Air Defense: NASAMS For Central Europe


September 26, 2020: Hungary recently ordered a billion dollars’ worth of NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System). These NASAMS batteries will become part of an air defense network controlled by the Surface-to-Air Missile Operations Center purchased in 2018. NASAMS will allow Hungary to phase-out Cold War era Russian 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful) systems.

The NASAMS deal consists of two parts. The first one is for $230 million for 60 American AIM-120C-7/C-8 AMRAAM-ER missiles and two spare AIM-120C-7/C-8 AMRAAM-ERs together with related equipment. The new missile will supplement 180 AIM–120C-7 AMRAAMs bought last year. These air-to-air missiles are also used by NASAMS as ground-to-air missiles. The other part of deal obtains the NASMS launchers and control equipment.

NASAMS was developed by Norway in the early 1990s and entered service in 1998. Norway pioneered the use of AMRAAM air-to-air missiles as a surface-to-air weapon and developed the fire control and launcher equipment needed make it all work. It was a simple but very effective use of air-to-air missiles for air defense. Other air-to-air missiles have been used for ground-based air defense systems but the Norwegian version is seen as the best of the lot. Norway has six NASAMS batteries for its own defense. Spain, Holland, Chile, and the United States, Finland and Lithuania also use NASAMS.

NASAMS was initially developed for the Norwegian Air Force by Norwegian firm Kongsberg, in cooperation with American partner Raytheon, which produces AMRAAM. A major upgrade, NASAMS 2, officially entered service in 2007 and since then has gained interest in more nations.

NASAMS popularity is due to a truly open architecture that, unlike competiting systems, allows NASMS to be used with a wide variety of radars. Initially NASAMS used the American made MPQ-64 Sentinel radar but some customers requested a system that can work with different radars and air-to-air missiles. Currently NASAMS has been tested and configured to work with more than 25 different radar systems and can fire just about any air-to-air missile that can be fired from NATO aircraft. All that is required is modifications to the size and electrical connections in the NASAMS launcher cells and software modification of the fire control system. Since NATO has long-established standards for “NATO weapons”, NASAMS takes full advantage of this.

So far NASAMS has been configured with AIM-120 AMRAAM (together with the longer-range ER variant), AIM-9X Sidewinder and the European IRIS-T. The last one is an interesting story. The Norway has a big stock of IRIS-T for their F-16 fighters but the new Norwegian F-35 is not compatible IRIS-T, so they decided to use this very modern European missile as an anti-aircraft missile in NASAMS systems. This example clearly shows how flexible this system is while the competitor systems are “tied” to a limited number of missiles and radar.

A typical NASAMS battery consists of 12 launcher vehicles (each carrying six missiles), eight radar vehicles, one fire control center, and one tactical control vehicle.

The Hungarians are the most recent evidence that this tactical versatility provided by NASAMS open architecture design is highly sought after. Thanks to the new system Hungarians will be able to engage targets at range about 20/40 kilometers (all depends on missile version used) and at attitude up to 15 kilometers. -- Przemysław Juraszek




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