TechUkraine's struggles prompt innovative FrankenSAM air defense solution

Ukraine's struggles prompt innovative FrankenSAM air defense solution

Ukrainian FrankenSAM anti-aircraft system based on the post-Soviet Buk-M1 integrated with Western missiles.
Ukrainian FrankenSAM anti-aircraft system based on the post-Soviet Buk-M1 integrated with Western missiles.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Ukrainian Front

6:13 PM EDT, May 28, 2024

Ukraine is facing significant challenges with its air defense and missile defense systems due to inadequate equipment deliveries from the West and the depletion of its stockpile of post-Soviet missiles. To address this gap, Ukraine has attempted to create hybrids of post-Soviet systems with Western missiles, referred to as FrankenSAM.

Acquiring missiles for post-Soviet systems is very difficult since they were typically produced solely on Russian territory. On the other hand, Ukraine's equipment deliveries so far have come from the stockpiles of countries looking to dispose of their post-Soviet systems (mainly countries on NATO's eastern flank) or those willing to sell them.

The second category includes countries like Jordan, which provided Ukraine with missiles for the 9K33 Osa or 9K35 Strela-10 systems. However, the list of such countries is quite small, and, for example, Greece and Bulgaria, which possess a substantial stockpile of post-Soviet missiles, are not inclined to part with them easily.

For this reason, the idea emerged to adapt post-Soviet systems to handle Western missiles, a concept already explored in Poland and the Czech Republic in the 2020s. Information about the use of such hybrids in Ukraine has been circulating for a few months, but only recently did a photo of the FrankenSAM system, based on the Buk-M1 system paired with RIM-7 Sea Sparrow or RIM-162 ESSM missiles, leak online.

Ukrainian FrankenSAM: possibly based on the work of Polish and Czech engineers

Modernization programs carried out in Poland in the 2000s, such as those by the Military Armament Works No. 2 in Grudziądz (WZU-2), which developed and presented a launcher for the 2K12 Kub system integrated with RIM-7 Sea Sparrow / RIM-162 ESSM missiles during the 2007 MSPO trade fair, may have been very helpful to the Ukrainian effort.

On the Czech side, the company RETIA, in cooperation with MBDA, executed a similar project based on AIM-7E or Aspide 2000 missiles. These systems could engage targets at distances of approximately 19 to 31 miles, depending on the missiles used, and at altitudes up to about 9 miles.

It can be presumed that after the war in Ukraine broke out, the mentioned companies might have provided their documentation or even actively participated in the development of the Ukrainian FrankenSAM system.

The most significant challenge was adapting the Soviet radar, which operates on different frequencies than the radar used in RIM-7 Sea Sparrow and RIM-162 ESSM missiles, and updating the air defense system software for missiles with different flight characteristics. Radar components from the USA or Europe were probably utilized.

It is worth noting that the mentioned missiles do not have their own radar transmitters and rely on the launcher's radar to guide them to illuminated targets. This older and cheaper solution requires continuous target tracking by the radar until impact.

These systems are not top-tier but sufficient for combating attack aircraft, helicopters, large drones, or cruise missiles. Additionally, a significant advantage is the availability of RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles or other variants like the AIM-7 Sparrow in NATO countries.

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