Thursday, December 8, 2022

Lessons from Ukraine: Lethal Air Defence Deployment is a Real Thing


Recently, the Ukrainian military retook Lyman, a major city in the Donetsk region, which Moscow annexed only days prior to Kyiv’s counteroffensive.

Until this point, a combination of precision strikes from land, well-trained infantry, and an effective use of drones and cruise missiles all contributed to Ukraine’s success. However, there is no doubt that the clear deprecation of Russia’s air power has also been critical.

Although narratives like the “Ghost of Kyiv” fill headlines and drive conversations, Ukraine’s ground-based air defence systems (GBADS) were critical to restraining Russia’s air power. Reports peg some of Russia’s recent losses (i.e., including a Su-30SM and Su-34) to man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS).

These losses seemed to have occurred due to several factors. Firstly, Ukraine’s medium-to-long-range air defence systems forced Russia’s combat aircraft to fly lower than they should. Secondly, Ukraine used its MANPADS to target the low-flying Russian aircraft.

This outcome suggests that a multi-layered GBADS can erode enemy air power, if not create an anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) situation. For its part, Ukraine is deftly deploying its GBADS assets, even though its largely reliant on older surface-to-air missiles (SAM) like older S-300 and Buk variants.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s has been vocal about his country’s need for modern fighter aircraft. But through its skillful air defence deployments, Ukraine is, once again, imparting valuable insights for other countries to follow for their requirements in the coming years.

The Wartime Evolution of Ukraine’s Air Defence Environment

At the start of the war, the bulk of Ukraine’s GBADS assets comprised of legacy systems, particularly older variants of the S-300 long-range SAM, the Buk-M medium-range SAM, and the Igla short-range/MANPAD systems, among others. Mostly inherited from the era of the Soviet Union, these SAMs formed the bulk or mainstay of Ukraine’s air defence assets prior to war, and for much of the conflict up to this point.

Stormer HVM

Short-range air defense missile system

The Stormer HVM (High Velocity Missile) is a short-range air defense system. It was developed primarily to counter the threat of attack helicopters and low-flying aircraft posed to armored formations. This air defense system is in service with the British Army.

“The first six Stormer HVM air defense systems have arrived at the front in Ukraine. The British ‘invisible’ Stormer HVM air defense systems can ‘see’ enemy attack aircraft at a distance of up to 18 km,” the post reads.

According to the report, these systems are called “invisible” because of their ability to guide missiles at the target in semi-automatic mode.

“This makes the air defense system in the literal sense of the word ‘invisible’ to onboard sensors on enemy helicopters and aircraft,” the report said.

Applicability to Pakistan

Ukraine’s success may drive Pakistan to bolster its own GBADS investments. In fact, each of the tri-services is already allocating resources towards this area. However, after seeing how an adept GBADS can support an A2/AD posture in Ukraine, Pakistan might reinforce its focus in this area.

For example, the mainstay short-to-medium-range SAMs of the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) – i.e., LY-80 and Spada 2000, respectively – are SARH-based systems. So, Pakistan may observe how Ukraine fares using the ARH and IIR-based SAMs. If the results are good, Pakistan might adopt comparable ARH and IIR-based options from China, Turkey, and potentially even Western Europe.


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