for the humans sending them out on missions... but would have much deeper, darker unintended consequences. Sure, robots rising up and wiping out humanity while wearing leather and cheap sunglasses at night... but also the ease at which one doesn't have any emotional and moral baggage that comes from taking lives. Does this make war easier to initiate if one doesn't have to sacrifice anything? (ok that last one is straying from the topic)

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Posted (edited)

@Rick50
Interceptors don’t loiter - this is why they “intercept”, are fast, and use long range weapons. Thus a single interceptors element can provide defensive cover to a very large air space. If instead you rely on a very slow platform (a heli is as good as stationary w.r.t an incoming enemy jet) armed with short range missiles then you need a lot of them in order to provide cover along the front. You may as well put the missiles on ground vehicles and they will be a-lot more effective - 100% loiter time and can fire upwards.
 

Attack helicopters are not like tanks. Modern tanks in (some) western armies are now equipped with active defenses that are capable of shooting down incoming missiles. With tanks it was always a back and forth game between their defensive capabilities and new anti-tank weapons. Until recently the pendulum shifted towards anti-tank, now it shifts back. Russian tanks in the Ukraine are bad examples to learn from.

Attack helis started out in Vietnam as fire support platform for the slick Hueys and ground troops around the LZ, then evolved into anti-armor platforms, anti-insurgency, etc. The threats to them only increase, and there is very little improvement to their defense. They rely more and more on staying back at a distance and/or hiding behind cover. A stand-off style requires a man in the cockpit less and less as technology advances.

These days most of their missions can be done by other platforms, and sometimes even better. The change is slow, because they are still useful in specific situations, and generally army/airforce branches that are run by pilots do not like to make themselves redundant by going “un-manned”. Big organizations are slow to change and there is a lot of intrigue involved. It is not like attack helis are useless - they are already available, thus they will not be suddenly grounded, but instead fade out slowly.


Edited by Bozon

“Mosquitoes fly, but flies don’t Mosquito” :pilotfly:

- Geoffrey de Havilland.

 

... well, he could have said it!

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1 hour ago, Bozon said:

@Rick50
Interceptors don’t loiter - this is why they “intercept”, are fast, and use long range weapons. Thus a single interceptors element can provide defensive cover to a very large air space. If instead you rely on a very slow platform (a heli is as good as stationary w.r.t an incoming enemy jet) armed with short range missiles then you need a lot of them in order to provide cover along the front. You may as well put the missiles on ground vehicles and they will be a-lot more effective - 100% loiter time and can fire upwards.

 

Right... but interceptors are not based anywhere near your friendly ground forces that are avancing on territory. And they aren't airborne much of the time. It's not like there's always an Eagle buzzing overhead. In my time in the Army, the number of times I saw fast air could be counted on my fingers and toes... granted, it was peacetime service, not the crazy sandbox action we have seen the last two decades, but still. The thing was, they DON'T loiter, which is not always a good thing: the Eagle gets to run away from the fight, to the nice safety of a SAM and CAP protected airfield hundreds of miles away... the armored crewman, the grunt, the artilleryman... we're on the frontline still, an hour from now, a day from now, all week all month and possibly  into next year. Armies loiter 24/7/365... interceptors don't. Maybe that Eagle will return, maybe it won't. Maybe it won't see the Hind in time to do anything, maybe it was hiding from line of sight. 

The other thing is, enemy jets looking to CAS us to death aren't at high altitude appearing on AWACS and interceptor radars hundreds of miles away... they are quick, close, fast, and VERY low. Pop up to drop some iron, and duck down behind the trees and hills.  Sure, today sattelite surveillance and other modern airborne platforms are likely to detect these aircraft, and  direct interceptors to do their thing... but that takes time. And there's no guarantees that you'll have that cover even half the 24hr period. Interceptors have a lot of other taskings than protect ground forces, escorting strike packages, target ID unknows, and so on. Then they need maintenance, lots of it. Fuel coverage too. 

The idea, IMO, isn't to "rely" on any one system. But rather to have different platforms provide their own unique level of coverage. Interceptors yes. Ground based SAM type systems yes. But I'd also like to see CAS based aircraft also be able to punish intruders for daring to bomb the ground forces. Why CAS aircraft? Because they are often near ground forces, either coming or going and can quickly turn around and be back on station in minutes or seconds.  Because they tend to have longer loiter times measured in hours instead of minutes. Also, their focus on the airborne threats right in the vicinity: generally the Air Force is concerned about the entire sky, the Army concerned about ground threats and enemy ambushes, while the CAS crew is focused on the imediate ground situation AND the local air situation, and would likely know within seconds, of an enemy CAS asset arriving... fire a heater at him. 

You mention correctly that a heli is basically stationary to an enemy jet... sure, in terms of airspeed it is. But the pilots are dynamic, engaged. They can point that rotorbird 180 degrees in seconds. Probably faster than most SAMS if they detected at the same time. 

Look, you make good points, and maybe putting AA on gunships is not the way to go. Maybe gunships themselves are not the way to go in a general sense for the battlefield of the future.  But just counting something as being vulnerable doesn't mean it'll be abandoned, anyone entering war is vulnerable to some extent or another! Forget the Apache, I'M vulnerable in this IFV, this tank, this transport cargo truck. This fuel truck, this kitchen truck and trailer. We dont' have stealth, we don't have afterburners to dive and extend, we don't have search radars for the most part either. We are almost entirely vulnerable, and totally dependent on another service to have enough priority to protect us.

I do remain sceptical of remote systems that need heavy bandwidth datalinks uninterupted, for high end conflicts between peers... I'm not saying they don't have their place, but... with modern EW and ELINT able to pinpoint emissions locations, the drone operators themselves may be vulnerable to attack. Even if doing so from a Sea Can in Nevada.  

We put hundreds of billions of dollars into protecting small numbers of airmen with stealth tech, but ground forces that can number from tens to into the hundreds of thousands get... Humvees with Stingers on them? Seems a bit imballanced to me is all.  

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On 5/15/2022 at 11:55 PM, Rick50 said:

And they aren't airborne much of the time. It's not like there's always an Eagle buzzing overhead.

The big assumption the US doctrine makes is that yes, there is at least two of them on CAP pretty much all the time. In theory, that's what air supremacy doctrine is about. Denying the enemy the use of any sort of air assets, while allowing one's own to operate unimpeded. The idea is that you won't see any enemy air because your own fast air had killed or grounded all of it before the ground fight really started. In this environment, there's no problem with operating gunships.

That said, I always found this shortsighted. Other nations put AA missiles on their helos, but I would say this is more of a TOO thing, plus a nasty surprise to enemy fast air, but it's no substitute for proper AD. The US is currently very much behind Russia when it comes to long and medium range battlefield air defenses (not that the latter seem to know how to use it, but that's a separate issue). There's Patriot, which is great, but largely immobile, and there's Stinger, which is good, but is a MANPADS. What the US is missing is a medium range TELAR-based SAM akin to S-300V or Buk, and a short range SAM like Sa-15. If enemy SAMs prevent them from achieving air supremacy, then even with an otherwise superior air force it's going to be hard to prevent enemy air from doing damage. That might result in having to operate aircraft in contested airspace.

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True. Counting all your eggs on one doctrine is as you say, shortsighted considering especially that in real war, things are not predictable. And recognising and adopting "air dominance" as a cornerstone doctrine for your military IS so very important. But squirters go squirly. Unpredictable, like war and battle itself. Phantoms Eagles and Raptors are awesome, but sometimes a trainer/strike plane sneaks in low and drops some 'tarded bombs, wrecking your day.

Let's say for a moment, that Russian SAM systems are good. I believe they are good, and that current events are more about poor operator training and even poorer leadership and orders, but I digress. And let's say, that the designers have come up with a new cheap upgrade that makes them even MORE effective, a better "no escape zone", very high "probability of kill".  So America launches a huge "gorilla strike package"... and looses much of the non-stealth aircraft in one strike. Great. So for the next week, as reinforcements gear up to deploy to the theatre, the remaining air superiority fighters are far busier than normal, stretched VERY thin. Yes, they are covering the battlefield with CAP, but are few and task saturated. They will shoot down enemies they see... but maybe not before those enemies can rocket our ground forces, drop bombs, or PGM's. 

 

I remember one estimate that said that during the 1980's Cold War, had it gone hot in Europe, by week 2 all airforces would be mostly out of air to air missiles. And by week 3 most fighters would either be destroyed or grounded for some time for repairs and maintenance. 

Ground armor would have been torn up pretty bad, but there'd be still many  of us carrying on, and now vulnerable to the remaining reckless pilots wanting to drop on us. Which is plausible, because as an enemy starts to feel surrounded, with no way  out, the more desperate their actions become.

A long time ago we had  MIM-72A/M48 Chaparral (basically Sidewinder on an M113 chassis) and the M163 Vulcan Air Defense System (VADS). and the Raytheon MIM-23 HAWK medium range SAM ("Homing All the Way Killer, commonly referred to as "Hawk"). 

Nowdays we have... Avenger? And not much else? Yea, I know there's a few Bradleys that got Stingers. And Shorad that's coming in also has Stingers. But... not that I want to knock the Stinger, but... it's a Stinger. It works, but it's very short range. And so slow that a plane at a distance might outrun it. Sure, Patriot is impressive... but it's not gonna keep pace with an advancing armored brigade group.  

Maybe that's part of the solution: make Patriot mobile. Make it able to be wheeled, and do rapid shoot n' scoot. Maybe divide it into two teams: one drives one day, while the other sits on overwatch duty, then they switch duties for a day, or whatever the timing looks like to match the rate of advance.

Maybe a medium range system could use AAM's, like the already done Amraam ground launched SAM variant, but bring it into US service. Maybe a short range SAM system could use the Aim-9X in a vertical launch tube, after all, it IS high off boresight, so this should be easy to accomplish, and it'd be a lot more effective than Stingers.

The upside to these two ideas is that at least theoretically, the Army and Airforce (along with Marines and Navy) could "share" inventory with each other as needed, and the additional purchases would "theoretically" bring the price per unit down as scales of economy improve. 

Again, Stingers are good, and they have their place, as infantry weapons. But I feel they are WAY too limited for a vehicle launched system to protect large areas.  This is particularly true for non-standard SAM use: in Canada we've used ground based air defense systems to protect non-military events on a couple of occasions, one being a G20 meeting a long time ago using the ADATS missile. And also Olympics too I think. It's not inconceivable to imagine the need to protect a city, like say Seoul, using SAM systems (I'm imagining this is the case currently and for a few decades). I believe the Whitehouse and Moscow are SAM protected. Patriot is useful for some of this. Stinger might be fast-reacting, but is exceptionally short range and might not have enough punch even if it hits something larger.

They say that typically armies tend to advance at around 25 miles per day, on average, and that this is generally true from the days of Centurions on sandals and horses, even up to modern mechanised brigades. Yes, at full steam an Abrams can do some fast moves, but then has to slow down for the rest of the brigade to catch up, for the logistics vehicles, the fuel bowsers and food to get there. And clearly there are exceptions, like a certain army getting bogged down in mud and getting hit by infantry anti-tank teams, and generally not wanting to fight anyway, and everything breaking down due to near non-existant maintenance. 

The more I think of it, the more I like the idea of Patriot being a mobile system... but I'm guessing that could cost an insane amount of money for R+D... maybe a few billion? 

 

Edit:

So it seems that Sidewinder is being considered as a SAM system, look under "Other ground launch platforms" just above "operators", and you'll see references to the Multi-Mission Launcher, which is a box missile launcher on an FMTV truck,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIM-9_Sidewinder

and the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) which is a project between Kongsberg and Raytheon to use Sidewinders, IRST-T and Amraams as SAM systems.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASAMS

So it does seem like this gap may be on it's way to being plugged at some point in future, but not anytime soon!


Edited by Rick50
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