During the holiday period and into the first two weeks of 2023, Russia has continued to launch, indiscriminately at times, substantial amounts of missiles into Ukraine. On New Years Eve, Russia launched 20 cruise missiles at Kiev utilizing Tu-95ms strategic bombers and ground-based missile defense systems deployed near the Caspian sea. On January 2, Russia launched a barrage of 40 Iranian Shaheed 136 explosive drones into Kiev with all of them being shot down reportedly causing no casualties. On January 9, a Russian missile fired into Ukraine hit a village in the northeastern section of Kharkiv killing two civilians and injuring at least five. This constant missile barrage of attacks has been a part of everyday life for Ukrainians and has become the norm for nearly 12 months. These continued missile and drone attacks have become commonplace, causing concern that Europe has accepted this as the norm. Still today, there remains no integrated missile defense architecture. Ukraine’s protection and defense against these attacks comes from limited organic ADA systems and foreign aid in the form of missile defense systems that are not interoperable or integrated but in spite of this have had great battle-proven success throughout the conflict. Without these missile defenses, destruction and loss of civilian life would be significantly greater.
In the Indo-Pacific region, China conducted a military drill on Christmas day in which 47 fighter planes and drones crossed the median line of Taiwan. China continued its aggressive behavior into the new year on January 8 with 28 planes and ships crossing the median line, and two more crossing on January 10 highlighting multi domain capabilities. North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) on December 23 2022, and then fired three SRBMs on New Year’s Eve. On December 26 2022, North Korea launched five reconnaissance drones crossing the 38th Parallel and into South Korea, going as far as Northern Seoul. The drones were met with attack helicopters and KA-1 fighter planes. North Korea has also stated that they are planning to have a solid fuel ICBM ready in 2023, for both long term and rapid deployment. On January 12 2023, the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses assessed North Korea’s nuclear stockpile at 80-90 warheads.
In the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, adding to the success of its inherited Russian S300 missile defense systems, the United States’ National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) and Germany’s Gepard anti-aircraft gun have had outstanding combat-proven success. U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, issued a statements on the efficiency and success of the NASAMS. Two NASAMS have been providing defensive fires since November, and four additional NASAMS are being prepared for delivery to Ukraine in the coming months and years. The recent decision to deliver a U.S. Patriot PAC-3 Battery to Ukraine this year which will provide much needed lower tier U.S. Missile Defense capabilities to Ukraine’s defense for combat against Russia’s cruise missile and shorter-range ballistic missile attacks. In support of these efforts, the Pentagon announced this week that approximately 100 Ukrainian troops will head to the US Army’s Missile Defense School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma in the coming weeks to begin training on the Patriot weapon system. Complementing this addition is fellow NATO nation, Germany, who has also recently decided to contribute a Patriot battery to Ukraine. In addition to this, Germany has delivered 30 of 57 Gepard anti-aircraft vehicles pledged to Ukraine. On January 10, the Canadian government announced the purchase of a NASAMS system and associated munitions to be delivered to Ukraine.
The intent is to provide Ukraine with the best missile defense systems from the United States and NATO, yet the collective nations are still falling short on limited system capacity and most important providing a fully integrated and interoperable missile defense architecture. This shortfall of an integrated architecture of command and control nodes and both sensors and effectors must not only be addressed, but implemented to defeat Russian threats targeting Ukraine forces, critical infrastructure, and civilian populations. Ukraine is “MacGyvering” what they have in place, -improvising where necessary while fighting with inoperable and non-integrated missile defense systems. It is not the winning solution- it is the surviving solution.
It is imperative that a fully integrated missile defense network be developed that we can share and apply to allies and partners. This starts with Trust and with command & control (C2) having access to all systems in play, providing and distributing data for the most effective use in firing solutions that are shared with allies and partners. Without this integrated network of systems, Ukraine will continue the struggle of defeating ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones in a non-integrated, disconnected, autonomous environment. NATO, as an alliance, demonstrated how this can be done to counter the ballistic missile threat from Iran via the AEGIS Ashore BMD system in support of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). Yet it is not clear that NATO has as coherent an approach to cruise missile defense; certainly, the allies have capable systems, with some interoperability amongst them and some C2 capability within NATO AIRCOM and its subordinate combined air operations centers (CAOCs). But the questions must be asked: How would NATO fare against a missile onslaught similar to that being launched against Ukraine? Does NATO have enough sensors? Enough effectors? Resilient C2? Can the industrial base within each NATO country “gear-up” to resupply expended rounds in a relevant time span?
In defending Partner nations who are not actually within the NATO alliance, is it completely out of the question for systems on NATO territory to help defend a nearby partner such as Ukraine? At a minimum, NATO longer-range sensors could pass tracks via interoperable C2 systems to systems and effectors controlled by Ukraine and launched from their soil. NATO CAOCs, if provided tracks from Ukrainian sensors and appropriate authority, could also provide resilient C2 in the event Ukrainian C2 nodes went dark. In extremes, could an effector from a bordering NATO country help defend key facilities or population centers in Ukraine? Until Sweden and Finland fully join the Alliance, these questions apply to them.
Collective missile defense works better than unilateral missile defense. Interoperable systems work better for collective defense than patchwork ad-hoc arrangements. Having depth of magazine and resilience of C2 and sensors ensure endurance. This can all be done. We simply must have the will to do it. Otherwise, we continue to expect “tidings of sorrow” with each missile volley launched from aggressors such as Russia.
The outpouring and enduring support from the U.S. and NATO countries must continue to give Ukraine all the effectors we can to piece together a Ukrainian Air and Missile Defense capability that can save as many lives as possible and limit further destruction.