America sends Soviet air defense systems it secretly acquired to Ukraine

March 23, 2022

The United States is sending some of the Soviet-made air defense equipment that it acquired clandestinely decades ago to the Ukrainian military as it seeks to fend off  Russian air and missile attacks, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, the United States has acquired a small number of Soviet missile defense systems so that they could be examined by U.S. intelligence experts and help with training American forces. The weapons are familiar to Ukraine’s military, which inherited this type of equipment following the breakup of the Soviet Union, sources say.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the U.S. decision to reach into its little-known arsenal of Soviet weapons, which comes as the Biden Administration is mounting a major push to expand Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.

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

The S-300—called the SA-10 by NATO—is a long-range, advanced air defense system intended to protect large areas over a much wider radius.

The SA-8 is a short-range, tactical surface-to-air missile designed to move with ground forces and provide cover from aircraft and helicopters. While the SA-8 has a shorter range, it is highly mobile and potentially easier to hide.

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

The S-300 from Belarus wasn’t among the systems that are being sent to Ukraine, one U.S. official said.

The United States is hoping that the provision of additional air defenses will enable Ukraine to create a de facto no-fly zone, since America and its NATO allies have rebuffed Ukraine’s appeals that the alliance establish one. Such a step, Biden Administration officials have said, could lead to a direct confrontation between the U.S.-led alliance and Russian forces, which it is determined to avoid.

Research contact: @WSJ