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Missile defense: what air defense systems are the best to close the sky over Ukraine?

Ukraine needs many air defense systems, here and now

Ukraine needs many air defense systems, here and now

On October 12–13, NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels to discuss global security. This includes Ramstein-6 consultations to increase aid to Ukraine and provide Kyiv with modern air defense systems.

Yurii Ihnat, speaker of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said this week that Ukraine needs newer systems than it currently has to defend itself, and there should be many of them.

The NASAMS and IRIS-T systems already promised by the U.S. and Germany will not be enough for Kyiv to down a bigger percentage of missiles and kamikaze drones.

To understand how Ukraine can be best protected from enemy missiles and drones, The Page spoke with Pavlo Lakiichuk, Head of the Security Programs of the Center for Global Studies "Strategy XXI".


Why the Iron Dome and Patriot systems are no panacea against missiles

The Patriot air defense system doesn't guarantee 100% interception of missiles coming in large numbers. Photo: Wikipedia

The Patriot air defense system doesn't guarantee 100% interception of missiles coming in large numbers. Photo: Wikipedia

Missiles, especially ballistic ones, are extremely complex targets. That’s why the effectiveness of air defense will depend on many concurrent factors, including the type, number, and direction of flight of targets, says Lakiichuk.

Countering a massive attack of missiles of different types from different directions and on different trajectories is an incredibly difficult task, which none of the existing air defense systems can complete with 100% effectiveness, the expert noted.

Quote"The vaunted Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ can hit up to 90% of unguided ballistic missiles, actually MLRS projectiles. But when hundreds of them are launched at once, it doesn’t hold," explains the head of security programs.

The American MIM-104 Patriot, which is an extremely complex and very expensive system in the service of the U.S. and its allies, would not be a panacea either.

According to Lakiichuk, the PAC-3, which is the most modern version of the Patriot system, will intercept an aircraft with a single missile 80–90% of the time and a tactical missile 60–80% of the time.

Can the sky over Kyiv be 100% secure?

There is only one way to completely "close the sky" over Ukraine, which is to destroy the enemy missiles and aircraft at launch sites, storage depots, and carriers, the security expert argues.

This is the primary method as defined by the concept of use of the U.S. Armed Forces, Lakiichuk explained.

Given the fact that it is currently impossible to reach all the launch sites of Russian missiles, we can only talk about a maximum possible reduction of the effectiveness of an enemy attack, but not its prevention.

Speaking about the provision of air defense equipment to Ukraine, the Pentagon officers emphasize that Ukraine is a very large country and it will be very difficult to secure it completely in the traditional way, the expert added.

How can Ukraine achieve maximum protection from missiles?

The currently discussed way of closing the Ukrainian sky to the maximum possible extent is by creating a multi-layer air defense system.

Lakiichuk reminded that, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Ukraine now needs different types of air defense systems at the same time.

In particular, these are short- and long-range air defense systems for intercepting ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones, so that different systems perform different tasks.

The massive missile attack on Ukrainian cities literally on the eve of the Ramstein meeting radically changed the agenda regarding the supply of weapons.

Quote"The air defense systems promised by allies and partners, which were proposed to be delivered ‘someday’, within two to three years, turned out to be necessary today," the head of security programs notes.

What air defense systems are already on their way to Ukraine?

The IRIS-T air defense system will help us defend against the missiles that our radars poorly detect. Photo: Wikipedia

The IRIS-T air defense system will help us defend against the missiles that our radars poorly detect. Photo: Wikipedia

As a result of a radical change in the approach to arming Ukraine in the war with Russia, the first German IRIS-T system was delivered to Ukraine not in 2023 but already this week. This equipment should help in intercepting Kh-22 or Kh-101 missiles, which are poorly detectable by Ukrainian radars.

Meanwhile, NASAMS systems (only two launchers so far) are on their way.

The best modern long-range air defense systems: NASAMS, Iris-T SLM, SAMP/T, Patriot. Infographic: The Page

The best modern long-range air defense systems: NASAMS, Iris-T SLM, SAMP/T, Patriot. Infographic: The Page

Quote"When the Pentagon says that the complexes will be delivered ‘as soon as it is possible to deliver them physically,’ it means that they are already looking for a ship that will take them across the Atlantic Ocean," Lakiichuk emphasized.

At the same time, according to him, the U.K., Denmark, and other countries are scouting for AIM-120 AMRAAM — American air-to-air missiles used by the NASAMS air defense system.

What air defense systems are being looked for to defend Ukraine?

The Polish Laura radar could help Ukraine defend itself against missiles. Photo: Wikipedia

The Polish Laura radar could help Ukraine defend itself against missiles. Photo: Wikipedia

Concurrently with the aforementioned air defense systems, a number of European countries, including France, Spain, Italy, and others, are preparing their own analogues for delivery (this may refer to the SAMP/T air defense systems requested by Kyiv — The Page).

Quote"The process that is unfolding is very similar to how they started to supply us with HIMARS systems; since then, the delivery of these launchers and ammunition to them has been put on stream," says Lakiichuk.

Meanwhile, tactical air defense systems will be delivered, the expert explains: these are short-range air defense systems, MANPADS, and anti-aircraft artillery complexes.

Tactical short-range systems: Gepard, R-8 Laura radar, AN/TWG-1 Avenger. Infographic: The Page

Tactical short-range systems: Gepard, R-8 Laura radar, AN/TWG-1 Avenger. Infographic: The Page

Such systems should expand Ukraine's capabilities in countering drones, including kamikaze drones.

Quote"Not only the German Gepards and the Polish Lauras will come in handy here, but also the old (post-)Soviet Shilkas — the AFU makes a worthy contribution to Lend-Lease. The Pantsir and Tunguska systems they took as trophies will also strengthen our anti-aircraft defense," the security expert believes.
Old and trophy systems: ZSU-23-4 Shilka, Pantsir anti-aircraft system, Tunguska anti-aircraft system. Infographic: The Page

Old and trophy systems: ZSU-23-4 Shilka, Pantsir anti-aircraft system, Tunguska anti-aircraft system. Infographic: The Page

The effectiveness of Ukrainian air defense has risen from 10% to 60%

Ukrainian air defense forces are actually working wonders: while only 10% of Russian missiles were shot on February 24, during the October 10 attack, our air defense intercepted 50 to 60% missiles.

To protect Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure on the verge of winter, this rate should preferably be 70 to 80%.

The development of own systems could also be beneficial: for example, the Pivdenne Design Office is working on the Kilchen air defense system, which can shoot up to 12 targets at once. The system hits subsonic targets at a distance of up to 280 km, fighter jets — up to 130 km, and ballistic missiles — up to 44 km.

The Design Bureau "Luch" also planned to develop its air defense system — they presented a model of the Koral surface-to-air missile with a range of up to 30 km and defended a project for an air defense system with a range of up to 100 km, which will be an improved version of the Neptune system.

However, the development of these systems will be completed no earlier than in 2 years, and Ukraine does not have this much time to wait.

Among the foreign systems which could help Ukraine (in the case of the NASAMS and the IRIS-T, only 13 systems have been pledged so far) but weren’t secured by Kyiv so far, there were talks about the Patriot, as well as the American AN/TWQ-1 Avenger short-range air defense systems, of which there U.S. army has hundreds. In addition, Ukraine needs more fighter jets, including the F-16.

What can protect Ukraine from missiles. Infographic: The Page

What can protect Ukraine from missiles. Infographic: The Page


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