The F-16 has been able to carry the AGM-88 HARM missile for quite some time in DCS World, however, the HARM as Sensor (HAS) mode that the jet has been able to employ so far always felt a little underwhelming and clunky to work with. Now, however, the jet has been given the HARM Targeting System (or HTS) and it has transformed the aircraft. Let’s have a look!
Between Vietnam and 1996, it was the F-4G ‘Advanced Wild Weasel’ that formed the bulk of the USAF’s ability to engage and destroy enemy SAM systems. The two seat jet was an effective choice during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and a single F-4G was lost on operations.
By the mid-90s, the F-4 was being phased out and the brand new F-16 Block 50/52 was coming into play. This is the basis of the aircraft that makes up the DCS: F-16C and one of the chief roles of the Block 50/52 was to replace the F-4 in the SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) role. Some called it the ‘Super Weasel’ as a nod to the original F-4’s Wild Weasel designation.
For the last year in DCS World, the F-16C has had the capability of engaging SAM sites with the AGM-88 HARM missile. To do it, you needed to bring up the HAD display on one of the MFD’s and wait as the HARM missile itself ran through a profile of different frequencies looking for the search and track radar from the SAM. The list was limited and two other lists could be configured and even modified depending on the threat environment. It all felt a little clunky.
Enter the HARM Targeting System and the AN/ASQ-213A HTS pod which is mounted on the left nacelle position. The pod boosts the F-16’s SEAD capabilities significantly providing increasing levels of detail of emitting radar as you close in. As Matt Wagner demonstrates in his video, you want to offset your angle a bit from the radar so that you can triangulate the position as you approach. DCS World factors that in to the accuracy of the radar fix and a better fix means a better HARM launch.
Once a radar is locked, you then have two oval engagement zones displayed on the MFD to let you know when the HARM is within the launch profile. Not only can you engage that SAM more or less head-on but you can also fly along the edge of a SAM engagement envelope and, when inside the oval, engage from a 60 or even 90 degree angle. It gives you much more confidence that the missile will hit the intended target and allows you both better situational awareness and the ability to position yourself to retreat out of the engagement zone quickly.
SAM hunter plus bugs
This one small pod, hanging off the left side of the engine nacelle, turns the F-16 into a dedicated SAM hunter. Where it was a little awkward relying on the HARM to identify and target enemy SAM’s, now it has a dedicated system with a good overview of the situation and the ability to plan attack profiles on the fly ensuring that more of those precious AGM-88 HARM missiles hit their targets and more enemy SAM sites are left without their search and track radar systems.
There are, however, a few bugs with the system and I ran into one bug at least three times during my training runs on the weekend. There is the chance that, once designated, you won’t be able to undesignate the radar emitter of interest. It seems to happen when the emitter stops transmitting and then reappears (but I’m not 100% certain of that). The issue has been reported on the DCS forums and has been reported as fixed internally. So, if you’ve run into that, stay tuned as it should be fixed soon!
When it is functioning properly, however, the F-16 still has the ability to not only engage the radar emitter but the whole site as well. Even with the HTS pod mounted, the Lightening II targeting pod can still be fitted on the right station and that combined with something like the WCMD or JSOW gives the F-16 the ability to perform SEAD on a radar and follow that up with DEAD (destruction of enemy air defenses) with the other weapon. All from the same airframe.
Although the Hornet is pretty good at striking SAM sites that have known locations and defending itself, the F-16 with the HTS is a hunter that is able to identify and build up a more detailed picture of enemy air defenses and then pick them apart. That’s impressive! I’m going to be having some more fun with this!