The US Is Sending NASAMS To Ukraine


Russian forces have frequently used airstrikes and cruise missiles to attack Ukrainian cities. As a result, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly urged Western leaders to provide weapons to their beleaguered military to counter Russia’s aggressive aerial bombardment campaign. The Pentagon responded quickly to Kyiv’s request for arms, promising to deliver sophisticated air defense systems to Ukraine armed forces by 2022. Within months, the Americans had begun to make good on their promise, sending a pair of NASAMS, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, to the war-torn country.

NASAMS is owned by a small number of countries, and it is used to protect civilian centers and strategic locations such as government buildings and military installations. For nearly two decades, a network of NASAMS has patrolled Washington, DC at all hours of the day and night.

Missile defense about numbers. If the attacker has more missiles than the defender has to counter them, the attacker can overwhelm the deterrents and eventually strike their targets. The two NASAMS delivered to Ukraine by the US have filled gaps in the country’s depleted air defenses. Washington has promised to deliver six more NASAMS to Ukraine by 2025.

From the good to the bad, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the game-changing, multi-million-dollar air defense system that has been thwarting Russia’s aerial strategy in Ukraine since November 2022.

Going the Extra Mile

The battery has typically included 12 missile launchers, each carrying up to six missiles since the second-generation NASAMS debuted in the late 2000s. A fully loaded system can engage more than 70 targets at the same time.

The missile canisters of the NASAMS are frequently loaded with dozens of AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, or AMRAAMs. The million-dollar missiles are the same ones that US fighter jets use to shoot down enemy planes. The AIM-120 and its variants have flown on more aircraft than any other air-to-air missile since its introduction more than three decades ago. During that time, the missile downed ten planes, the first being an Iraqi jet downed by an F-16 pilot in 1992.

The NASAMS can intercept unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, and aircraft from a maximum range of approximately 25 miles when armed with its standard loadout of AMRAAMs. However, if a structure, such as a building or a mountain, blocks the NASAMS’ line of sight to its target, the weapon’s radar cannot lock onto the object, and the interception fails. As a result, the NASAMS’s actual effective range is frequently less than what is advertised.

The Most Recent Technology

The third-generation NASAMS, which is capable of launching long-range AMRAAMs, was first deployed a few years ago. When fired from the NASAMS-3, the extended-range missiles can fly higher than their predecessor weapon, gaining about 5 miles of range.

The NASAMS-3 was also designed to fire shorter-range missiles, such as the AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder, an agile seeker known for its ability to track fast-moving cruise missiles. The AIM-9X can effectively hit targets from a distance of about 10 miles when launched from the NASAMS-3.

It is unknown which NASAMS model the United States delivered to Ukraine. After the military aid was announced, however, some experts predicted that Washington would send older models. The NASAMS-2 is still in use in the United States, but the original model has been phased out.

Adaptability in Modern Warfare

The NASAMS was developed decades ago by the American defense conglomerate Raytheon Technologies and the Norwegian company Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace. The Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System debuted in the 1990s with the Royal Norwegian Air Force.

The NASAMS has survived despite the ever-changing nature of modern warfare, thanks in part to its modular and open architecture. Not only can the third-generation model fire the most advanced missiles, such as the long-range AMRAAM, but it can also be outfitted with the most advanced radar.

The NASAMS was originally outfitted with AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar. The medium-range tracking system could detect inbound airborne threats such as helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles from up to 25 miles away.

After undergoing a makeover in the mid-2000s, the Sentinel’s reach eventually doubled. The GhostEye MR, a system that can see higher and farther than the upgraded Sentinel, then debuted in 2021. The GhostEye MR quickly replaced the Sentinel as the future of NASAMS radar technology.

The NASAMS’s ability to incorporate new technologies is only one aspect of its adaptability. The system’s components can work together even when they are separated by thousands of miles, denying adversaries the ability to destroy the entire weapon with a single strike. The command post (referred to as the Fire Distribution Center), launchers, and radar can be located up to 12 miles apart.

A Multi-Protection Strategy

While eight NASAMS working together could intercept a large number of targets, the system is not a good counter weapon for every type of airborne threat. That is why, despite NASAMS, Ukrainian officials continued to request a Phased Array Tracking Radar for Intercept on Target, or Patriot, system from the Pentagon.

The billion-dollar Patriot was designed to intercept threats that flew higher and faster than the NASAMS, such as tactical ballistic missiles. Over 100 such weapons have been shot down by the systems in the Middle East.

The Pentagon eventually agreed to Kyiv’s request. Washington pledged to send a Patriot battery to Ukraine in December 2022, where it will collaborate with the NASAMS to help plug air defense gaps, intercepting Russian missiles as they continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities.

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