FrankenSAM Project: US ‘Deadly’ Air-To-Air Missiles Get A New Role In Another Attempt To Thrash Russia

Ukraine is converting old and decommissioned US-made air-to-air missiles (AAM) into surface-to-air missiles (SAM) with American help to last this winter’s onslaught of Russian drone and missile strikes.

Hypersonic-Armed Russian MiG-31 Fighters, Escorted By Su-27 Flankers, Ready For Black Sea Patrols

The AIM-9 Sidewinder has been the beneficiary of this “FrankenSAM” project and is hoped to provide some level of protection to Ukraine’s energy and civilian-military infrastructure. 

Late last year, Russia began targeting Ukraine’s energy generation and power distribution network in Kyiv and its major cities to stymie electricity supply to its air defense (AD) systems.

The West and Ukraine assume Moscow might repeat the tactic this year, to damage as many military equipment and “decision-making” centers. Ukraine already uses a host of US-made AD systems like the NASAMS, Patriot, Hawk (another Cold War-era platform the US no longer uses), the French-Italian SAMP/T, and the German-made IRIS-T. 

EurAsian Times previously analyzed how Russia had successfully exhausted these Western systems by firing Geran-2 kamikaze drones in coordination with Iskander ballistic missiles and Kalibr and Kh-101 cruise missiles. The RIM-7 missile, too, has been modified to be launched from a Soviet-era Buk SAM launcher. 

Air-to-Air Missile Now Surface-To-Air Missile

According to a FT report, a recent “success” was “to convert redundant US air-to-air AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles into surface-to-air missiles — an area of critical need given Russia continues to launch attacks on towns far from the front line.”

AIM-9X Sidewinder
File Image: AIM-9X Sidewinder

It quoted an unnamed “high-ranking” Ukrainian official who said “the AIM-9s (delivered to Ukraine) were out of operation.” “We fixed them and found a way of launching them from the ground. It’s a kind of self-made air defense.” 

The radars, parts, and components for the modifications had been supplied by “allies and partners,” according to a report by the Associated Press (AP). “The FrankenSAM program began months ago but has grown over time. The defense official said it has been crucial in providing much-needed air defense for Ukraine, pounded by Russian missiles. Defending against those missile barrages has been one of Ukraine’s major challenges,” the report added.

Has Been Done In The Past

Converting older AAMs into SAMs is not uncommon, and India, too, has undertaken such an effort in the past. October 2022’s Defense Expo at Gandhinagar saw the Russian-origin R-27 and R-73 AAMs being repurposed as the SAMAR SAM system. 

The Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) that Ukraine uses, too, has been replenished by the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) by the US in the last few arms packages. The NASAMS also fires the AIM-120 AAM, while the advanced NASAMS 3 can fire the AIM-9X sidewinder and the Iris-T missiles.

The official hopes the repurposed missiles will get Ukraine “through the winter.” He also said other obsolete weapons in the US arsenal have been tweaked and upgraded. One is the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow system that US engineers modified to be fired from the Buk SAM system since missiles of the Soviet-era platform have been dwindling.

AIM-9 Sidewinder

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a US short-range air-to-air missile developed in the mid-1950s. Most AIM-9 modifications are equipped with infrared homing guidance.

Over 200,000 missiles have been launched since 1955, making the AIM-9 one of history’s most-used air-to-air missiles. The summer US aid package included the AIM-9M variant of Sidewinder. 

How many AIM-9 Sidewinders Ukraine has acquired is unknown. Still, it will have little impact on Russia’s overall superiority, where without entering Ukrainian airspace, it fires air, sea, and ground-launched cruise missiles on Ukrainian ground targets.

Fighters like the Su-30SM, Su-35S, and MiG-31 patrol from inside Russian territory and periodically keep shooting down Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) planes.