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America is Gifting Ukraine a New Air Defense Network to Stop Russia’s Strikes

Expert: “Factoring in that Ukraine is also set to receive four compatible IRIS-T air defense batteries from Germany, that means Kyiv will eventually have a dozen networkable modern air defense batteries.”

NASAMS. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
NASAMS launch. Image Credit: Industry Handout.

Ukraine is getting new air defense systems that won’t make things easier for Russia: August 24 was the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union—and Moscow did not let the day pass without yet another vicious attack, peppering the town of Chaplyne with a lethal hail of Smerch rockets, and Iskander and S-300 missiles. Hits to residential areas, the train station and a passenger train killed 25 civilians and wounded 50.

Fortunately, Russia’s ability to inflict such terror attack appears likely to decline over time. One reason is depletion of missile stocks and inability to rapidly build them back up. Another factor is that Ukraine’s ground-based air defenses are strengthening, not weakening,

This trend was discernible in the $2.98 billion military aid package the U.S. announced the same day, the largest given by Washington to Ukraine yet. (Technically, the money is coming out of a total of $13.7 billion already authorized by Congress in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.)

This package, which focused on “long-term…multi-years investments” included no less than six NASAMS air defense batteries to supplement two already donated to Ukraine, with delivery unrolling over the next year or two.

Factoring in that Ukraine is also set to receive four compatible IRIS-T air defense batteries from Germany, that means Kyiv will eventually have a dozen, networkable modern air defense batteries.

Ukraine’s older ground-based Soviet-era air defenses systems, supplemented by Western short-range missiles, have performed beyond expectations, shooting down a large share of cruise missiles and accounting for most of the 100 confirmed Russian jet and helicopters losses in the war as of late August, confining Russian tactical jets to attacking frontline targets rather than Ukrainian supply lines.

But benefiting from sensors and missiles decades more modern than those used by Ukraine, medium-range NASAMS batteries could reduce cruise missile threats to Ukrainian cities, or closer to the frontline, make even hit-and-run airstrikes far more risky. The systems are apparently new production, meaning they’re likely the latest NASAMS-3 model which can fire both medium-range AIM-120 radar-guided missiles and short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.

Ukraine’s dated but powerful S-300P batteries will continue to handle wider-area defense. But, depending on the AIM-120 variant, NASAMS batteries can defend a 15.5, 18.5 or even 28.5-miles radius—enough to protect a city-sized ‘bubble’. And they can engage aircraft flying up to 65,000 feet, the maximum practical ceiling of manned combat aircraft.

Each battery includes multiple launchers and MPQ-64F1 Sentinel radars effective at detecting even low-flying aircraft/missiles; and a stealthier MSP-500 optical sensor for relatively close threats. The battery’s fire control system is designed to network with other batteries, including the IRIS-Ts Germany will eventually supply. However, Ukraine will likely need to devise workarounds to coordinate with its Soviet-technology defenses.

Kyiv will need to choose between enhancing defense of cities like Dnipro, Lviv and Kyiv from cruise missiles, or deploying near the frontline at Kharkiv, Kramatorsk or Mykolaiv where threats are denser, and there’s greater risk of losses to Russian artillery and air defense suppression strikes. Fortunately, with twelve NASAMS and IRIS-T batteries, Kyiv may be able to do both to a degree.

Ukraine is getting VAMPIREs—but were they lurking there all along?

The U.S. will also purchase a counter-drone system called VAMPIRE for Ukraine, which stands for Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment. This is actually a boxy four-round rocket-launcher pod mated to an independent 24-volt generator and a WESCAM MX-10 stabilized electro optical/infrared sensor turret with target-tracking capabilities.

This package can be easily fitted both onto military vehicles and civilian pickup trucks and launch 70-millimeter laser guided AGR-20 Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) rockets, an especially affordable form of guided weapon.

APKWS rockets can actually be used against ground targets and manned aircraft or missiles too. Nonetheless, the counter-drone application is evident: Ukrainian troops are compelled to expend costly anti-aircraft missiles designed to intercept supersonic fighters on cheap Russian surveillance drones because of the risk these may call down very lethal artillery bombardments. APKWS thus offers a lower-cost guided weapon for disabling smaller, lower-flying drones.

The Pentagon prior announced transfer of APKWS rockets to Ukraine in May without explaining their launch platform. It’s not clear if they have been employed as part of a different system than VAMPIRE, or if VAMPIREs have in fact been in use all along.

It’s worth noting that Germany is also including 20 pickup trucks and 2,000 70-millimeter laser-guided rockets in its arms package for Ukraine. It seems likely these systems may be able to share the same ammunition supply.

Winning the Artillery War: Ammo, Counterbattery Radars and Surveillance Drones

After Moscow’s failed early advances, Russian forces have leaned on overwhelming artillery bombardments to slowly bash away Ukrainian defenses in Eastern Ukraine. By the end of June that strategy seemed to be working, but the following month the tables began to turn as Ukrainian forces used U.S.-delivered HIMARS rocket systems to vaporize Russian ammunition dumps and supply links behind the frontline. By August, that’s estimated to have reduced munitions expended by Russia to 5,000-6,000 shells daily, one-third the previous rate.

Ukraine’s big guns still face daunting odds, so much of the U.S. assistance is aimed at helping them, notably by sending 245,000 more 155-millimeter shells, on top of 75,000 given earlier in August. This NATO-standard caliber is compatible with most of the howitzers given/sold to Ukraine including the German PzH 2000, Czech Zuzana 2, French CAESAR, Polish Krab, and U.S.-built M109 and M777 howitzers. In July Ukraine reportedly expended 3,000 155-millimeter shells daily, at which rate the combined 320,000 shells given by the U.S. might last 3-4 months.

Washington is also sending 65,000 120-millimeter heavy mortar rounds. Heavy mortars are easier to tow than howitzers and have a comparably devastating blast effect but much shorter range (usually 4-5 miles). Ukraine already uses PM38 and 2B11 120-millimeter mortars, and an indigenous M120 Molot system. Kyiv has also received Finnish KRH-92s mortars of this caliber, and in August, Washington donated 20 of its own 120-millimeter systems as well as 20,000 shells.

Even with Western aid, though, Ukraine can’t match Russian numerical superiority in shells and guns. That means it has no choice but to fight smarter with its smaller arsenal.

One tactic is to consistently knock-out Russian batteries with counter-battery fires. Towards that end, Ukraine is receiving an additional 24 counter-battery radars. Radars previously received from the U.S. have allowed Ukrainian batteries to rapidly trace back the origin point of Russian shelling and precisely attack the guns—a procedure Ukrainian gunners are executing many times faster than Russia does.

But a Ukrainian defeat at Pisky linked to absent counterbattery capability highlight that Kyiv’s forces still need additional counterbattery coverage and better communications and organization. Extra radars should at least help the former problem.

Another tactic to overcome Russia’s ammunition advantage is to make a smaller number of shells achieve the same or greater effect. One method is to use expensive GPS-, laser- and even radar-guided shells to guarantee a shot lands on target.

But with assistance from a drone spotter, even cheap unguided artillery shells can be quickly adjusted to land on a point target without need for a massive, ammunition-burning barrage.

Thus Washington is transferring additional hand-launched RQ-20 Puma AE surveillance drones to help Ukraine acquire targets; the short-range Puma will complement 15 longer-range/endurance Boeing-Insitu ScanEagle drones donated to Ukraine earlier in August. The 13-pound RQ-20 has a range of 9 miles, can stay aloft for two hours, and carries a high-quality electro-optical/infrared camera turret.

RQ-20s earlier received by Ukraine reportedly have proven useful spying on Russian artillery around Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia.

The Pentagon hasn’t listed everything it’s sending in the new package, which likely includes more logistics vehicles retired from U.S. Army stocks—and possibly other pre-used equipment it prefers to keep under wraps for now. The focus on long-term support is wise, though: Russia’s unprovoked war seems liable to drag on; and even in the happy event it doesn’t, the risk of follow-on conflict will remain so high that continued assistance is essential.

Expert Biography: Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National InterestNBC, War is Boring and 19FortyFive, where he is Defense-in-Depth editor.  He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  You can follow his articles on Twitter.

Written By

Sebastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the 19FortyFive, The National Interest, NBC News,, and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  



  1. aldol11

    August 26, 2022 at 5:09 am

    Putin will end like Gaddafi and Russia like Yugoslavia
    History shows that losing wars has serious consquences

  2. alex

    August 26, 2022 at 6:25 am

    Another American mercenary who came to Ukraine was liquidated Governor Oleg Kozhemyako published documents of the destroyed mercenary from the USA, Joshua Alan Jones.

  3. David Chang

    August 26, 2022 at 8:30 am

    God bless people in the world.

    If Zelensky think about the three strategy plans proposed by Kissinger humbly, Zelensky will not make this war to be another Vietnam War.

    I hope military think about the wrong policy of Vietnam War and avoids the worst.
    However, both of Finland and German should increase defense expenditure to 3% of GDP and prepare ABCT for defense in one year.

    God bless America.

  4. Yrral

    August 26, 2022 at 8:45 am

    Ukrainain has too many spies in their government American,you risk Russian getting hold to US secrets, Ukrainain government is infiltrated with Russian spies Google Mikolaiv Himars Arrest

  5. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 26, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    Combat Power rule of thumb: 1 smart weapon = 500 dumb weapons

    Ukraine is reorganizing into a combined smart weapons army.

    After 6 months, how large is Ukraine’s army?

    Does it now outnumber the Russian forces by 3, 4, or 5 times or more?

  6. marcjf

    August 26, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    “rolled out over the next year or two”

    I’m expecting Ukraine to have collapsed by then, probably by the end of this year. But they do seem to be keeping fighting but to what end? So we’ll see. But if a collapse comes it will be like Saigon in 75 or Kabul in 21; no one will see it coming and the outcome will be a Fubar.

  7. 403Forbidden

    August 26, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    How would NASAMS fare against kinzhals or SS-24s, or other real battlefield-killer weaponry.

    It would be like hitler’s railcar AA batteries that once fought against allied ground attack fighters armed with rockets.

    Biden is going to set ukraine ablaze, wrongly assuming that kyiv would win this one. With endless US weapon supplies.

    Kyiv is waiting for large missiles to fall from the sky through biden’s plan. Once the missiles arrive, GAME OVER !

  8. Lindsey Reed

    August 26, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    What exactly is the US fighting Russia for? For what purpose?

    When I go to Walmart I see land whales, everyone I knew before is overweight, no obese. They do not care about their own bodies.

    I see mobs of rioters looting stores, universities teaching “social justice” to students who then burn down stores.

    I see nationwide election fraud going uninvestigated and unprosecuted

    I apply for any government contract and I am told I am ineligible because the contract is “set-aside” for minorities and women.

    I see a media and a barbaric culture which hates my guts because I am a male, because I have white skin.

    I see 100 Americans being held and tortured in a DC gulag for 2 years without seeing the light of day

    So all this will be resolved when Russia is defeated in a war that the US started in 2014?

  9. GhostTomahawk

    August 26, 2022 at 3:53 pm

    Why are we helping again? Why are we putting billions of dollars on my kids tab again?

    I didn’t vote for this. I don’t believe Putin or Zelensky. One is an old school dictator. The other is a Soros backed kleptocrat.

    We need to wash our hands of this and let the Eurotrash handle the mess they created.

  10. Smerch

    August 26, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    Is Russia a friend of the United States? How weak must Russia become before China decides to take back Sakhalin or all of Siberia?

  11. Rich

    August 26, 2022 at 7:44 pm

    Lindsey: It’s the rise and fall of great empires. Great empires always flame out and generally the rot begins from within. No empire in the history of the world has escaped this fate. America is no different.

  12. L'amateur d'aéroplanes

    August 27, 2022 at 1:13 am

    Great, but Westerners can do a lot more to show that invasions don’t pay. Deliveries of 155 mm M109 directly by the United States for example. Currently, those sent to Ukraine come from several European countries. And simple and effective equipment like mortars of 120 in quantity.
    As for the defeatists on the site, I remind you that even the Russian population no longer believes in the lies of Tsar Putin, the Russian state channels have seen their audience drop by a quarter in six months.

  13. Yrral

    August 27, 2022 at 6:21 am

    These Jan 6,rioters are the barbarian, they brought this misery into their own lives this system will not be delivered in years,not immediately

  14. rightwirereport

    August 27, 2022 at 6:49 am

    A review of the essential pivot unfolding for the midterms and the Orwellian level propaganda campaign unfolding. Biden’s KGB and heavily redacted affidavit. A deep dive in latest covid vaccine data of deaths and vax injuries and round the world quick hits for the week. Russia, Ukraine, Syria and China updates too.

    Truth Be Told Podcast: “What Do Americans Believe in Anymore?” August 27

  15. L'amateur d'aéroplanes

    August 27, 2022 at 7:43 am

    GhostTomahawk; your comment is incomprehensible. In Ukraine, elections are free and fair, in Russia they are not. And why the USA spends 700 billion dollars PER YEAR for their defense if not to dissuade their strategic competitors. The minimal aid granted to Ukraine allows you to greatly weaken one of the most important threats to your country and allows you to export your F-35s and other weapon systems throughout Europe, reducing a little your disastrous trade deficit. This is a great deal for you.

  16. Gary Jacobs

    August 27, 2022 at 10:39 am

    to ‘Marcjf’ – Haha ‘expecting a Ukrainian collapse’ HaHa… that’s one of the funniest jokes I have heard all year. You were probably one of the Putin boot lickers who thought Russia would win in 3 days at the outset of their imperialist invasion. How’s that going for you? Ukraine has fought the supposedly mighty Russian Army to a standstill, after rolling them back from Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and more.

    And even in places like Pisky this author mentioned, Russian forces firing heavily with TOS-1A thermobaric artillery systems, which suggests that Russian forces are using combined arms army-level artillery assets to complete the capture of small villages after leveling them and leaving essentially nothing behind. Russian forces have previously relied heavily on artillery systems to completely destroy small rural villages, which they then claim have been “liberated”. Not exactly the actions of a well trained army. Their advances have been pathetically small over the last month+.

    As well, Every further atrocity committed by Russia has moved the line on what weapons the US will provide. I expect at some point 300km range ATACMS will be given to Ukraine. Fired by the same launcher as HIMARS, ATACMS is a Mach 3, GPS guided precision strike ballistic missile that weighs close to 4000 pounds.

    Along with a fresh influx of 30,000 western trained troops by the spring. 30,000 Western trained troops are worth more than 200,000 Russians. But even those numbers by Russia are always inflated. Their claim to have nearly a million troops as of now is more like 800,000. And that’s before counting losses in Ukraine. Which have been massive.

    In the meantime it looks as though Ukraine has lured the Russians into spreading their lines thin by telegraphing a counter offensive in the south, with the real purpose to get the Russians to expose their troops and logistics so they can be systematically depleted.

    All Ukraine has to do is get to the mouth of the Crimean Canal in Nova Khakovka just up the Dnipro from Kherson City and they have a strategic win with which to negotiate further Russian withdrawal in exchange for turning back on the water supply to Crimea. If they get to Melitopol, they have completely cut off the land route from Crimea to Donbas. And by looking at the NASA fire maps as well as geolocated images from social media, Russia arms depots, bases, and logistics are exploding all over those areas.

    If Biden has the balls to give the Ukrainians just a bit more and better weapons, they can and will roll back the Russians out of Ukraine. Have a nice day.

  17. Johnathan Galt

    August 27, 2022 at 11:57 am

    Xiden has no choice but to help the Ukraine. If he doesn’t, Zelensky will make public all of Joes bribery schemes.

  18. abraham lincoln

    August 27, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    NEVER use the fake word “gifting”. It is a left wing pretentious affectation by goofy people who went to “college” and took arts courses. Normal human beings say “giving”, which is normal human speech, not pretentious psycho babble like “gifting”. The media occasionally invents fake words intending to show how superior they are. Normal people are repulsed by this attempt to change language. Next thing you know, 1945 will be telling us that the US is “curating” weapons to give Ukraine, and they will be creating “bespoke” weapons for the current conflict.

  19. Olga

    August 27, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    If putin and the Russian terrorist state military causes a disaster at the nuclear plant they have set up as a military base they should be nuked incessantly till all Russian filthy scum savages all desist. If Russia had zero nukes they would have been crushed months ago by Ukraine.The are the worst self centred inbred mungrel scum race of repulsive vulgar cunts ever to set foot on earth they are the filthy wrenking scum of the fucking universe,for fucus sake give Ukraine long range ammo to bomb the fuck out of Moscow St petersburg and all the other cities flatten the fucking land to concrete rubble every fucking where.Evil fucking Coward YELLOWW LIVERED rUSSIAN TERRORIST STATE SCUM OF THE MILKY WAY.

  20. dave

    August 28, 2022 at 1:47 am

    It was over February 24th! ZERO chance of Ukrainian victory from day 1.Guess we shouldn`t have been involved in the Ukrainians 2014 coup, or killing civilians in Donbass since 2014.The train with the “civialians killed” was actually over 200 Ukrainian soldiers, and equipment destroyed.

  21. Yrral

    August 28, 2022 at 5:50 am

    Russian are not a race,it is an ethnic indentity, majority of Russian and Ukrainain,share Slavic ancestry

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