By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization
(Washington D.C.) With more Bradley Fighting Vehicles, tanks, Humvees and even Strykers on the way, the Pentagon’s most recent $2.5 billion support package to Ukraine contains some potentially lesser recognized yet extremely significant assistance…. air defenses.
“History is watching us,” were the strong words spoken in Germany by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin when addressing the 50-plus nation Ukraine Contact Group to announce the latest Pentagon support package for Ukraine.
“This is a crucial moment,” Austin said in a press availability Jan. 20. “Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip. This is not a moment to slow down: It’s a time to dig deeper. The Ukrainian people are watching us. The Kremlin is watching us. And history is watching us.”
Alongside more armored vehicles and the standard or more long standing support items such as artillery and ammunition, the Pentagon is making a strong move to step up air defenses. This most recent package includes new National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems and eight Avenger air-defense systems, according to a recent Pentagon report.
“Our new package provides even more air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its cities and its skies,” Austin added.
While the Ukrainians have been receiving some NASMs already, this increase seems quite significant in a number of key respects, particularly given that neither Ukraine or Russia has established air superiority. This has been, and continues to be, a somewhat unexpected mystery of the Russian invasion, given that they have hundreds more fighter jets than Ukraine. However, Ukrainian air-war resolve and tenacity, air defenses and perhaps a Russian reluctance to take risk may potentially be reasons. Also, Russia has largely relied upon long-range ground rockets to attack Ukrainian neighborhoods, children and infrastructure throughout the country.
While more air defenses will certainly help Ukraine prevent Russia from gaining air superiority, there is yet another potentially lesser recognized tactical aspect to Ukraine’s acquisition of Ukrainian air-defenses and Avenger air-defense systems. As a vehicle-mounted counter-air system, Avenger missiles would prove optimal for attacking Russian helicopters, drones, some low-flying fixed wing and even incoming ground fired missiles. NASMs, and Avengers in particular could prove useful alongside the Patriot missile as weapons, radar and fire control systems able to track and intercept many of Russia’s ground-fired rockets.
Many of Russia’s attacks have been with both precision and non-precision ground-fired rockets capable of reaching 200-to-300 km in some cases, placing the launchers well beyond the reach of traditional 155mm artillery which typically travels roughly 30 km. This is why the arrival of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and HIMARS rockets have proven so impactful, as it would seem they give Ukraine the ability to destroy Russia’s missile launchers. Ukraine certainly has and benefits from ISR, and can therefore track and destroy some Russian launchers from reachable distances with GMLRS and HIMARS. Many have said the arrival of GMLRS and HIMARS have proven paradigm-changing in the war. Similarly, the arrival of NASMs and Avengers could also be quite impactful.
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Yet another factor to consider is the recent addition of the Patriot missile, as that could prove critical with efforts to stop incoming Russian rockets and cruise missiles. Modernized Patriot missiles are well-positioned to track and intercept some of the weapons now being fired by Russia. The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 is an advanced kinetic energy hit-to-kill interceptor surface-to-air missile designed to knock out incoming threats and protect ground forces, buildings and other assets. As a kinetic energy interceptor, the weapon relies upon the sheer force of impact to destroy approaching enemy attacks and does not need to use explosives – thus the “hit-to-kill” description.
While it may have emerged as a Scud killer in Desert Storm, today’s Patriot is almost an entirely new weapon. Software upgrades going back many years, some referred to as Missile Segment Enhancement, have improved the guidance and intercept technology of the weapon, In more recent years, Raytheon radar upgrades have enabled Patriot missiles to simultaneously track and destroy two maneuvering cruise missiles. To intercept an incoming missile, it steers towards a predetermined intercept point chosen by its ground-based fire solution computer, selects the proper trajectory, and then applies a direct, body-to-body hit on the target.
Warrior spoke with Daryl Youngman, deputy director of the Air and Missile Defense Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command in August 2021 about the progress of these innovations. Enhanced Patriot connectivity is an integral part of the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS), an air and cruise missile defense system that connects targeting and sensor nodes across a wide operational envelope. Youngman said that during one assessment, the IBCS system networked Patriot missile batteries to other ground nodes and F-35 Lightning II fighter jets.
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Does Ukraine Need Even More Armor
The arrival of Bradleys is certainly welcome and likely to be paradigm-changing as Ukraine continues its counterattacks and seeks to reclaim and hold territory, a development supported by many Humvees, tactical trucks, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and other transport and logistical support systems to advance forces into territories previously held by Russia.
This latest $2.5 billion package, announced by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Germany, includes 59-more Bradleys, as many as 90 Strykers and 350 Humvees. More tanks are reportedly on the way as well from other allied nations as well, something likely to be of critical value for Ukrainians.
There may be a need for an even greater volume of armored and tactical vehicles, given the pure numbers associated with the Russian force, however the Bradleys arriving thus far are likely to give Ukrainians a previously unprecedented ability to “breach” a Russian perimeter, close to contact with enemy and “mass” the kinds of heavier mechanized forces necessary to hold new ground.
While Russian forces have of course had strategic, tactical, logistical and morale problems, they do have sheer numbers, therefore it seems there may be a need for Ukrainians to “mass” armored forces to an even greater extent to propel their counterattacks and ultimately prevail. Bradleys and Stykers will clearly need tank support to maximize Combined Arms Maneuver effectiveness.
This latest Pentagon support effort may be the first time “Strykers” were sent to Ukraine, something which will greatly fortify arriving Bradleys. As wheeled vehicles, Strykers can reach speeds up to 60 mph or faster, much more than Bradleys which are tracked, so they can be impactful when it comes to using roads and existing infrastructure to advance infantry and firepower.
It would be interesting to see which Stryker variants are sent, as there are reconnaissance variants which could prove vital when it comes to locating or “targeting” Russian formations for advancing ground forces. There is also the standard Stryker infantry carrier which can of course reach impactful speeds advancing into enemy territory with both 30mm cannon firepower and armed infantry. It would be interesting to learn which Stryker variants Ukraine is receiving because they may be the more recently modernized vehicles with “air-burst” 30mm ammunition for “area” attacks and dispersed fragmentation to increase anti-personnel lethality.
Perhaps some of the Strykers on the way are Short Range Air Defense or SHORAD-capable as well. SHORAD arms Strykers with a previously unprecedented counter-air capability to fire HELLFIRE missiles against enemy drones and helicopters while on the move in combat. Should these be arriving, which may be less likely given they have only emerged with the US Army in the last several years, it would certainly complement the additional air defenses now arriving with this latest package in the form of Avengers and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems.
Regardless, looking at what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine, it seems much more armor such as Bradleys, Strykers and tanks may be necessary. While drones, precision fires such as rockets and 155mm artillery continue to have a massive impact in blunting, slowing down or in some cases destroying and stopping Russian attackers, Ukrainian forces will likely still need more pure “mass.”
Sun Tzu’s famous “mass matters” in war quote remains as true today to a certain extent as it did centuries ago. When countering a larger mechanized force, regardless of its tactical and technological proficiency, having a force large enough to break through, advance and hold territory will clearly be essential for a longer-term Ukrainian victory. This is particularly true in Ukraine as, at least thus far, neither Ukrainians or Russians are believed to operate with air supremacy, a reality which makes ground targeting and mechanized advances even more critical to combat success.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky addressed the group to express his thanks for the large measure of international support and say more is needed at this crucial time. A Pentagon report says Zelensky asked the international supporters to “remember “the world your parents dreamed of for you. And I’m addressing those who themselves dream of a certain world for their children. It is time now to protect those dreams.”
“People who dream that freedom will be protected for Ukraine for all of Europe for each and every coalition country,” Zelensky said. “It is about people who believe that evil and hatred will always lose. The Kremlin must lose.”
Kris Osborn is President of Warrior Maven – the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.