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MIM-23 Hawk: air defense veteran in the service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

MIM-23 Hawk: air defense veteran in the service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

Yann Yann
Air Defense SAM Ukraine

A video published by the Air Force Command of the use of the Hawk air defense system against Russian targets has restored the long-forgotten interest of the Ukrainian community in this SAM.

The public debut of the U.S. air defense system took place virtually a year after the first news of its preparation and transfer to Ukraine from the United States and other allied countries.

Hawk is a mobile medium-range anti-aircraft missile system designed to protect ground forces and rear facilities. It is capable of intercepting aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic targets.

The system was developed in the late 1950s by Raytheon and Northrop Grumman at the request of the United States and started to be used by the military in 1960. It was distributed among NATO countries and has more than 1,700 launchers and 40,000 missiles produced.

Having been in service with various countries for over 60 years, it has undergone three phases of deep modernization. The system is currently available in the basic version (Phase I), the improved Improved Hawk Phase II version, the digitized Improved Hawk Phase III, and Hawk Phase XXI.

So what kind of anti-aircraft systems have the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces received and are being used in the war against Russia?

Ukrainian context

Most of the weapons and equipment coming to Ukraine are publicly announced by donor governments in military aid packages. However, their number and exact nomenclature are concealed for security reasons.

To date, Spain has pledged to transfer 12 launchers of the Hawk system to Ukraine in two tranches. It is reported that the country owns systems in the Improved Hawk Phase III version.

In addition, the United States modernized and transferred a number of systems to Ukraine in several batches. In particular, two Hawk firing units were transferred in February 2023.

It is known that some of the systems promised by the United States are to be purchased from Taiwan, which had Phase III systems. Their purchase is explained by their recent decommissioning and, accordingly, their acceptable technical condition.

Hence, the basis of the Ukrainian fleet of Hawk anti-aircraft systems should be third-generation units that underwent appropriate modernization in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Improved Hawk Phase III

Despite its age, the system has remained relevant due to a large-scale modernization of the Phase III version, which happened during the 1990s. It made significant changes, as the entire element base was replaced with digital counterparts and new radar and command posts were added.

The Hawk SAM battery consists of two firing units in normal configuration or three in an enhanced version.

The battery includes six М-192 launchers, three tracked М-501 transport and load vehicles, an AN/MPQ-50 pulse acquisition radar, a low-altitude AN/MPQ-62 continuous wave acquisition radar, and two AN/MPQ-61 high-power illuminator radars. The entire system is coordinated from the command post.

The AN/MPQ-50 radar provides airspace surveillance and target detection at distances up to 100 km at medium and high altitudes.

At the same time, AN/MPQ-62 provides detection of low-altitude targets. Its introduction to the single-channel complex allowed it to realize the possibility of intercepting several targets simultaneously in the short range.

RBS 97

In February 2023, the Swedish government announced the transfer of an unnamed number of Hawk systems, which were upgraded and received RBS 97 designation in 2006.

The Swedish system consists of two fire units with two М-192 launchers and an upgraded AN/MPQ-61 high-power illuminator radar.

Besides, each platoon is equipped with its own Giraffe AMB 3D surveillance radar, which is combined with a command post on the same chassis. This allows fire platoons to operate autonomously without being tied to a battery.

MIM-23 missiles

Since the Improved Hawk Phase II, the anti-aircraft missile system has been using MIM-23В long-range missiles with a blast-fragmentation warhead. With a weight of 74 kilograms, the warhead is equipped with 14,000 striking elements weighing 2 grams. The missile is capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to 40 km and an altitude of up to 17.7 km.

The missiles are equipped with a semi-active radar homing head. They are guided at the beginning and during the marching part of the flight by commands from the anti-aircraft system, and the homing system is activated during the final segment.

Further upgrades led to the MIM-23C, MIM-23D, MIM-23E, and MIM-23F missiles, which are more resistant to jamming.

Missiles of the MIM-23K and MIM-23J versions were structurally adapted to intercept ballistic targets. They received a new warhead with striking elements weighing 35 grams, which allowed for destroying the thick-walled body of ballistic missiles. Additionally, a fuze with less reaction time was implemented. The maximum interception range increased to 45 km, and the maximum altitude became 20 km.

The most modern anti-aircraft missiles, the MIM-23L and MIM-23M versions, retained the main characteristics of the previous missiles but were equipped with an old warhead with two-gram striking elements and a new fuze.

Hawk in service in Ukraine

The main advantage and strength of the Hawk air defense system is its mass production and the unclaimed stock of anti-aircraft missiles in storage in friendly countries. This makes it possible to build a wide air defense network based on them in a relatively short time and have a conditionally unlimited supply of missiles to intercept numerous drones and cruise missiles.

The third-generation systems are not inferior to such systems as Buk-M1 and S-125 in terms of range and altitude and are still capable of effectively intercepting most targets in the Ukrainian sky.

Another significant drawback is the age of the transferred anti-aircraft systems. It is reported that some of the transferred systems turned out to be inoperable. Some of Hawk’s SAM parts are scarce, while the need for them is great due to the system wear and tear.

The missiles’ warranty periods are long overdue, and their revisions do not completely avoid problems during launch. Accordingly, each shot will be associated with the risk of missile malfunction, which forces the duplication of these SAMs with other systems.

These features complicate the use of these anti-aircraft systems as a front-line air defense system. However, they can strengthen and expand the existing air defense of cities and important rear facilities.

Air Defense SAM Ukraine