Ukraine’s Hawk missiles set for revamp: US greenlights gear sale

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On Tuesday, April 9, 2024, the US Department of Defense’s Military Cooperation Agency announced its plan to supply Ukraine’s HAWK Phase III air defense system with maintenance and repair kits. This information was confirmed in a press release from the department. 

Photo credit: Reddit

The delivery includes essential resources for the maintenance and repair of various parts of this anti-aircraft system. Furthermore, the kit contains technical documents and support services supplied by the US. A portion of the delivery will also include equipment sourced from US Army depots. Leading this operation is the Massachusetts-based RTX Corporation. 

The HAWK anti-aircraft missile system has been part of the US military since the 1960s. Throughout its deployment, several enhancements have been made to the system. The Marine Corps was the last of the US armed forces to use the HAWK system, concluding their usage in 2002. 

The HAWK system serves as a medium-range complex. It features a maximum target reach of 40 km when using the upgraded missile system, with a minimum range of just 1 km. It’s capable of hitting targets at a maximum height of 18 km, and as low as 0.03 km. Each HAWK battery setup comprises between 6 and 9 launchers, a collection of radar stations, command units, and associated vehicles.

Spanish and American HAWKs

Recently, it was revealed that the Spanish government supplied the Ukrainian forces with one unit of the HAWK air defense system. An announcement on October 5, 2023, stated that an additional six launchers would soon be delivered. Similarly, in February 2023, the American government revealed the dispatch of two launchers from the same system to Ukraine. The United States has, on several occasions, confirmed the allocation of anti-aircraft-guided missiles for the HAWK system to the Ukrainian armed forces.  

The public interest in this particular Surface-to-Air Missile [SAM] system within the Ukrainian community was reignited in October of the previous year. A video was released by the Air Force Command demonstrating the use of the HAWK system against Russian targets. This publicly introduced the American air defense system, nearly a year after initial reports of its installation and transition to Ukraine by the US and its allied nations.  

The majority of the military aid packages provided to Ukraine, including equipment and weaponry, are openly stated by the donating governments. However, the exact details regarding the quantity and specific types of this aid are intentionally veiled due to security considerations.

The system remains relevant

Photo credit: Army Spc. Adam Garlington

It’s important to note, that some of the equipment that the US expects to acquire will be sourced from Taiwan, specifically the Phase III systems. This decision stems from their recent decommissioning, which ensures that the purchased equipment is in satisfactory technical condition. 

Therefore, the primary component of the Ukrainian Hawk anti-aircraft system fleet will likely consist of third-generation units. These units received the necessary upgrades in the late 1980s and throughout the early 1990s. 

Notwithstanding its age, the Hawk system maintains relevance due to the extensive upgrades made to the Phase III version in the 90s. This overhaul saw the complete replacement of the element base with digital counterparts and also included the addition of new radars and command posts.

Photo credit: Reddit

Swedish RBS 97

In 2023, a significant development was issued by the Swedish government, announcing the deployment of an unspecified number of their enhanced Hawk systems, known since 2006 as RBS 97. The Swedish variant comprises two fire units, each featuring a pair of M-192 launchers, alongside a powerfully upgraded AN/MPQ-61 illumination radar. 

Notably, each squad boasts its very own Giraffe AMB 3D surveillance radar. This radar integrates with a command center on the same platform. This integration enables the fire squads to operate independently, freeing them from the constraints of a central battery. 

Photo credit: SoldF

The Hawk air defense system’s most significant advantage and key to its prowess is its high yield in production. Extra advantage is also abundant reservoir of unassigned anti-aircraft missiles stored in allied nations. This results in the rapid construction of an extensive air defense network, offering the potential for a virtually infinite missile reserve to defend against a variety of drones and cruise missiles. 

Efficiency

The third-generation anti-aircraft systems, while certainly not outmatched by the Buk-M1 and S-125 in terms of range and altitude, still pose a formidable defense against most airborne threats in Ukraine’s sky. Nevertheless, the relative age of these systems can be seen as a significant disadvantage. Reports have even suggested that some of these transferred systems may not be fully operational. 

There’s a substantial shortage of certain parts for the Hawk’s SAM, and the high demand for these components is worsened by natural system wear and tear. The fact that the warranties on these rockets have long since expired only adds to the problem. Even after meticulous examination and modification, the rockets are not immune to issues during launch. Every launch carries the inherent risk of missile damage, further emphasizing the need for redundancy in these air defense modules. 

Given their characteristics, using these anti-aircraft systems as the first line of defense might be challenging. However, they could impart an invaluable boost and extension to existing air defenses for cities and crucial infrastructures located in the rear.

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