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‘FrankenSAM’ program: the second life of outdated missiles

‘FrankenSAM’ program: the second life of outdated missiles

Роман Приходько Роман Приходько
Air Defense Europe Ukraine USA War with Russia World

The full-scale war in Ukraine showed the high level of consumption of anti-aircraft missiles to destroy air targets. Mass attacks of cruise missiles and drones deplete Soviet stocks of anti-aircraft missiles, and causes their shortage and problems with the organization of effective air defense of Ukraine. To solve these problems, Ukraine and the western countries began to find alternatives to help strengthen the air defense component of the country.

Soviet heritage becomes scarce

The Russian tactics of mass attacks on the infrastructure and cities of Ukraine right before the winter and low temperatures, requires an increase in the number of anti-aircraft batteries that would cover large cities and important infrastructure. This creates a problem for the Ukrainian air defense system: currently many anti-aircraft systems are in fact “sprayed” around the country, covering cities and protecting the military near the front line. In addition to the lack of Buk and S-300 SAMs, there arose a severe shortage of missiles, which Ukraine did not produce after gaining independence.

The shortage of long-range air defense systems and missiles forced the Armed Forces of Ukraine to start creating a new tactic, better known as “mobile firing teams,” which were placed in advance on the flight route of a missile or drone and opened fire on it. But for the effective destruction of the targets those of the groups should be armed with a certain means of defeating air targets, the shortage of which became obvious after half a year of war. According to published information, from February 24, 2022 to August 2023, Russia fired more than 6.5 thousand missiles and more than 3.5 thousand attack drones in Ukraine, most of which were destroyed by air defense. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), currently Ukraine’s air defense intercepts about 90-95% of air targets.

To solve these problems, Ukraine and Western partners began searching for solutions that could provide a missile reserve and creation of mass anti-aircraft missile systems at low budget.

Ukraine searching for missiles and air defense systems

Comprehensive support for the existing missile reserve of Soviet air defense systems began from the very beginning of the war. Former Warsaw Pact countries, which were armed with Soviet systems began to transfer spare parts and missiles. Moreover, the United States also began to search for Soviet missiles, which the U.S. still had and which Ukraine so badly needed. In addition, Western countries began transferring to Ukraine the Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems (24 launchers), NASAMS (about 70 launchers), ASPIDE (up to 4 launchers), IRIS-T (up to 30 launchers) and others, which were supposed to provide high-quality strengthening of air defense. They also trained Ukrainian military. But despite this assistance, the systems quantity wasn’t enough.

At the same time, some Western partners have launched initiatives and programs to create low-cost anti-aircraft missile systems for the use of short-range missiles, which could at least slightly improve the situation for air defense. The main purpose of these systems should ensure the destruction of kamikaze drones and cruise missiles aimed at Ukrainian cities.

Does Soviet heritage get a second life?

The announced military aid package from the United States in May 2023 contained RIM-7 Sea Sparrow ship missiles that the country was to hand over to Ukraine. Until recently, it was unclear exactly what Ukraine needed these missiles for. But after the leak of Pentagon documents new details became known. Sea Sparrow ship missiles were intended for upgraded Buk anti-aircraft missile systems. Modernization for these missiles was supposed to provide new missile reserves due to a shortage of original weapons.

After the collapse of the USSR, and the reduction of the production of anti-aircraft missiles to most Soviet systems, some countries began research on the integration of missile weapons of Western countries. In the early 2000s, Poland was most interested in this direction. The country was in need of such weapons after joining NATO, and the transition to Western weapons.

The main problem for these systems was research with the combination of an active radar homing with a target designation radar of Soviet radars. This was a real test, the results of which were doubtful. For better target designation, a special radar of American or European production was used.

Thanks to the use of compact transport and launch containers for Sea Sparrow and ESSM missiles, the modernization of mounts on the Buk and Kub SAMs does not require much effort. In addition, the transport and firing box itself is connected to the launcher electrical system for launch.

For the cheapness of modernization, radar targeting stations simply replaced some elements. Although there is also the possibility of using self-propelled radar targeting stations for these missiles from some Western companies that have the best detection and targeting characteristics due to a more modern electronic base.

One of the main problems of integrating Western missiles with a semi-active homing into Soviet anti-aircraft missile systems was the target designation radar, which, due to other frequencies and the signal processing computer, could not guide RIM-7 missiles. To solve this problem, the developers updated the software and changed frequencies, which helped in targeting and missile guidance. On the other hand, the most common problem was that the electronics and related systems were too old. Their renewal was problematic and less cost-effective.

Western solutions to protect the sky over Ukraine

The first step in the creation of new anti-aircraft systems on the accelerated program began British companies Supacat and Babcock. The idea was to create a mobile system for firing ASRAAM missiles, which are today a mass product, and are used by several countries.

The great advantage of using this missile in the ground system is that the main components for search and guidance are placed on the same platform. The use of this missile does not require separate radar stations, or the deployment of auxiliary power supply and control systems, everything can be carried out on the same platform.

Limitations in the operation are the ability to shoot at targets that are visually detected. This provides a short detection range of up to 5-6 km, although the missile’s energy reserve can provide a range of up to 15-20 km.

American version of the accelerated: ‘FrankenSAM’ program

In addition to the British side, the United States is also interested in strengthened air defense. Representatives of the Pentagon are well aware that the available air defense equipment is not enough to cover most cities of Ukraine and ensure the effective interception of Shahed-type low-speed targets.

In October 2023, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the development of an air defense system that will use the AIM-9M missiles production of the 80-90s. According to him, the first samples of the anti-aircraft system will be transferred to Ukraine soon, to strengthen air defense on the eve of winter.

According to Western media reports, the launcher with AIM-9M missiles will be equipped with a radar to detect targets outside the line of sight, which will ensure the timely detection of the target and pointing the missile at it.

Unlike the British ASRAAM missile, the American AIM-9M does not have a LOAL system that allows you to capture a target after launching a rocket. This greatly limits its ability to destroy targets over long distances, and with “blind” launch.

Mass AIM-9M will ensure the creation of a large number of inexpensive anti-aircraft systems, and provide a large missile reserve for the future.

Will this help Ukraine?

Currently, no country in the world is interested in such improved capabilities of Soviet systems except Ukraine. But an insufficient number of anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as the lack of anti-aircraft missiles to Soviet systems because of the mass attacks by Russians, needs a quick solution to this problem. The integration of American Sea Sparrow and ESSM missiles can provide a large reserve of these missiles, most of which have NATO countries. Due to their presence abroad, the Russians will not have the opportunity to strike at warehouses with these missiles.

Buk SAMs are the best candidates for such modernization. They use the same missiles with a semi-active guidance system. Anti-aircraft systems such as Osa do not have this possibility, due to the use of missiles with a radio command guidance system, and the radar guidance station does not have the ability to illuminate the target for the missile.

In addition to the integration of Western weapons into Soviet systems, a qualitative improvement and an increase in the concentration of air defense equipment were simple anti-aircraft systems, which were developed by British and American specialists, the main weapons of which were guided short-range air-to-air missiles. The move will ensure their numbers increase through simplified production, as well as low-cost AIM-9 and ASRAAM aircraft missiles. Currently, countries are trying to accelerate the production and transfer of these complexes to the Armed Forces of Ukraine due to the preparation of Russians for winter shelling of civil energy infrastructure and electrical substations.

Air Defense Europe Ukraine USA War with Russia World