Do No HARM: Gulf States to Get GPS Missile Upgrade

An F-16 releasing an AGM-88 HARM missile

Either Bahrain or Qatar look likely to be the first country to receive modifications to their AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) inventories following the announcement earlier this year by the U.S. government of a contract award to HARM supplier Raytheon.

The program, known by the acronym HCSM (for HARM Control Section Modification), will decrease chances that the venerable air-to-surface SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) missile, which was developed by Texas Instruments and has been in service since the mid-1980s, will strike the wrong target.

“The upgrade consists of modifications to the control section, where we add a GPS capability to the component, and it also includes some modifications that we have to make to the cast to attach a GPS antenna,” says Dewey Holmes, Raytheon’s business development senior manager for the program. “They ship the control section to us, we tear it apart, put in the new components and modify the case for the antenna to be attached.”

Holmes says he expects work to take around “a month or two” per missile. Deliveries are unlikely to begin until late 2021 at the earliest, as design work for the upgrade card is completed. An initial iteration was finalized but funding issues led to a delay, and some components are obsolete and require refreshment.

The indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract, announced on May 29, awarded $355m to Raytheon to carry out the work on an unspecified number of the missiles for FMS (foreign military sales) customers. The announcement said these would include Qatar, Bahrain and Taiwan, and that “additional countries may be added”. Holmes says that, so far, only one country – which he declines to name, though confirms it is in the Middle East – has been given the green light to proceed.

“We have one approval in place now for one country to upgrade their existing inventory to HCSM,” he says. “We’ve had several other requests from other countries around the world that are either in the process of being responded to by the US government, or they’ve already made a decision that they are not going down that path.”

The renovation was designed by Raytheon to enable export customers to obtain a capability approximately similar to that delivered to US fleets via the AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiaion Guided Missile), which entered service earlier this decade. Although the work is time-consuming and the cost by no means ignorable, it offers “significant cost savings over buying a new missile,” says program director Steve Dickman.

“HARM has been out of production for quite some time,” Dickman adds. “The ability to increase its capability for an affordable cost is, I think, one of the things that is attractive about it. HCSM builds on the inherent capability of the HARM missile, and gives the operator a lot more flexibility on how he uses the weapon.”

The extra capability HCSM delivers is critical. When HARM was first designed, the challenge was to be able to prosecute targets that could move around unpredictably and would still be capable of carrying out a strike if the emitter they were targeting had been switched off. Today’s conflicts – and those prosecuting them – require greater reassurance that only the installation targeted will be hit.

“What we’re talking about here is the ability for them to control where the missile can and cannot go,” Holmes says. “It allows them to basically prevent the missile from flying into areas where the operator would not want it to fly. For example, if there’s a hospital or a school, or a church or a mosque, you know the GPS location for those kinds of facilities and you can tell the missile not to go into or impact in those areas.”

Public pressure is increasing on western governments to limit civilian casualities in all conflicts – not just those in which western forces are deployed, but those where western weapons are being used. Approval for a product like HCSM ought, therefore, to prove relatively straightforward.

“With a few countries, we’ve already gotten positive word back that US government policy will support it,” he says. “And it’s much easier for you to receive an upgrade than it would be for you to buy a missile and then have it upgraded.” 

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