The Need for SEAD
In 2019 Russia deployed an S-400 high altitude, long range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system to its enclave of Kaliningrad nestled between the Baltic states and Poland. The reach of the S-400 means that it could provide air defence coverage over the approaches to Kaliningrad, above much of Poland, all of Lithuania and much of Latvia; all European Union (EU) members. The S-400 deployment occurred against a wider backdrop of Russia’s modernisation of its integrated air defence system and battlefield ground-based air defences. These efforts in tandem with the Kaliningrad S-400 deployment means that friendly aircraft would be flying in highly contested airspace should a future showdown involving European air forces and Moscow occur. Investment in Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) capabilities across Europe has languished since the end of the Cold War. The commencement of the so-called Global War on Terror relegated the importance of SEAD in the minds of many defence planners. Russia’s investments have refocused the airpower agenda back onto SEAD. This paper will examine the current SEAD capabilities available to European air forces. Using a statistical analysis of previous air campaigns since the end of the Cold War it will ask whether these capabilities would be adequate to support future air campaigns against adversaries with sophisticated air defences. It will then examine the SEAD capabilities and doctrines which European actors are inducting, and the impact these could have on the continent’s overall SEAD posture.