Ukraine is now looking into acquiring the Indian co-developed surface-to-air missile (SAM) system to protect and counter the Russian missile rain phase that has been overwhelming the former’s air defense (AD) systems in recent weeks.
Since last week, the current Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU)-operated AD platforms, including the Soviet-era Buk and S-300, have struggled to keep up with Russian bombardment. Not to mention how these missile raids are dangerously depleting Ukraine’s limited AD projectiles.
The air defense of Ukraine has been a weakness since the beginning of the invasion, especially after the aggressor shut down most of its defense manufacturing industry earlier in the war. This led Kyiv to rely solely on foreign weapons, ammunition, and missiles from the US and its Western allies. Compare this to Russia, which despite losing several of its military hardware and ammo depots, has the capacity to continue producing more through its advanced defense industry.
Kyiv has long been requesting for the Indo-Israeli jointly developed Barak-8 along with another Israeli-built AD system, the revered Iron Dome. The Barak-8, also called the Medium Range SAM System (MR-SAM), was a collaborative effort between the Israeli Aerospace Industries (IMI) and India’s Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO) for the latter’s armed forces. This MR-SAM can destroy jets, missiles, helicopters, and drones within a 70 km range and has the capability to simultaneously receive and process updates on the position and flight trajectory of the target and automatically adjust according to the information gathered that would best intercept and destroy its mark.
According to news reports, Israel has been “unwilling” to sell defensive weapons to Ukraine, fearing a backlash in Syria, where Russia may give Iranian militias and the Syrian Arab Army free rein. Jerusalem and Moscow have a “deconfliction mechanism” in Damascus, where both are on opposite sides in the eleven-year-old civil war—a risk the former does not want to take despite expressing sympathy for Kyiv’s plight.
Ukraine has successfully defended itself since the beginning of the war, shooting down several Russian missiles and jets like the Su-35, Su-37, Su-35, and Su-25 with the assistance of the Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS), a portable SAM known to be lethal to low-flying aircraft. However, these AD has struggled to take down smaller, more unpredictable land attack cruise missiles (LACMs) such as the 3M-54 Kalibr (Russian cruise missiles that can carry a warhead weighing up to 500 kg of explosives or a thermonuclear warhead and can be launched in a supersonic sprint) and the X-101 (also Kh-101, a Russian SAM strategic cruise missile using radar signature reduction technologies) and X-555 (also Kh-55, a Russian subsonic air-launched cruise missile capable of reaching a range of up to 2,500 km at extremely low altitudes and can carry nuclear warheads).
With this, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has persistently asked its Western allies for an “air shield” to counter and defend against the Russian bombardments.
“I am asking you to strengthen the overall effort to help financially create an air shield for Ukraine. Millions of people will be grateful to the Group of Seven for such assistance,” he said in the video address.
Aside from its outdated and depleting AD, Kyiv is also facing the dilemma between choosing what and where its very limited AD resources should be positioned: in the cities protecting its civilian areas and infrastructures or in the frontline alongside its fighting troops.
Most of its existing air defense has long moved to the countryside and left the cities unprotected as it waits for the SAM system from the West—becoming what some analysts identify as “a classic intersection of defense, industrial, and diplomatic hurdles.”
The Barak-8 is not the only AD system Ukraine is looking at, as it primarily asked for the US-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) that can hit targets up to 300 km away. Instead received and used Lockheed Martin’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), which has a maximum range of nearly 85 km. CNN reported last month that the Biden administration has been reluctant to provide the requested ATACMS to Kyiv, believing the move might be considered by the Kremlin as an escalation.
Similarly, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) had the predicament with the same concern that, if supplied to Ukraine, would be “extremey escalatory,” which it was as it frustrated the Russian troops as it lost several of its military equipment and vital ammunition, as well as concerns that Kyiv might use the artillery to attack inside Russia. It was until Ukraine assured that it would not be doing the latter that Washington approved the delivery of HIMARS into the struggling country.