Finland ‘Junks’ US Patriot, Russian BUK Surface-To-Air Missiles For Israeli David’s Sling Defense System

Dropping vestiges of its former military association with Russia, Finland has signed a US$346 million deal with Israel’s Rafael Advanced Systems (RAS) to procure the David’s Sling surface-to-air missile (SAM) as a replacement for its Russian-origin Buk SAM systems. 

Chinese Chinook ‘Unveiled’ At Dubai Airshow; Flightwin Innovation Showcases FWH-3000 Multipurpose UAV

Around 2010, Finland introduced the US-Norwegian National Advanced Surface to Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) to decommission the Buk and the 9M38 missiles it fires.

The deal follows Helsinki formally joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April 2023, a year after Russia launched its Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine. Finland has also begun actively participating in exercises in the Baltic Sea as the military bloc confronts Moscow on the high seas. 

The Scandinavian country has long announced it will not host NATO weapons or bases in its territory — in a bid not to antagonize Russia, with whom it shares a 1,340-kilometer border. It will now continue high-level defense modernization with US and European allies.  

Finland To Get David’s Sling SAM

According to Bloomberg, the €316 million (US$346 million) will help Finland defend against high and medium altitude, with David’s Sling “significantly” extending the operational range, according to its Ministry of Defense statement.

The war in Ukraine also increased the urgency of the procurement. The minimum flight altitude requirement of the system was set at 15,000 meters (49,000 feet) in the request for quotation. “This acquisition will create a new capability for the Finnish Defense Forces to intercept targets at high altitude,” Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said.

Davids sling
File Image: David’s Sling

Finland is also executing other defense purchases from the US, including a €10 billion procurement in late 2021 of F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its aging F/A-18 Hornets. It’s also building new vessels for the navy suitable for patrolling the shallow archipelago of its coasts.

The ministry said that the F-35 purchase involves a primary contract worth about €213 million, the immediate exercise of options worth €103 million, and additional options worth €216 million. The transaction will require a sales release by the US government’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).

There Were Other Contenders

The air defense procurement project commenced in late 2020 when tender participation requests were sent to five companies, including those from Germany, Norway, and the UK. The concluding stages of the bid came down to two Israeli companies. 

The Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) offered its BARAK-MX, with Rafael Advanced Systems (RAS) fielding the David’s Sling with the STUNNER missile and ELTA radar. The David’s Sling is a collaboration between the Israeli MoD’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) and the US’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA). 

Finland’s History With Soviet Weapons

The Finnish military also held other Soviet and Russian weapons systems. This included 18 Giatsint-S self-propelled guns (SPG), which were put into storage in 2010. Their status is unknown, with some commentators on Ukrainian Telegram groups claiming they were transferred to Ukraine. 

Patriot air defense system

Other posts claimed the SPGs and the three batteries (18 launchers) of the Buk SAMs were inoperable and unsuitable. Given Ukraine’s stock of Buk SAMs from Soviet times, Kyiv would have held several spares and repair capabilities to revive the missiles. The Buk is locally called the ITO 96 in Finland. These claims, however, could not be verified, and the final status of the weapons remains unknown. 

David’s Sling Vs. Patriot Missile

The US’s Patriot system was a contender for the Finnish SAM procurement project but presumably was unsuitable for the performance and engagement capabilities Helsinki sought.

According to Defense Ukraine, against aerodynamic targets, the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) GEM-T missile offered an engagement range of 160 kilometers, compared to David’s Sling’s 300 km reach. 

David’s Sling also features a vertical missile launch, eliminating the ‘dead zone’ above the launch, unlike the Patriot, which is released in a slanted/diagonal position. Engaging threats in a 360-degree envelope immediately after launch is a tremendous flexibility. 

The David’s Sling’s truck-mounted EL/M-2084 radar also makes it more mobile, simplifying transport and logistics. 

Most importantly, the David’s Sling is cheaper at US$346 million, compared to the US$1.1 billion price tag of the Patriot PAC-3. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the latter includes US$400 million for the system and US$690 million for the missiles. 

Defense Ukraine also adds that the Stunner interceptor missile of the David’s Sling is equipped with a two-stage propulsion system that provides high precision and effectiveness against various aerial threats.

“Its advanced radar and electro-optical sensors offer accurate tracking and identification capabilities, essential for countering ballistic missiles, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles,” the report added.