SA-8 Missiles: Desperate NATO Pushes Greece To Transfer ‘Outdated But Significant’ SAMs To Ukraine – Reports

With NATO countries intensifying pressure on Greece to hand over crucial air defense systems to Ukraine, a transfer of Soviet-era SA-8 or S-300 air defense systems to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) may be on the cards.

Local Greek publication Ekathimerini reported that the United States and European Union member states said at the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group last week that Athens needed to turn over the much-needed air defense systems to Ukraine.

Germany has been leading the pressure on Greece, believing that Greece has not done enough for transatlantic solidarity.

The report comes days after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that his country could not arm Ukraine with Patriot or S-300 air defense systems. “Greece is not going to send S-300 or Patriot to Ukraine,” Mitsotakis said in an interview on Skai TV a day before the summit.

The pressure on Greece is mounting as EU governments have been urged to provide Kyiv with more air defense systems in the wake of increasing Russian aerial assaults, especially on critical infrastructure.

Until now, Greece has managed to evade the calls for additional aid by citing its own defense needs. “We were asked, and we explained why we cannot do it,” Mitsotakis said last week, adding that these systems were “critical to our deterrent capability.”

However, with NATO’s inability to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses urgently, there is enhanced pressure on Greece once again. The Greek daily reported that short-to-medium range air defense systems, including the Soviet-era SA-8, the French-made Crotale, and the US-made Hawk systems, are among the items on Ukraine’s latest request list from Greece. Besides these, it has also requested the country’s spare parts for its incoming F-16s.

Greek media sites have reported in recent months that the US and EU have backed Ukraine’s request for S-300 air defense systems in Greek inventory. However, Athens has rejected the request thus far, citing the system’s importance to the nation’s air defense system amid threats from Turkey.

EurAsian Times previously covered the Ukrainian request for the acquisition of S-300 air defenses from Greece, which can be read here. At that time, reports suggested that Athens had agreed to a potential transfer but the country has continued to dither on the issue since.

However, Ukraine requested another Soviet-era air defense system from Greece that warrants attention. In March 2022, the American publication Wall Street Journal reported that the United States was secretly sending the system to Ukraine along with other equipment it had obtained through a secret program.

The SA-8, developed in the 1960s, is in focus again. The report stated that Athens was even more pressured to provide systems developed by former Warsaw Pact republics, including some of the SA-8 OSA/AK systems manufactured in the Soviet Union.

In particular, the former East Germany supplied Greece with a battalion-sized supply of these systems shortly before it collapsed, and Berlin would undoubtedly be happy to grant the re-export license —the end-user license agreement — so that the system could be transferred to Ukraine. However, the primary issue with the transfer of the SA-8 is that they serve as the foundation for the air defense of the eastern Aegean islands.

Despite being an archaic air defense system with a range not as significant as that of other Surface-to-Air missiles in the Ukrainian arsenal, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has been persistent in its acquisition, and that may not be without reason.

SA-8 Osa Is Outdated But Significant 

The Soviet Union designed the 9K33 Osa, also known as the SA-8 Gecko by NATO, which is a tactical surface-to-air defense missile system with a short range, low altitude, and high mobility.

9A33BM3 TELAR from Osa-AKM system

The Soviet Army deployed Osa in 1971, and the naval version of the system, Osa-M (SA-N-4 Gecko), was deployed in 1972. The system has since been upgraded to keep it relevant through the years. The updated variants are Osa-AK (SA-8B Gecko Mod-0) and Osa-AKM (SA-8B Gecko Mod-1) missile systems.

The surface-to-air missile system is mounted atop a six-wheeled BAZ-5937 fully-amphibious and air-transportable transporter erector launcher and radar (TELAR) vehicle. This vehicle has a nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection system and can accommodate up to five crew members.

The all-in-one TELAR vehicles can identify, monitor, and intercept aircraft on their own or in conjunction with regimental surveillance radars. The system can prepare for combat within four minutes of stopping, but it cannot fire missiles while moving. Launch time is 26 seconds after target recognition.

The anti-aircraft system is capable of carrying missiles up to 126 kilograms in weight, 3.2 meters in length, and 0.21 meters in diameter. The missile has a 14.5-kilogram high explosive fragmentation (HE FRAG) warhead capacity. The first production version’s missiles could travel up to a maximum range of 10 kilometers and a maximum altitude of five kilometers. These ranges were subsequently improved.

The SA-8 has seen its fair share of combat. The Syrians were able to deploy Osas following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during which a widespread air campaign targeting Syrian SAM stations in the Beqaa valley destroyed Syrian air defenses.

Within a SEAD (the suppression of enemy air defense – SEAD) mission, an Osa system shot down at least one F-4 Phantom. However, this conflict reportedly exposed the vulnerability of the system against Israel’s electronic warfare.

Cuban SA-8 captured by South Africa (via Facebook)

In the late 1980s, Cuba deployed the SA-8 against the South African forces. Cuba tested the air dominance of South Africa at shorter ranges in the late 1980s when it stationed multiple 9K33 Osa units in southern Angola.

On October 3, 1987, during the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the South African 61 Mechanized Battalion Group managed to seize an entire 9K33 Osa anti-aircraft missile system.

This marked the first instance of non-Warsaw Pact forces laying their hands on the SA-8. It provided Western intelligence services with a unique opportunity to investigate a significant military system used by the Soviet Union.