As Russia intensifies its bombardment on Ukraine’s biggest cities, President Zelensky has appealed to the international community to provide Kyiv with air defense systems like S-300.
In a virtual speech to the US Congress on March 15, Zelenskyy urged American lawmakers and the White House to deliver weapons capable of defending his country against Russian airstrikes and missile attacks.
He especially mentioned the S-300 air defense system in his speech. Although a predecessor of the highly advanced Russian S-400, this missile system is still deemed capable of countering ballistic as well as cruise missiles.
The S-400 is only operated by Russia, China and Turkey and has been supplied to India which has started to assemble and deploy it near its western border.
“Is this a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative. You know what kind of defense systems we need: S-300 and others,” the Ukrainian president said. “The ability to use aircraft, powerful aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land; aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe.”
Now, Slovakia appears to have agreed to provide Ukraine with this Soviet-era air defense system. The US and NATO are still figuring out how to supplement Kyiv’s air defense capabilities, so the transfer isn’t confirmed.
Martina Koval Kakascikova, a spokesperson for the Slovak Defense Ministry, said the matter would be discussed with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who arrived in Bratislava on Thursday.
Slovakia has no objections to providing its S-300s to Ukraine, she said. “But we can’t get rid of a system that protects our air space if we don’t have any replacement.”
US President Joe Biden stated on March 15 that America would assist Ukraine in acquiring long-range air defense systems, but he didn’t elaborate. “At the request of President Zelensky, we have identified and are helping Ukraine acquire additional longer-range anti-aircraft systems and the munitions for those systems,” he said.
Currently, three NATO members operate S-300 systems: Slovakia, Greece, and Bulgaria. However, with Greece’s system being different from the one in Ukraine, it brings up the question of whether further training is required for Zelensky troops for efficient handling of the weapon system.
Germany and the Netherlands have already confirmed that Patriot missile systems would be sent to Slovakia as a defensive measure on NATO’s eastern flank. However, integrating a new, complicated air defense system into a country’s current military architecture, as well as training its forces to deploy it, can take time.
S-300 Missile Defense System
The S-300 is a Russian-made anti-air and anti-missile system that is popular among former Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe due to its low cost and high efficacy. Some of the latest models can intercept both ballistic and cruise missiles.
The S-300 system was developed in the 1960s and entered Soviet service in 1978. There are different variants. A heavy MAZ-7910 truck is usually used to transport the S-300 launcher. The S-300 has a range of up to 93 miles in later versions. The older Ukrainian S-300s, on the other hand, have a limited range of 50 to 60 miles.
Surface-to-air missile systems were strategically placed throughout Ukraine before the war began, preventing the Russians from gaining air superiority thus far. Since the Ukrainian Air Force can only operate a limited number of fighter interceptors, troops need to rely on surface-to-air missiles to protect against Russian strike planes.
Some of Ukraine’s S-300PS systems, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, are still active. For example, during the night of March 8/9, they are said to have assisted in the elimination of four Russian Su-25 assault aircraft, two helicopters, and two cruise missiles.
On March 8-9 at least eight air targets were destroyed by Ukraine's air defence in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kyiv regions: fighter aircraft; AA missile units (S-300 and Buk-M1); four Su-25 attack aircraft; and two helicopters. There is also evidence of two downed cruise missiles. pic.twitter.com/zsJmlTgKMt
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) March 9, 2022
On March 1, according to an unverified report on social media, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense deployed an S-300 SAM system to shoot down two Russian Su-35 fighter jets.
Many experts believe that the Russian military planners and air force pilots are well informed that anti-radiation missiles launched from Russian strike planes can destroy SAM stations. The S-300 can also be fooled, blinded, and tricked by Russian electronic warfare methods.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed on February 27 that Moscow’s troops had hit 1,067 targets of “Ukraine’s military infrastructure, including 27 control points and communication centers, 38 anti-aircraft missile systems of air defense S-300s, Buk M-1 and Osa, as well as 56 radar stations”.