Victory's Arsenal: Battle for the Skies - Part 1
From the outset of the invasion into Ukraine, the Russian Federation has banked on missile terror. While in the early stages of the grand war, the aggressor's military-political leadership attempted to cover up by claiming that the targets of missile strikes were exclusively military objects. However, in the autumn of 2022, the Russians transitioned to openly terrorist tactics by targeting critical energy infrastructure. Moscow aimed to retaliate for a series of high-profile setbacks during the 2022 military campaign, aiming to coerce Ukrainians into negotiations by plunging the country into medieval darkness during winter. From October 2022 to February 2023, at least 13 massive rocket strikes were carried out across Ukraine. Over 700 cruise missiles were used, some of which, despite the titanic efforts of Ukrainian air defense units, still reached their targets, resulting in civilian casualties, destabilization of the energy system, and a noticeable shortage of electricity in the country.
It's crucial to understand that Ukraine faced the autumn terror while its air defense system had been extremely exhausted after eight months of war. The Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine primarily operated outdated Soviet-era S-300 systems. The stockpile of missiles for these systems had been depleted and couldn't be replenished due to the absence of corresponding capacities within the country. This partly explained the low effectiveness in repelling the Russian attacks in October 2022.
This was also confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who commented on the initial attack, stating, "We're forced to repel these attacks using armaments from the Soviet era, which we also have in insufficient quantities." It's worth noting that during the first mass attack on October 10, 2022, Ukrainian air defense only managed to shoot down slightly more than half of the 84 missiles fired towards Ukraine.
Iriska (toffee) - IRIS-T (Infra-Red Imaging System-Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled)
The situation that posed a threat to become a genuine humanitarian catastrophe spurred allies to significantly accelerate the transfer of more modern medium-range air defense systems to Ukraine. Among the first such systems was the state-of-the-art IRIS-T Surface-Launched Medium Range (SLM) missile system, which arrived in Ukraine following the initial massive attacks.
In December 2022, the then Defense Minister of Ukraine, Oleksiy Reznikov, confirmed the successful combat use of these air defense systems. Later, Ukrainians testified to the remarkable effectiveness of this system. "Out of the 51 missiles fired by this air defense system, all hit the target," stated Mykola Oleshchuk, the Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, in February of this year. Presently, Ukraine has deployed 3 IRIS-T SLM batteries received from the German government, with another set to be delivered by the year's end. Moreover, in 2024, an additional 4 are scheduled for delivery. It's worth noting that alongside the IRIS-T SLM, Germany declared the transfer of similar systems of lesser range, the IRIS-T Surface-Launched Short (SLS). Out of the promised 22 complexes of this modification, Ukraine already has 2 installations on combat duty.
IRIS-T SLM is one of the most advanced medium-range air defense missile systems developed by the German company Diehl Defence. Its purpose is to destroy aircraft, helicopters, drones, and cruise missiles.
The IRIS-T SLM battery comprises three MAN 8x8 chassis trucks with launchers, a multifunctional radar for target detection and tracking, and a control station. Each launcher has containers for 8 missiles. The complex includes a 360-degree surveillance radar and can simultaneously engage multiple targets in any weather condition. Additional launchers can be connected to the air defense system as required. Ukraine received a configuration with the top-notch TRML-4D radar, providing omnidirectional 3D tracking of over 180 objects within a range of up to 250 km.
The IRIS-T SLM missile, derived from the air-to-air IRIS-T missile, is the weapon employed by this air defense system. Like its aviation counterpart, the surface-to-air missile is equipped with an infrared homing head with high resolution and a wide field of view, enabling the striking of targets at very short distances and interception at longer ranges. The missile utilizes additional radio-command guidance (combined with inertial-satellite correction) on the primary trajectory section with infrared target acquisition in the terminal phase. It can reach speeds of up to Mach 3 and engage targets at ranges of 40 km and altitudes of 20 km.
True Patriot of the Homeland
Amid Berlin's swift response to Ukraine's sky defense needs, negotiations regarding the provision of a potent system like Patriot to Ukraine progressed more slowly. Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, even referred to this track as the most challenging issue the diplomatic team of President Volodymyr Zelensky had faced.
The initial official reports about the possibility of transferring these air defense systems to Ukraine emerged in November. However, the matter was definitively settled only during the President of Ukraine's official visit to the United States in December. Nevertheless, Ukraine received the first Patriot battery not from the U.S. but from Germany. The Netherlands joined this supply by allocating an additional 2 launcher units for this air defense system. Both installations were deployed and have been safeguarding Ukraine's skies since late April 2023. Another German battery is scheduled to be delivered to Ukraine this winter.
With the deployment of the Patriot system, the Ukrainian Air Force successfully intercepted a Russian "hypersonic" Kh-47 "Kinzhal" missile for the first time on May 4 of this year. Since the deployment of this air defense system in Ukraine, a total of 15 missiles of this type have been intercepted. Yuriy Ignat, the spokesperson for the Air Force Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, also confirmed that one of the Ukrainian Patriot batteries contributed to the mysterious Russian aircraft crash over the Bryansk region on May 13, 2023.
Patriot is an air defense missile system developed by Raytheon Technologies. Components of the Patriot air defense systems were provided to Ukraine by Germany, the U.S., and the Netherlands. Two Patriot system divisions have been on combat duty in the Ukrainian Armed Forces since April 2023.
The Patriot battery comprises a fire control section including a radar installation, a command post, an antenna mast group, and a power supply unit. Additionally, it includes 4 to 8 launchers with a charging machine.
The radar is responsible for the "friend-or-foe" identification system, countering electronic warfare measures, and guiding the missile to the target. It can track targets within a range of up to 180 km (the latest versions can reach up to 250 km). Each launcher is designed for 4 MIM-104 missiles of various types or 16 PAC-3 interceptor missiles. The Patriot's standard weapon is the guided MIM-104 missile. The maximum firing range of the MIM-104 in the PAC-2 version against a ballistic target is 20 km, and against an aerodynamic target, it's 80 km (minimum of 3 km). The maximum target engagement altitude is 24-25 km.
The missile is equipped with the track-via-missile guidance system. Trajectory correction commands during the intermediate course are transmitted to the missile from the control point.
The new generation Patriot is equipped with high-speed interceptor missiles, the RAS-3 MSE, produced by Lockheed Martin. They employ kinetic energy impact technology and are designed to intercept ballistic missiles. These missiles are three times lighter than the PAC-2 version and can intercept targets at distances of up to 60 km.
Every Mickle Makes a Muckle
Beside Germany and the U.S., countries like the United Kingdom (Supacat HMT-based ASRAAM SAM Launchers), France (Crotale), Italy (SAMP/T), Spain (MIM-23 Hawk), Canada, Norway, Lithuania (all - NASAMS), Poland (modernized Soviet systems), Czech Republic, and Slovakia (2K12M2 Kub-M2s) played a significant role in saturating Ukraine's air defense system with modern medium-range air defense systems.
All these supplies significantly enhanced the effectiveness of Ukraine's air defense system, as demonstrated by the recent failed attempt of a massive attack by Russians on Ukraine's capital. However, given Ukraine's vast territories and extensive military and energy infrastructure, there is a need for a much larger number of modern systems.
Today, most of the anti-aircraft aid from allies is directed towards protecting major metropolises and critical infrastructure objects. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Defense Forces critically require modern air defense systems on the frontline with the aggressor. The shortage of frontline air defense systems significantly impacted the pace of this year's counteroffensive, allowing enemy aviation nearly impunity to strike advancing Ukrainian military positions.
It's no wonder that during the recent "Ramstein" format meeting, the creation of a new coalition of ground-based air defense systems, led by Germany and France and joined by 20 countries, was announced. This may signify that the establishment of a reliable layered air defense system has been raised to the level of a strategic objective for long-term support of Ukraine by its allies.
In the next article, we'll discuss light air defense systems, which have been incredibly helpful on the frontlines. Previously, we've covered anti-tank missile systems that aided the Ukrainian Armed Forces in halting Russian hordes on the approaches to Kyiv in spring 2022, as well as the "armored fist" of the Ukrainian army - tanks and other armored vehicles provided by Western partners.