Air Defense: Hawk SAM in Ukraine


February 9, 2023: Ukraine has requested more anti-aircraft weapons and in response they are receiving Patriot systems as well as some of the older Hawk (Homing all the way killer) systems. Hawk entered service in 1959 and was the predecessor of Patriot, which entered service in 1984 and had largely, but not completely, replaced Hawk by the late 1990s. Many Hawk users found that their updated Hawk systems were adequate for their current needs. Many HAWK users that adopted Patriot, kept their I (for Improved) Hawk systems in storage just in case they needed more air defense systems in some future conflict. This is where the I Hawk systems for Ukraine are coming from. I Hawk systems have improved (digital) fire control systems. More efficient radars (in terms of effectiveness and reliability) were introduced as well as a improved missiles. Development of I Hawk began in 1970 and continued even after Patriot arrived because I Hawk capabilities were close to those of Patriot, including the ability to intercept ballistic missiles. Patriot did everything I Hawk could do, but with less items of equipment and a missile that could hit targets three times farther away than Hawk could reach.

Patriot now has more combat experience than Hawk and is justifiably described as more effective than Hawk. Patriot has been unable to render the I Hawk obsolete and that is expected to be the case in Ukraine. The Russians consider I Hawk a threat and blocked Israel from sending its I Hawk missiles to Ukraine. Russian can do this because Israel needs Russian support in blocking the Iranian anti-Israel efforts in Syria and Lebanon. Fortunately, there are many other American allies with I Hawk batteries and missiles in storage and available for use in Ukraine. Spain is currently training Ukrainian soldiers how to operate I Hawk.

Hawk batteries each have six towed launchers carrying three of the 590 kg (1,290 pound) Hawk missiles. In addition, there are radar, control center and maintenance vehicles. Since the 1960s over 40,000 Hawk missiles were produced and bought by the nearly 30 countries that used (or still use) Hawk. While Hawk has been upgraded since it entered service in 1959, some countries have gone beyond that. Back in 2011, South Korea revealed that it was working on Iron Hawk II anti-aircraft missile system and some early models were built to replace three existing U.S. Hawk missile battalions being withdrawn from service. South Korea found I Hawk useful against North Korea along the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that serves as the border, and any airborne threats from North Korea are within its 50 kilometer range. Spain and the United States are providing the first I Hawk systems going to Ukraine. Other NATO countries have I Hawk systems in storage and these may be sent as well if the first systems in Ukraine perform well.

In Ukraine the modern Russian air defense systems like S300 and S400 are vulnerable to Ukrainian countermeasures, especially with the more effective radar destruction weapons supplied by NATO nations. This enables air defense systems like I Hawk to keep Russian aircraft away and deny the Russians air superiority or even use of much Ukrainian airspace. For this reason, most of the successful Russian airstrikes are carried out by Russian warplanes still in Russia firing long-range air to surface missiles. I-Hawk can intercept many of these missiles. I Hawk may be officially obsolete in most parts of the world, but in Ukraine it’s a major problem for the Russians.


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