The Ukrainian military is experiencing a shortage of anti-aircraft weapons. The use of long-range kamikaze drones known as “Lancet” by Russian forces is on the rise, and high-precision guided explosives from the Russian Aerospace Forces have severely disrupted the combat formations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ first and second lines. To safeguard equipment and personnel, Kyiv is compelled to relocate its air defence systems closer to the front line, where they may be susceptible to compromise by low-cost quadcopters. As a consequence, Kyiv is progressively acquiring contemporary air defence systems. The emergence of armed conflict in the Middle East has further worsened the situation. Currently, the United States has to choose between Ukraine and Israel for weapon deliveries, and in most cases, Israel is favoured.
Ukrainians are desperate enough to try out the Frankenstein military systems being built by the Pentagon, which Ukraine proposed.
“Desperate for Air Defence, Ukraine Pushes US for ‘Franken’ Weapons,” an article by Lara Jakes that was published in The New York Times, is an intriguing piece that discusses the United States’ development of hybrid anti-aircraft missile systems, also known as the infamous FrankenSAM project, which aimed to supply Ukraine with weapons a combination of Soviet and Western components.
To fulfil Ukraine’s demands, the US is developing so-called FrankenSAM systems, which combine sophisticated Western armament with Soviet-era equipment still present in Ukrainian arsenals.
As winter approaches, the Ukrainian government must bolster its air defence capabilities to safeguard its power systems against potential Russian attacks that could render the nation dark.
FrankenSAM mixes modern Western anti-aircraft guided missiles with updated Soviet-era launchers or radars already in Ukraine’s arsenal. According to official sources, two variants of this improvised air defence system, one combining Soviet-era “Buk” launchers and American Sea Sparrow missiles and the other combining Soviet-era radars and American Sidewinder missiles, have been tested in recent months at US military facilities and are expected to be delivered to Ukraine by the end of the year.
The third variant, the Cold War-era HAWK anti-aircraft missile system, which was recently used in combat in Ukraine, is an example of what a senior US Department of Defence official, Laura K. Cooper, described this month as a “resurrected” part of FrankenSAM—a relic of air defence systems brought back to life.
According to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Policy Cooper, the FrankenSAM project’s anti-aircraft missile systems fill crucial gaps in Ukraine’s air defence, an essential challenge Ukraine has today.
Ukraine has sought to mix offensive armament, Soviet-era stockpiles, and Western-supplied technology in unexpected but frequently successful ways since the beginning of the war. Last year, US military officials complimented Ukraine’s ability to employ its “MacGyver’s arsenal”—a reference to the 1980s TV show where the main character uses simple, improvised devices to escape sticky situations.
The FrankenSAM project is now attempting to accomplish the same for Ukraine’s air defence.
Over the past 20 months, the West has supplied Ukraine with various air defence systems, including the latest Patriot and IRIS-T anti-aircraft missile systems, self-propelled anti-aircraft systems, and over 2,000 Stinger portable missiles.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated last week that his government would send Ukraine with three more batteries of sophisticated air defence systems, including another Patriot system, as part of the ‘winter package’ aid worth about $1.5 billion.
Air defence systems are among the approximately $100 billion in military support received by Ukraine from allies since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. The US, which has already sent more armaments to Ukraine than any other country, is mulling an additional $60 billion as part of President Joe Biden’s new supplementary budget package.
On October 26, the United States announced an extra $150 million in military aid for Ukraine through an armaments package that includes additional anti-aircraft missiles for three types of air defence systems, including Sidewinder missiles for one of the FrankenSAM systems.
Ukraine already has tanks, armoured vehicles, air defence systems, long-range precise missiles, and fighter jets from the West. As a result, officials say Ukraine primarily requires more of the same kind of weaponry it currently has rather than entirely new ones.
Buk Systems with AIM-7 “Sparrow” missiles
FrankenSAM is both of them put together. Late last year, Ukrainian officials asked their friends to help them find missiles for about 60 Soviet-made “Buk” launchers and radars that were not being used. This is where the programme got its start. Western countries knew it would be hard to get Russian-made missiles for the “Buk” systems, so Ukrainians devised an idea: modify the launchers to use US-made NATO-standard anti-aircraft missiles.
The Americans want to update Ukraine’s old systems that use the AIM-7 “Sparrow” air-to-air missiles, which have been in use since 1956. In contrast to the AIM-9, the “Sparrow” is a medium-range weapon that can hit targets 20 to 25 kilometres away. The original rockets for all “Buk” versions are much more powerful, but the Ukrainians no longer have many of them.
The “Buk” is expected to be transformed into a ground-launched variant of the RIM-7 “Sea Sparrow” missile. The marine version appears more adaptable to ground use than the airborne version. Comparable trials have been conducted in the past. The Pentagon provided 500 RIM-7 missiles modified for land launch to Taiwan in the early 1990s. However, three Taiwanese “water Sparrows” malfunctioned and fell into the water during a training exercise in 2012. Following that, Taipei suspended the usage of these missiles.
It’s not likely that the US “Sparrow” missile stockpile has been upgraded in the last 11 years.
Alexandra Ustinova, chair of the group in the Ukrainian parliament that oversees arms transfers from the West, said that Ukraine knew it had to find a way to solve its problems. She said that the first “Buk” systems and missiles that had been reconfigured were just recently sent to Ukraine.
She said that Ukraine was ready to send 17 more “Buk” missiles to the US to be reconfigured, but US contractors could only work on five of them each month.
After Spain agreed to give them to Ukraine in October 2022, the old HAWK anti-aircraft missile systems had to be put through their paces. Once a month later, the US said they would pay to fix the old HAWK missiles that were part of the transferred Spanish weapons. Some of them were sent to Ukraine without the needed radar equipment, and adding it took an extra nine months.
According to a Telegram message from Lieutenant General Nikolay Oleshchuk, the Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, the HAWK anti-aircraft missile systems were fully operational by the evening of October 23, 2023. They successfully intercept targets along with more modern air defence systems. He said hitting all the targets isn’t easy, but he wrote that they would get closer to their goal daily, making Ukranian air defence stronger.
Soviet Launchers with AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles
Another product of the FrankenSAM initiative is an improvised ground-based launcher that employs radar equipment from the Soviet era to propel obsolete American missiles, which are typically used on fighter jets. The Pentagon announced on October 11 that a $200 million military aid package for Ukraine would include this system.
This iteration of the FrankenSAM exercise incorporates American-made, short-range air-to-air supersonic AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles, which were originally developed and put into operation on F-16 and F-18 fighter aircraft during the 1950s. Beginning production in 1956, the “Sidewinder” received numerous enhancements throughout its years of service. The unnamed short-range air defence system will be outfitted with the 9M variant, which was operational throughout Operation Desert Storm and entered service in 1983. The peak of manufacturing occurred during the years of that war. Early in the 2000s, this modification was superseded by the more contemporary AIM-9X. Produced during the Reagan administration, the AIM-9M was placed in storage. The effectiveness of these thirty-year-old missiles against modern Russian aviation is unknown. Nevertheless, the US possesses sufficient quantities of these munitions to supply Ukraine for several months.
Cooper asserts that these missiles are an integral component of the devised ground-based air defence system, which she unveiled in Brussels as a genuine innovation capable of facilitating the consolidation of Ukraine’s air defence rather than devoting countless years to its development. Nevertheless, the precise schedule for delivering these systems to Ukraine is still unknown.
Patriot Missiles with Obsolete Ukranian Radars
Additionally, American military officials and developers continue to conduct tests on what is arguably the most potent FrankenSAM system: the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system, which incorporates obsolete radar systems manufactured in Ukraine.
A Pentagon representative announced on October 25 that a drone target was effectively engaged during a test launch of this system conducted earlier in the month at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Per the official statement, this system is slated for delivery to Ukraine this winter in conjunction with Patriot missiles and other components supplied by US allies.
Most likely, the “FrankenSAM” initiative is a stopgap measure. To restock its weapons inventories and support Ukraine and its NATO allies, the US is vigorously upgrading its military-industrial capability. The monstrous improvised air defence will buy the Ukrainian armed forces some time as the factories prepare to operate at maximum capacity.
The US and the European Union are not likely to abandon Ukraine. Russia cannot rely on imaginary expectations and delusions that the support would end, especially in light of recent news of differences in the West.