Ukraine’s air defense made Putin’s airstrikes ineffective. Let’s look at NASAMS, shall we?

In March 2022 Ukrainians started a #CloseTheSky campaign. And it’s time to thank for big improvements.

Since February 24, 2022, Russian Air and Space Forces have been harassing civilians with almost daily airstrikes.  The Kremlin was so pleased that it promoted GEN. Surovikin, the Air and Space Forces Commander, to concurrently lead the Southern Military District / Southern Army Group in June 2022 and then to concurrently lead the whole invasion in October 2022. Surovikin’s nom de guerre Armageddon that incited horror in Syria was meant to scare Ukrainians the same way.

Surovikin, however, was relieved of the invasion commander role in January 2023 and fell out of Putin’s favor. We know this because Russian TV coverage of his “heroic” deeds plummeted at that time.

Why all that? The answer is, thanks to Western air defense weapons. This article covers one of them today, a prominent one – NASAMS.

What is NASAMS?

NASAMS (Norwegian/National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) is a mobile anti-aircraft missile system (SAM) designed to shoot down missiles, aircraft and other air targets at low and medium altitudes. Its development began over 30 years ago when the Norwegian technology group Kongsberg joined forces with the US company Raytheon.

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Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy had a call with his US counterpart in October 2022. We learned then that Ukraine was about to get NASAMS. Two batteries were expected initially.

NASAMS is modern. It got its most recent modernization in 2019. However, regardless of the generation, the complex consists of several components installed on trucks. Namely, a command centre, Raytheon 3D radar (which can track 60 targets simultaneously at a distance of up to 120 km), auxiliary sensors for surveillance and missile launchers, according to the Kongsberg website. Launchers and radar can be located at a distance of up to 20 km from the control center. This increases security during enemy air or ground attacks. Communication between the units of the complex can be maintained via a wired or wireless communication line.

The main combat power of the system is homing missiles. The first two generations of NASAMS used AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. This missile was initially designed exclusively to engage air targets from fighter aircraft of almost all NATO member states. However, it was later modified to be launched from the ground. The AIM-120 AMRAAM is capable of shooting down air targets at a distance of up to 25 km, and the height of the strike is 15 km, according to the technical characteristics of the missiles, the industry publication Militarnyi reports.

According to Kongsberg, the probability of hitting the target with this missile is 91 per cent. At the same time, the third generation of NASAMS, in addition to the AIM-120 AMRAAM, can launch short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II and long-range AMRAAM-ER missiles. The latter is capable of shooting down air targets 50 per cent further and 70 per cent higher than the AIM-120 AMRAAM, according to Kongsberg’s website.

Currently, NASAMS is in service with 12 countries, including Norway, Spain, the United States, the Netherlands, Finland, Oman, Lithuania, Indonesia and one unnamed country, per Kongsberg. “NASAMS has been protecting Washington, D.C., around the clock since 2005, demonstrating outstanding reliability,” the company emphasizes. In addition, the system is in production for Australia, Qatar, and Hungary. The cost of NASAMS is estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

It seems Ukraine received NASAMS systems without the special Link software, which allows receiving information from a satellite or aircraft, said to Deutche Welle Artur Artemenko, former Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander of the Air Force of Ukraine (2012-2017). “Thanks to Link, you can receive information from greater distances when the radar station cannot see the target due to the curvature of the Earth. But Ukraine is not yet technically ready for this,” he told D.W. Taras Chmut, head of the Ukrainian Military Center and the Come Back Alive Foundation, told D.W. that Ukraine would need more time to build a powerful integrated air defense.

Advantages of NASAMS over Soviet systems that Ukraine had

So far, Ukraine has received from the West only Soviet S-300 air defense systems and man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) of various types for air defense at low altitudes. Ukraine’s Air Force spokesman Ihnat reported publicly that Ukraine had medium and long-range systems from the 1970s, Buk-M1 and S-300. That’s why receiving even an unmodernized version of NASAMS with AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles was still great. Plus, NASAMS is not just about the missile but it’s also the modern radars.

NASAMS has several advantages over Ukraine’s legacy air defense systems. It has six missile launches, not four, as in the Buk-M1, resulting in a higher density of fire coupled with a more modern guidance system. This system can launch dozens of missiles in seconds. This is extremely important, given that the Ukrainian warplanes are hidden, as they are the enemy’s primary target.

#CloseTheSky over all major cities

The initial two NASAMS batteries protected one city, with each battery being responsible for a radius of about 90 km. That’s why the United States committed to providing eight NASAMS batteries (two featuring in the July 2022 $0.82 billion military aid package and six in the August 2022 aid package worth almost $3 billion).

NASAMS is an element in an echeloned air defense. #CloseTheSky is a range of measures and capabilities from anti-aircraft guns that shoot down drones to NASAMS (US/Norway), Iris-T (German), Patriot (US, can shoot down targets at a distance of 150 km), and fighter jets. The Insight News Media will be covering them all.

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