As the unprovoked Russian invasion prepares to enter its sixth month, Ukraine’s air and missile defense systems, some organic and many donated by several other nations. Ukraine has Stinger and S-300 missile defense systems operating in combat today, and they both have been tremendously successful. These two missile defense systems are at the low end of old technologies and yet have proven extremely effective. In fact, these 40-year-old combat systems have enabled Ukraine to stay in the fight with Russia, which would otherwise appear to have an overwhelming overmatch in capacity, capabilities, and new technologies.
Ukraine has also been extremely successful with its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), conducting extremely effective artillery strikes on Russian forces. Ukraine’s defense forces, with support from partner nations, have a proven ability to command and control these HIMARS, and sending and receiving data at speed has been instrumental in the timely effects against Russian targets. Receiving and passing time-sensitive data at speed in a joint warfighting environment spanning all five domains (air, land, sea, space, and cyber) has been catapulted into a very effective and demonstrated lethal capability that could resemble and be a forerunner for the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
Ukraine will soon put an over 20-year-old technology for cruise missile defense—National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAMS)—into its capital, Kyiv. The NASAMS is deployed today in 12 different countries, and it is protecting the United States Capital Region from 360-degree cruise missile threats. The NASAMS is the only functioning 360-degree cruise missile defense system deployed on land specifically designed and operated against cruise missiles. Patriot systems are designed to do ballistic missile intercepts and can do cruise missile intercepts, but their interceptor is significantly more expensive than the NASAM, and their radars are 120 degrees array until the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS), singular capable 360 radar, is fielded to U.S. forces and its allies and partners, a minimum of three Patriot radars are required to provide the 360-degree capability in operation.
The NASAMS can use multiple warning and tracking radars shared across integrated link 16 networks with a variety of air defense interceptors. The original NASAMS uses AIM-120 AMRAAM, a longer range interceptor, and the NASAMS-3 integrates the AIM-9X, a shorter range interceptor. The AIM-9X developed and deployed by the USAF is capable of all of its fighter jets for the critical capability of offensive and defensive air-to-air in shooting down enemy cruise missiles and aircraft. It is a short-range, multi-purpose, infrared tracking missile that harnesses the unique capability to be transferred directly from the wing of an aircraft into the NASAMS multi-missile land-based launcher. The AIM-9X is an all-services (the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force) effector featuring the most advanced IR seeker in use today, providing an effective solution to track and intercept hard-to-detect, fast-moving cruise missiles. The AIM-120 possesses the duel-use feature requiring no modification on the missile from aircraft to land battery. The F-15 EX actively utilizes these AMRAAMs for the defense of the United States and allied airspace.
The NASAMS and the highly effective Counter Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar (C-RAM) system, also a 20-year-old technology, are the two most effective and productive ground-based systems for cruise missile defense, drones, and rockets that the United States has in operation. These two highly effective systems, amazingly, are not programs of record for the United States or the US Army. The United States Department of Defense is going through a deliberate research, development, testing, and experimentation process in an effort to develop future systems and invest in the future rather than in the present, where the threat has clearly demonstrated, proliferated, and used in combat and ignoring this present risk, even though Russia has clearly demonstrated its commitment to using cruise missile capabilities in combat — exposing this U.S. vulnerability.
The US Army, due to capacity limitations of its Air Defense Artillery Branch and its priority to defend its maneuvering combat forces, is not able to defend the joint force’s exposed logistics sites, command and control nodes, and USAF Bases from Europe to Asia. The US Army has prioritized M-SHORAD: a mobile missile defense system for its maneuvering combat forces – and it is beginning to be deployed in Europe by the 10th AAMDC over these equally needed fixed-site land cruise missile defense systems which it does not possess. The Army, to be effective against peer and near-peer competitors, requires a land-based cruise missile defense to provide defensive fires for systems such as the HIMARS, which it doesn’t have today, relying more on dispersion, mobility, and camouflage. An Army common launcher and a common branch for both offense and defense artillery is the future.
As a result of this Army shortfall, the USAF does not have a cost-effective 360-degree land-based cruise missile defense system on its bases, which is especially acute on those forward bases where the threat can reach from Europe to Asia. The USAF is unable to rely on US Army land-based cruise missile defense systems to defend its maneuvering force facilities.
Many, including many in the Pentagon, have argued that the U.S. needs to retire its older systems in order to make way for newer, more advanced technologies. However, if American and Allied lives are at stake and at risk in combat, it is always justified to rely on tried and true technologies rather than unused, potentially risky, new systems. Ukraine has demonstrated this: using systems that are roughly 20 to 40 years old to sustain fighting against a world power and its modern capabilities.
The NASAMS is the land-based answer today for the cruise missile defense for the US Army logistics bases and USAF air bases in Europe. NASAMS is already fielded and used by 7 NATO allies and is produced by Norway. Already fielded and used by 7 NATO allies and developed by the Norwegian company Kongsberg, NASAMS is an interoperable system. The NASAMS is looking to upgrade to the AIM9x, as does the future Army IFPIC. The USAF has a tremendous existing inventory on USAF Bases of AIM9x and is a USAF-developed air–to–air interceptor designed specifically to take out air-breathing threats. With the exception of the Standard Missile, there is no weapon better, tested, and proven to shoot down air-breathing cruise missile threats.
The United States has committed to placing NASAMS in Kyiv, Ukraine. That is only a first step in defending Europe, including U.S. forces in Europe, right now.