Showing posts with label SAM system. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SAM system. Show all posts

Tuesday, 19 April 2022


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
As one of the smallest militaries in NATO, Slovakia has nevertheless played an important part in providing Ukraine with the types of armament it requires to hold off Russia's invasion. In addition to 12.000 120mm mortar rounds, MANPADS and ATGMs, this has also included the country's sole S-300PMU surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery. [1] [2] This system essentially constituted the country's only viable ground-based deterrence against enemy aircraft, a capability Slovakia was willing to give up in an effort to bolster Ukraine's battered arsenal of SAM systems. Whilst the resulting gap will be filled by U.S. Patriot SAM systems deployed to Slovakia in the short term, the country will have to acquire a system of its own to replace this capability lost in the long term, or else forgo it entirely. [3]

Slovakia is currently also considering donating its entire fleet of MiG-29 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, a move that would finally give heed to President Zelensky's long-standing request for additional fighter aircraft. [4] [5] While the actual merit of additional fighter aircraft to Ukraine is debatable (along with many of Zelensky's other requests for heavy weaponry), it is certain that the delivery of MiG-29s to Ukraine would be a huge morale boost to both its citizens and military, and finally satisfy Ukraine's most vocal request ever since Russia began its invasion on February 24.

The Slovak Air Force officially operates nine single-seat MiG-29AS fighters and two MiG-29UBS trainers out of Sliac air base in Central Slovakia. Only five MiG-29AS' and one MiG-29UBS are currently believed to be operational to meet a minimum requirement for air policing while the Air Force awaits their replacement by 12 single-seat and 2 double-seat F-16V Block 70/72s in 2023. All of Slovakia's MiG-29s were upgraded by RSK MiG to NATO standards between 2005 and 2008 and designated MiG-29AS and MiG-29UBS (S for Slovakia), but otherwise retain their original capabilities from when they were first delivered to Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s.
Unfortunately, this means the MiG-29AS' are actually less advanced than Ukraine's own 60-strong fleet of MiG-29 9.13s and MiG-29MU1s (an upgraded variant of the MiG-29 9.13), which has thus far suffered at least four (visually confirmed) losses during the 2022 invasion. [6] [7] Although Ukraine has been adamant that it needs additional fighter aircraft to defend its cities and ground forces against Russian aircraft and helicopters, such a task would arguably be better handled by additional mobile SAM systems. Despite popular perception, there has been little indication so far suggesting that Ukrainian fighter aircraft have managed to significantly disrupt the daily operations of the Russian Air Force.

Even though the U.S. had previously looked at Poland and Bulgaria to potentially secure a supply for additional MiG-29s to Ukraine, the MiG-29 is interestingly enough not on Ukraine's wishlist. In documents setting out the Ukrainian military's requests that were obtained by these authors, the desired aid would have included the delivery of brand-new F-15EXs, F-15SEs and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. Apart from the fact that the F-15SE 'Silent Eagle' was merely a proposal aircraft that was never built and that the USAF is only just receiving the first of its F-15EX Eagle IIs, such a request also completely ignores the fact that it would take months for Ukrainian personnel to become familiar with these types, let alone for them to learn tactics that would allow them to be effectively used.

Slovakia's MiG-29s wear this attractive pixelated camouflage pattern.

Earlier attempts at providing Ukraine with Poland's and Bulgaria's MiG-29s failed to come to fruition, presumably because such a delivery was judged too (politically) risky and cumbersome, especially when compared with the more simple (and politically safer) delivery of ground-based assets such as ATGMs and MANPADS. It's also possible that Poland likewise views the delivery of MiG-29s to Ukraine as excess to Ukraine's actual defensive needs. Combined with the fact that the Polish Air Force would quickly have to find replacements for the air defence capabilities lost by transferring its MiG-29s as tensions with Russia are at an all time high, it is no large surprise that the delivery never materialised.

The same considerations affect Slovakia, which has previously indicated that donation of its MiG-29s is only possible when guarantees are given that its airspace would still be protected after losing its entire fighter aircraft capability (at least until 2023). Such a guarantee could be realised by having the Polish or Czech Air Force take over Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties for Slovakia, or by temporarily stationing NATO aircraft in Slovakia to provide air policing duties instead.

If a transfer does take place, the aircraft will likely be stationed on air bases in Western Ukraine. Their dispersal and frequent relocation around the air base could significantly increase their survivability, and thereby force Russia to increase its current efforts to ground the Ukrainian Air Force. As Russia has still failed to do so after two months of war, there is little indication that they would soon be successful. Though the concrete contribution in terms of enemy equipment destroyed may not be substantial, the mere fact that the opposing side will need to adjust its operations to prevent losses can have a very real effect on the situation on the ground.

In terms of logistics and existing knowledge base, the potential Slovakian delivery would probably be the most realistic plan for air assets to be delivered to Ukraine so far. With pilots already trained on the type, and commonality of weaponry and infrastructure, a smooth transition into Ukrainian Air Force service is likely. This is true not in small part because the delivery can be expected to concern no more than a handful of aircraft, making their integration straightforward, but their potential impact limited.In this sense, the symbolism and heartening effect these aircraft can convey might well outstrip their actual combat efficacy.

Components of the S-300PMU battery on their way to Ukraine, April 8, 2022.

Slovakia has already proven that you don't need to be a large country with a sizeable military to provide meaningful materiel support. As other NATO countries like Germany and France have so far hold off on delivering heavy weaponry like AFVs and artillery to Ukraine, Central European countries like Slovakia, Poland and Czechia are picking up the slack and keeping Ukraine fighting. Whether Slovakia's MiG-29AS' will soon join the fray remains to be seen, though their inclusion in Slovakia's immaculate record of support is not needed to prove its status as one of the staunchest allies of freedom in Europe.

[1] Slovakia to send artillery ammunition, fuel worth 11 mln euros to Ukraine
[3] U.S. to place Patriot missile defense system in Slovakia to help with Ukraine swap
[4] Slovakia ready to donate MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine
[5] Slovakia in talks over possible transfer of MiG jets to Ukraine
[6] Guardians of the Ukraine: The Ukrainian Air Force Since 1992
[7] List Of Aircraft Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine   Slovakia in talks over possible transfer of MiG jets to Ukraine


Monday, 11 April 2022


By Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer
The following list attempts to keep track of heavy military equipment delivered or pledged to Ukraine during the 2022 Russian of invasion of Ukraine. The entries below are sorted by armament category (with a flag denoting the country of delivery), and due to the confidential nature of some arms deliveries they can serve only as a lower bound to the total volume of weaponry shipped to Ukraine. MANPADS, ATGMs and commercial UAVs are not included in this list. This list will be updated as further military support is declared or uncovered.

Saturday, 19 February 2022


By Thomas Nachtrab in collaboration with Stijn Mitzer
The S-125 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system gained wide popularity for its performance during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. Initially supplied to a number of countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, the S-125 (NATO designation: SA-3 'Goa') quickly found its way to a great number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as well. One of these countries was Mali, which received its S-125 systems somewhere during the early-to-mid 1980s.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
If any lessons can be drawn from the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, they are bound to revolve around the stunning effiency of cheap but highly effective unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and the failure of a wide array of air defence systems, both modern and old, to stop the onslaught brought about by them. For Armenia, the failure to acknowledge its impending defeat led it to fight a costly 44-day war of attrition, suffering severe losses that included some 250 tanks and more tragically, some 5.000 soldiers and reservists, many of which still in their late teens and early twenties. [1]

Nevertheless, the Armenian military could only be expected to be acutely aware of its shortcomings in an era of drone-powered warfare, and it certainly attempted to remedy them with the limited funds it had available. This mainly manifested itself in the acquisition of Russian electronic warfare (EW) systems meant to disrupt the operations of UAVs in one way or another, Tor-M2KM SAM systems that could operate as hunter-killer systems, and 35 9K33 Osa-AKs acquired from Jordan that despite their old age enabled the Armenian military to cover large swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh. As Armenia found out the hard way however, the aforementioned systems could do little but wait in agony as Bayraktar TB2s and loitering munitions began picking them off one by one.
Another method utilised by Armenia entailed the placing of decoy SAM systems nearby real SAM systems in order to lure attacking drones into targeting the decoys, thus saving the real systems from certain destruction. Although this act of 'maskirovka' was highly effective during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the numbers deployed by Armenia during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh were far too sparse to distract Azerbaijani forces from targeting operational SAM systems and thus have any actual impact on the course of the war. Still, the examples utilised stood out for their realistic depiction of the SAM system they were meant to replicate, even donning detailed camouflage patterns.
As the 9K33 Osa (NATO designation: SA-8 Gecko) was the most numerous SAM system within the Armenian Armed Forces (and by extension the Artsakh Defence Force, itself a de-facto part of the Armenian Army), it should come as no surprise that most of Armenia's decoys were based on this system. The 9K33 decoys are also the only decoy types confirmed to have successfully tricked Azerbaijani drone operators into striking them, which happened on the 30th of September 2020 at a 9K33 garrison near the small village of Papravənd (known as Nor Karmiravan by Armenia), in what was then still Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh. [2]

Being almost indiscernible from real 9K33s, two decoys parked in revetments (to mimic the deployment of an operational system) were struck by Israeli IAI Harop loitering munitions, resulting in their complete destruction. Unfortunately for Armenia, the operational systems located throughout the vicinity of the base fared little better, and together with the associated 9T217 transloaders were quickly annihilated by a combination of Bayraktar TB2s and IAI Harops. In total, Armenia lost at least 18 9K33 systems (16 destroyed, 2 captured) in addition to three 9T217 transloaders (two destroyed, one captured) during the course of the war. [1]

Interestingly, in the case of the few Tor-M2KM decoys known to have been produced, the eleborate camouflage pattern was actually indicative of their nature as decoys, as Armenian Tor SAM systems never received any kind of camouflage pattern after their arrival to the country in 2019. Furthermore, the decoys merely comprised the container-based launch system rather than also including the truck supposed to be carrying it. That said, it is unknown to what degree Azerbaijani drone operators were made familiar with the size and shapes of the SAM systems they were meant to track down and neutralise, and an overzealous drone operator could easily have mistaken a Tor-M2KM decoy for a real system. Only a single Tor-M2KM is confirmed to have been destroyed during the 44-day war, although this was likely because of the small numbers deployed by Armenia rather than the decoys that were meant to protect them. [1]

Left: An Armenian Tor-M2KM SAM system as it operated during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Right: An elaborate Tor-M2KM decoy featuring the standard camouflage pattern applied by Armenia on its military vehicles

Rather than placing the decoys throughout strategic locations in Nagorno-Karabakh, each posing as an operational 9K33 or Tor-M2KM system, the few decoys deployed by Armenia were positioned inside existing SAM garrisons. While this might ultimately have helped to prolong the career of a few other real 9K33 Osas by several minutes, it is almost certain that Armenia would have been better off by deploying the fake systems as standalone decoys throughout the entirety of occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Azerbaijan to spend valuable time and resources tracking and hunting those systems down while flying in the engagement envelope of a real SAM system nearby.
Of course, did not help that Bayraktar TB2s could fly circles above 9K33 garrisons (or any other Armenian SAM site for that matter), each containing some seven to eight launch vehicles with their radars turned on, all the while remaining unnoticed to the SAM systems below. This meant that the operators of the TB2s could keep hitting the SAM systems (and the decoys) until all systems were destroyed with no threat of being shot down, once more making painfully clear the obsolescence of the 9K33 in an era of drone-powered warfare.

Armenia's decoys may have been deployed in far too small numbers to affect the course of the war, both sides will surely study their effectiveness and use the lessons learned in potential future wars. Modern optics may have changed the way (aerial) warfare is conducted, decoys have and will continue to change alongside, and a renewed conflict could well see greater numbers deployed, equipped for instance with features such infrared heat signatures to make them even harder to discern from operational systems. Now made aware of the presence of decoys, Azerbaijan will look for ways to identify them beforehand, for example by studying satellite imagery of SAM garrisons and by training its drone operators to discern decoy systems from the real ones.

That said, with the price of MAM-L munitions for the Bayraktar TB2 being comparatively low, the question arises whether the deployment of large numbers of decoys can really have a significant impact on a future conflict. UCAVs like the Bayraktar Akinci and TAI Aksungur can carry 24 and 12 MAM-Ls each, which is sufficient to destroy several SAM sites together with their radars and any decoys. So long as Armenia, or any other nation in the world that faces a comparable threat, lacks the means to successfully counter drones like the TB2, mass deployment of decoys would yield little results but to force the opposing side to stock up on munitions. To a country like Azerbaijan, there is little to disincentivise from doing precisely so, and taking the cost of effective decoys in account and the disparity in assets available to the two parties any decoy destroyed may end up being a net positive. Of course, if they evaded destruction they would have failed their mission regardless; such is the life of a decoy.