Ukraine's experimental 'FrankenSAM' weapons reveal a huge gap in the US arsenal, military expert says

Ukraine's experimental 'FrankenSAM' weapons reveal a huge gap in the US arsenal, military expert says
  • Ukraine is using "FrankenSAM" air-defense systems developed with the US.

  • A military expert said the US's experimental weapons revealed its lack of ground-based defenses.

  • He said Russia's invasion tactics showed how much the US needed those weapons in its arsenal.

Ukraine's use of experimental "FrankenSAM" defense systems has highlighted gaps in NATO's own arsenals, a military expert says.

The weapons, named for a combination of Frankenstein's monster and the acronym for surface-to-air missiles, are produced by the US and Ukraine and made by cobbling together different systems to create new weapons that can take down missiles, drones, and aircraft.

They often combine US weaponry with Soviet-era equipment, and they had their first success in January, a Ukrainian official said, when one was used to shoot down a Russian drone.

Some have involved converting American-made AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles, typically shot from planes, so that they can be fired from a ground-launching system.

But Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine Corps colonel who's a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the fact that this strategy was being pursued showed just how much NATO countries, including the US, were missing ground-based air defense systems.

"The FrankenSAMs fill a critical gap" for Ukraine as its allies don't have enough ground-based air defenses to give it, Cancian told Business Insider.

He said Ukraine desperately needed ground-based air defenses, with Russia launching major drone and missile strikes on cities and towns across the country.

A local resident takes a photo of a missile crater and debris of a private house ruined in the Russian missile attack in Kyiv
A resident takes a photo of a missile crater and debris of a private house ruined in a Russian missile attack in Kyiv, Ukraine.AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

The way Russia was fighting, he said, also showed NATO's need for these kinds of weapons if it wants to be ready for future conflicts.

But he said it simply didn't have enough after member states stopped investing in the weaponry after the Cold War.

Equipment such as the surface-to-air missile system NASAMS "is a great system against cruise missiles and drones," he said, but "the problem is that we just don't have very many of them."

The US has committed 12 NASAMS to Ukraine, but as of December, only two were known to have been delivered. The Pentagon said more would be delivered as they were built, in a reflection of how few the US had available.

Yet demand for these systems from Western countries is soaring, creating a yearslong backlog in their production.

This means that for now, the US and Ukraine are making multiple types of FrankenSAMs to try to fill the gap.

Navy A-7E Corsair AIM-9 Sidewinder AGM-88 HARM
US Navy A-7E Corsairs armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The US and other NATO countries had strong ground-based air defenses during the Cold War but changed focus afterward, Cancian said, seeing their main adversaries as countries such as North Korea and Iraq, which didn't require having such strong defenses.

That changed in 2014 when the possibility of conflicts with major powers arose after Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and China became more aggressive, he added.

The Pentagon changed its strategy and embraced ground-based defenses again, Cancian said, but he described that realization as taking place "probably belatedly."

Those new systems have, for the most part, not yet reached the battlefields, so they are of little help to Ukraine. "That's why it's been so hard to get air defenses to Ukraine because the US and NATO had eliminated most of that," Cancian said.

He noted that with the defenses it did have, Ukraine had been able to shoot down many Russian attacks and had forced Russian aircraft to stay far from the front lines.

This, he said, was showing the US what it needed to counter Russia or any other country with a powerful air force.

Read the original article on Business Insider