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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

America Has Russian Air Defense Systems It Is Sending to Ukraine

Tu-22M3M from the Russian Air Force. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Old American Stash of Secret Russian Weapons Could Be Headed to Ukraine – You may be surprised to know that the United States has a secret stash of Soviet military hardware they obtained after the end of the Cold War. And it just so coincides with the type of systems that the Ukrainians need desperately. Anti-aircraft missile launchers such as the SA-8 are on the way to Ukraine, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal on March 21. The U.S. military also might have an S-300 system available, however, according to the report, is not being transferred.

Yes, the U.S. Owns Soviet Weapons

The Americans had a brainstorm 30-years ago. Why not take $100 million to buy excess Soviet war materiel from the Russians (through Belarus) so the U.S. military can become familiar with the enemy systems and train against them? Russian surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) had proliferated in many countries, especially to American adversaries in the Middle East such as Iraq and Iran who operated the SA-8 SAM system.

Clandestine Program Can Help the Ukrainians

This acquisition program was secret to many until now, although the Department of Defense and the White House National Security Council Staff is trying to stifle the details. It appears the SAMs could be sent to the Ukrainians to bolster air defenses in the war-torn country. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not deny the plans, but he does want to keep specifics under wraps.

“Operational security matters to the Ukrainians, right now,” Kirby told journalists at the Pentagon. “They’re fighting for their country, and the Pentagon is not going to be detailing publicly the tools with which they are doing that,” he explained.

The Arms Transfer Could Be Risky for the U.S.

If executed, this is a bold plan for the Americans. The Russians have already warned that any country supplying major end items such as airplanes and anti-aircraft systems would be considered an act of war. This explains the sensitive nature of this arms sale should it be consummated with the Ukrainians.

S-300 Needed for Defense from Cruise Missiles

Additional SAM systems couldn’t come at a better time for the Ukrainians. The Russians are launching cruise missiles such as the Kalibr sea-launched model at enemy military and civilian targets. The S-300 can be effective at knocking out certain types of cruise missiles.

S-300 Is a Reliable War Horse

While not headed to Ukraine just yet, the S-300 is one of the most popular SAM systems in the world that is in use by numerous countries and familiar to Ukrainian soldiers. There have been too many variants of the S-300 that have proliferated over the years to list in this article, but it would make sense that the S-300 batteries the Americans have would be one of the base models in the family of weapons.

The SAM system has been around since 1979. Affixed to a mobile truck-borne launcher, its range is up to 93-miles. The missiles’ warheads weigh an impressive 293-pounds.

Radar-Aided Chain of Events to Fire

The S-300 missiles work in an ingenious fashion. BBC describes it this way. “The long-range surveillance radar tracks objects. A target is identified, and the command vehicle orders the engagement radar to launch missiles. Launch data is sent to the best placed of the battalion’s six launch vehicles and it releases two surface-to-air missiles. The engagement radar helps guide the missiles towards the target.”

SA-8 Is Not As Effective

The SA-8 is a much shorter-range and older SAM system. It was first used by the Soviets in 1971. Instead of a multi-vehicle system like the S-300, the SA-8 uses just one vehicle where the radar is integrated with the missiles. This was the first time one unit could sniff out, track, and destroy an aircraft. The five-soldier crew control a missile that is about 10-feet long and weighs 277-pounds. The range of the missile is only six miles, which is its most glaring disadvantage. The radar can sense an enemy aircraft from 18-miles away.

Russians Have Changed Tactics in Ukraine

While any SAM system donated to the Ukrainian military effort is welcome, the S-300 and SA-8 may not be as effective as they were at the beginning of the war. The Russians have adjusted aerial tactics. They are staying over Russian air space and firing stand-off missiles – way out of range of the S-300 and SA-8. But both systems can be valuable against helicopters and drones and that may help Ukraine attrit Russian aircraft for the remainder of the war.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.