US sends secretly acquired Soviet air defense systems to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The United States is sending some of the Soviet-made air defense equipment it secretly acquired decades ago to bolster Ukraine’s military as it seeks to repel Russian air and missile attacks , U.S. officials said.

The systems, which a US official says include the SA-8, date back decades and were obtained by the US so it could examine technology used by the Russian military and which Moscow has exported to the whole world.

The weapons are familiar to the Ukrainian army, which inherited this type of equipment after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the US decision to access its little-known arsenal of Soviet weapons, which comes as the Biden administration mounts a major push to expand. Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.

Over the decades, the United States acquired a small number of Soviet missile defense systems so that they could be examined by American intelligence experts and help train American forces.

Ukrainian government rejects Russia’s deadline for laying down arms in Mariupol; a security camera filmed the attack on a shopping center in kyiv; the United Nations said the war has forced 10 million people from their homes. Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters

The covert efforts came to public attention in 1994 when a Soviet-made transport plane was observed at the airport in Huntsville, Alabama, within sight of a major highway. The plane was later revealed to be carrying an S-300 air defense system that the United States had acquired in Belarus in a clandestine project involving a Pentagon contractor that cost $100 million, according to a former official involved in the mission.

The S-300, called SA-10 by NATO, is an advanced long-range air defense system intended to protect large areas over a much wider radius. The SA-8 is a short-range tactical air defense system designed to move with ground forces and provide cover against aircraft and helicopters. Although the SA-8 has a shorter range, it is highly mobile and potentially easier to hide.

Some of the Soviet-style weapons were kept at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, which, according to its website, serves as the “Army’s center for missile and rocket programs.” At least some of what the United States sent came from that base, officials said, who added that C-17s have recently flown to a nearby airfield in Huntsville.

Belarus’ S-300 was not among the systems sent to Ukraine, a US official said.

The annual public spending bill recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden includes language that authorizes the administration to transfer to the Ukrainian military and North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners planes, ammunition, vehicles and other equipment that are already abroad or in existing stocks.

Staff members of Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), who advocated for the language, said Soviet-era air defense systems would be covered by the new legislation. Congress has been notified of the U.S. decision, officials said.

Ukraine already has some Russian air defense systems, including the S-300. However, it needs more such systems, capable of operating at medium and long ranges to blunt Russian aircraft and missile attacks. The shoulder-fired Stinger missiles that the United States and NATO countries supply to Ukraine are only effective against helicopters and low-flying aircraft.

The United States hopes that the provision of additional air defenses will allow Ukraine to create a de facto no-fly zone, since the United States and its NATO allies have rejected Ukraine’s calls for it. alliance establish one. Such a step, Biden administration officials have said, could lead to a direct confrontation between the US-led alliance and Russian forces, which it is determined to avoid.

Mr Biden is traveling to Brussels this week for a NATO summit to discuss “ongoing deterrence and defense efforts” for Ukraine, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also traveled to the Eastern Bloc to discuss ways to bolster Ukraine’s defensive weapons.

“We continue to work with our allies and key partners to bring new assistance, including anti-aircraft systems of Soviet or Russian origin and the ammunition needed to use them, to Ukraine every day,” a US official said.

Austin visited Slovakia last week to see if the country would send an S-300 from its arsenal. Slovakia said it would if the United States provided a replacement, but such an arrangement has yet to be agreed.

American-made weapons such as the Patriot air defense system are rare and require American military personnel or months of American training to operate. German and Dutch patriot units are being sent to Slovakia as a palliative, these governments said.

“We have had discussions” with the United States, Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad’ said Thursday during a joint press conference with Mr. Austin. “If there were to be a situation where we have a suitable replacement or we have guaranteed capacity for a certain period of time, then we would be willing to discuss the future of [the] S-300 system.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at [email protected] and Michael R. Gordon at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Comments are closed.