Weapons: New Systems For Ukraine


December 31, 2022: The latest shipment of weapons to Ukraine includes some new items. These include Patriot air defense systems and JDAM smart bomb kits to convert unguided bombs into GPS-guided bombs. The U.S. is also sending more GMLRS guided rockets and Excalibur GPS guided 155mm artillery shells. There are also more HARM anti-radar missiles, HIMARS launcher vehicles, Cougar MRAPS and armored Humvees.

Patriot has been in service since 1984 and experienced its first sustained combat in 1990, when it was used against Iraqi SCUD ballistic missiles fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its success rate, 40 to 70 percent, was mediocre at best. That was largely due to the improvised modifications Iraqis made to their SCUDs to extend their range. As a result, the SCUDs had a tendency to fall apart during the terminal (speeding down towards the target) flight phase which created unintended countermeasures. Some of the larger pieces of these modified SCUDs, like additional fuel tanks, broke away and were seen by Patriot radar as the actual missile warhead section. In some cases, non-warhead portions (like the fuel tanks carrying very toxic fuel) of the SCUD came down on military or civilian personnel on the ground. Subsequent upgrades to Patriot increased accuracy against deliberate or accidental countermeasures.

Patriot has been used against UAVs but firing a missile costing over three million dollars at homemade UAVs, as Israeli forces did a few times, isn’t healthy for the economy so Israel developed cheaper solutions for UAVs.

Although initially designed to be used against manned aircraft, the Patriot did not face this threat very often and it wasn’t until 2014 when Patriot downed one. An Israeli Patriot shot down a Syrian Su-24 fighter-bomber. While Patriot was originally designed for use against aircraft, most of what it has shot down have been ballistic missiles, either SCUDs or more recent Iranian designs. The UAE sent a battery to Yemen where it successfully defended major military bases from Iranian ballistic missile attacks. Arab Patriot users have developed a lot of missile crews with combat experience and that has helped attract capable recruits to air defense work, which is usually seen as less prestigious than traditional service with ground, air and naval combat units.

Since 1970 over 10,000 Patriot missiles and 1,500 launchers have been produced. After decades of service, some were updated while others were scrapped. Patriot missiles can, with regular upgrades and refurbishment, remain in use for over 40 years. A growing number of Patriot missiles are doing just that but many are still fired each year for training and testing. Most Patriot batteries are equipped with both longer-range GEM-T missiles for aircraft and shorter-range PAC-3 MSE ones for ballistic missiles or, if necessary, aircraft. The PAC 2 is older, cheaper and designed to intercept manned aircraft at ranges up to 160 kilometers, while the PAC 3 is the newest and about twice as expensive (over $4 million). The Patriot system, with continued upgrades, will likely remain in production until the 2040s

Each Patriot battery is manned by about a hundred troops and contains a radar, plus four or more launchers. The launcher is designed to use both the smaller PAC 3 missile as well as the original and larger PAC 2 anti-aircraft version. A Patriot launcher can hold sixteen PAC 3 missiles versus four PAC 2s. A PAC 2 missile weighs about a ton, a PAC 3 weighs about a third of that. The PAC 3 has a shorter range that was originally 20 kilometers but the latest version can do 35 kilometers. The larger PAC-2 can reach 160 kilometers.

Not mentioned was how many Patriot missiles were being sent and how long it would take to train Ukrainian crews. Ukraine points out that it will take a lot less time for Ukrainians to master Patriot operation because it is wartime for them and time is of the essence.

Since the late 1990s the U.S. has believed the key air weapon will be smart bombs, especially the JDAM and JSOW (powered JDAM). This resulted in heavy orders for JDAM, to build up the war reserve in case there is what the planners call a “major war”, and the U.S. has built up huge stocks of smart bombs. After the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Air Force ordered a sharp increase in JDAM production, aiming for 5,000 JDAM a month. They ended up needing far less. In 2005, about 30,000 JDAM were ordered. That fell to 11,605 in 2006, and 10,661 in 2007. In 2008, only 5,000 were ordered. But soon the orders were over 10,000 a year again. So far, about half a million JDAM kits have been produced. Most of those ordered in the past few years are being put into the war reserve. Only a few thousand a year are actually being used, and this includes those expended during training. The war reserve contains over 100,000 kits, to be used in some unspecified, but big, future conflict. Air warfare planners see the most likely major conflict as one involving China. Despite the dependence on GPS, JDAM has been adapted to resist the jamming and, if that fails there is a backup INS guidance system that, while not as accurate as GPS, is accurate enough for most targets.

JDAM smart bombs were developed in the 1990s, shortly after the GPS network went live. These weapons entered service in time for the 1999 Kosovo campaign and have been so successful that their use has sharply reduced the number of bombs dropped and the number of sorties required by bombers. The air force generals are still trying to figure out where this is all going. Now the big effort is directed towards using all this new tech to shut down a more feisty and capable opponent like China, (or Iran or North Korea, two more feisty but less well-equipped foes.

The appearance, and impact, of JDAM has been sudden. While guided bombs first appeared towards the end of World War II, they did not really become a factor until highly accurate laser guided bombs were developed in the 1960s. A decade later TV guided bombs came into service. But these guided bombs were expensive, costing over $100,000 each. Even as late as the 1991 Gulf war, only 16 percent of the 250,000 bombs dropped were guided. But analysis of the battlefield later revealed that the guided bombs had done 75 percent of the actual damage. The guided bombs were still too expensive and lasers were blocked by many weather conditions (rain, mist, sand storms). Something new was needed to replace dumb bombs completely. The solution was GPS guided bombs.

In 1991, the GPS system was just coming into service. There were already plans for something like JDAM but no one was sure that it would work. Once the engineers got onto it, it was discovered that JDAM not only worked but cost less than half as much to build ($18,000 per kit initially) as the air force expected ($40,000 per kit, or about $60,000 adjusted for inflation). Current cost for a JDAM kit is $26,000.

JDAM kit production began in 1996. During their first use, in 1999 (Kosovo), 98 percent of the 652 JDAMs used hit their targets. In 2001, JDAM proved the ideal weapon for supporting the few hundred Special Forces and CIA personnel the U.S. had on the ground in Afghanistan. The JDAM was more accurate, and effective, than anticipated. By January, 2002, the U.S. had dropped about half their inventory of 10,000 JDAMs in Afghanistan.

In 2003, 6,500 JDAM were used in the three-week 2003 Iraq invasion. Since 1999, American aircraft have used less than 40,000. New versions have added more capabilities. The latest versions are even more accurate, putting half the bombs within ten meters of the aiming point. JDAMs are pretty rugged. F-22s have dropped half ton JDAMs, from 16,100 meters (50,000 feet), while moving at over 1,500 kilometers an hour.

Ukraine has long wanted JDAM and has apparently dealt with the problems of using JDAM with Russian bombs on their Russian jet fighters. With several new SAM systems provided by NATO before the arrival of Patriot, Ukraine has enough control of their air space to use JDAM-equipped aircraft to hit Russian targets.

Ukraine is receiving more HARM (High Speed Anti Radar Missiles) that Ukraine has been using successfully since August. Ukraine is also receiving more Cougars MRAPS. These were first used in Iraq during 2008, where they proved to be very successful. Cougar uses a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components, from mines and roadside bombs. The bullet-proof Cougars are built using the same construction techniques pioneered by South African firms that have, over the years, delivered thousands of landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. These were a great success. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has earlier been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans.

The 7-12-ton Cougar is basically a truck that is hardened to survive bombs and mines. The Cougar comes in two basic versions. The four-wheel one can carry ten passengers, and the six-wheel one can carry 16. The trucks cost about a million dollars each, fully equipped. Ukraine is also receiving more M1151A1 HMMWVs (hummers) at a cost of $600,000 each. These are armed with a 12.7mm machine-gun. The M1151 is a hummer built to handle the additional weight of armor protection. One of the key changes in the M1151 is a stronger suspension and a larger engine (a 6.5 liter turbo-diesel). This allows the vehicle to easily handle an additional 680 kg (1,500 pounds) of armor. More importantly, the armor is easily installed, or taken off. This allows the hummers to operate more efficiently without the armor when the threat of attack is much reduced. The M1151 also has some armor underneath. This is not a lot of protection against mines and roadside bombs, but it is better than none. The M1151 is basically an armored car with a crew of four and a payload of one ton (plus two tons that can be towed.) Top speed is 80 kilometers an hour and a max range (on one tank, on roads) of 480 kilometers. Its armored protection is good against 7.62mm machine-guns and rifles, bombs, landmines and nearby bursting shells of up to 155mm.

The M1151 Humvee also comes with Vehicle Emergency Escape (VEE) Windows. These are bulletproof windows with a latch system. It takes about five seconds to turn the latches and push the window forward. This enables troops to get out of vehicles that have rolled over, or gone into the water, and jammed the doors. If the vehicle catches fire, either from an accident or roadside bomb, the VEE has already proved to be a lifesaver since it was introduced in 2007.

A 2011 innovation made these vehicles as resistant to the blast effect of roadside bombs as an MRAP vehicle weighing more than twice as much. The solution was a chimney, made of lightweight, but very strong, material that vents most of the bomb blast upward, sparing the crew. For all these reasons the M1151A1 has become the preferred HMMWV model in areas where there is a lot of violence. Ukraine has been receiving M1151A1s since 2015.

One important item the United States cannot supply is spare parts for more than 2,000 tanks and other armored vehicles Ukraine has captured from Russian forces so far. Russia also suffers a shortage of these spare parts, mainly because they do not maintain their vehicles as diligently as Western forces do. Ukraine follows Western practices when it can and keeps a higher percentage of its military equipment operational than the Russians. The best source of these spare parts is the new (since the 1990s) NATO countries that still have a lot Russian armored vehicles, usually in storage. To join NATO, you must get your military up to NATO standards. Most Russian equipment does not meet those standards.




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