US Air Defense System Delivery Hopes to Save Kiev

The Biden administration has announced that Ukraine will receive the National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS) to shore up Ukraine’s air defenses, which are being systematically destroyed by Russia.

The NASAMS is the same system that protects the air space around the White House in the United States.

There is no word yet from Ukraine where NASAMS will be deployed once it arrives.  NASAMS might be deployed to protect the Mariinski Palace, the official residence of Ukraine’s president, or the “secret” area where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is holed up in a bunker.

The main concern is that Russia might attack Ukraine’s capital and renew its effort to topple the Ukrainian government. Supplying the NASAMS system to Ukraine indicates Washington’s assessment that it cannot defend against cruise missiles and Kiev may be in danger.

The most important threat is Russia’s 3M54 Kalibr cruise missile, which can be launched from ships, submarines and aircraft. Russia also has a gaggle of different multiple launch rocket systems (Grad, Uragan, Smerch, Tornado) and tactical ballistic missiles (Iskander, Tochka and Tochka-U) as well as self-propelled and towed artillery.

NASAMS has been tested against simulated cruise missiles but it has never been used in battle. It isn’t clear how soon Ukraine will actually get NASAMS but Washington has promised two units. The system is made by Raytheon in the United States and by Kongsberg in Norway. It is unclear if the system can be supported without contractor help.

NASAMS can be classed as a system that uses adapted air-to-air missiles for land-based air defense. In the US, air-to-air missiles including the Sidewinder AIM-9 and Sparrow AIM-7 have been adapted for land-based air defense. Israel has adapted its Python and Derby missiles in a land-based system made by Rafael called Spyder.

Similarly, man-portable (MANPADS) ground-to-air missiles including Stinger FIM-92 can be mounted on vehicles and fired from launchers. The Russians have done the same thing with their Dzhigit, a support launch system for the Russian IGLA-S MANPADS.

NASAMS has now added an extended range version which is a mash-up of an AIM-120 seeker head and the rocket and guidance package of the US Navy’s Evolved Sea Sparrow (RIM-162), originally based on the Sparrow air-to-air missile. It is not known if Washington will supply the ER version to Ukraine.

AIM-120 is a radar-guided missile. Stinger, Sidewinder, IRIS-T are infra-red homing missiles (looking for heat signatures of threats). Stinger combines infrared and ultraviolet sensors.

Missile threats often approach their targets well after their engines have burned out and there is little or no heat signature, making radar sensing all-important, whereas cruise missiles stay powered all the way to the target. In the case of some versions of the Russian Kalibr cruise missile, there also is an auxiliary rocket that speeds up the missile during the terminal phase of its trajectory.

Read the rest at Asia Times.

Stephen Bryen is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.

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