Ukrainian Fighter Jets “Using iPads” To Control Western Weapons

The Ukrainian Air Force is using iPads, or similar tablets in the cockpits of its Soviet-era jets to enable rapid integration of modern Western air-to-ground weapons […] This has been confirmed by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Dr. William LaPlante. While many questions remain about the tablet and how it exactly works, there’s now footage showing it fitted in cockpits during combat (or at least live-fire training) missions.

When asked to provide examples of successful programs that rapidly developed capabilities and got them into the hands of the military, one example he chose was the tablets in Ukrainian fighter cockpits:

“There’s also a series of … we call it ‘air-to-ground,’ it’s what we call it euphemistically … think about the aircraft that the Ukrainians have, and not even the F-16s, but they have a lot of the Russian and Soviet-era aircraft. Working with the Ukrainians, we’ve been able to take many Western weapons and get them to work on their aircraft where it’s basically controlled by an iPad by the pilot. And they’re flying it in conflict like a week after we get it to him.”

LaPlante didn’t provide further details, but it’s noteworthy that a video recently released by the Ukrainian Air Force shows a Su-27 Flanker fitted with exactly this type of system — possibly an iPad, but perhaps also another kind of commercially available tablet.

Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker Wild Weasel operations, seen here conducting multiple low level standoff strikes against Russian radars with US-supplied AGM-88 HARMs.

The video in question shows the Su-27 employing U.S.-supplied AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs


The fact that the size of the tablet, attached horizontally, blocks out key instruments in the cockpit suggests that it displays a variety of flight-critical data, as well as being used for navigation.

<em>via X</em>

via X

Based on LaPlante’s remarks, it seems that the same tablet is also vital for the employment of several Western-supplied air-to-ground weapons. After HARM was integrated, Soviet-era Ukrainian fighters also began using Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range (JDAM-ER) precision-guided bombs. They have since added French-supplied Hammer rocket-assisted bombs to their inventory lists. The United Kingdom has now also pledged to send dual-mode Paveway IV precision-guided bombs, though it is unknown at present what aircraft will carry them.

In the case of HARM, JDAM-ER, and Hammer, it has been assumed that they are likely being employed against targets of known coordinates, with these being pre-programmed on the flight line before the jet takes off. The pilot then has to navigate to the area, perhaps also aided by a tablet with GPS navigation, and then release the weapon, which is guided to the target using its GPS-aided inertial navigation system.

Using HARM is a little more involved, however, due to the fact that the target might present itself only fleetingly and may well be highly mobile (especially in the case of battlefield air defense systems). At the same time, the nature of the SEAD/DEAD means that the pilot may need to respond to ‘pop-up’ targets as and when they appear, for example when a particular air defense radar is switched on.


A Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker carrying AGM-88 HARM missiles as well as air-to-air missiles. via X
via Twitter

Most critically, however, in the case of Ukraine, is the fact that its Soviet-era fighters lack the kinds of data bus interfaces that would ensure seamless compatibility with any of these three weapons.


It should be noted that we have seen previous imagery of smaller, commercially available GPS devices — apparently from Garmin — installed in the cockpits of Ukrainian MiG-29s, as in the video below, which also includes HARM-shooting Fulcrums.

Video thumbnail

It is even possible that such a setup, with a pylon adapted for the weapons being employed and paired with a tablet, would not need any data bus wiring at all. The pylon could contain a hardware module that handles this with some sort of a short-range wireless device, like a Bluetooth system, that connects with the pad in the cockpit wireless. While this may be far from a traditional military-grade solution, it would make integration seamless without having to wire the aircraft specifically for these new munitions.


Source: Ukrainian Fighter Jets “Using iPads” To Control Western Weapons

Robin Edgar

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