US successfully tests first Ukrainian FrankenSAM air defense system

In an interview with Radio NV on November 12, 2023, Yuriy Ignat, the spokesperson for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, revealed that the Buk-M1 air defense system has already been modified to accommodate American RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles as part of the FrankenSAM project. These adapted air defense systems reportedly underwent successful testing at a training ground in the United States, as confirmed by Western partners.
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The first of the three FrankenSAM air defense systems involves retrofitting Soviet-era Buk-M1 systems with American RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles. (Picture source: US DoD and Yandex)

Information from the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of Ukraine indicates that the adaptation process involves integrating RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles into the launchers of Ukraine's Soviet-made Buk-M1 air defense systems. As of November 14, 2023, Ukraine has received supplies of RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles from Belgium and the United States.

Yuriy Ignat emphasized that, although the Sea Sparrow missiles provide protection within a limited radius, their incorporation is considered significant for safeguarding critical infrastructure facilities. The adaptation aims to combine Soviet technology with American advancements, acknowledging that anti-aircraft missile production for the Buk-M1 and S-300 air defense systems is exclusively conducted in Russia.

Addressing the technological challenge of bridging the gap between Soviet and American systems, the spokesperson noted Ukraine's need for a substantial number of Buk-M1 units equipped with American missiles. Additionally, despite being considered morally outdated, Hawk air defense systems have proven effective in Ukrainian operations.

The roots of this collaborative effort can be traced back to late last year when Ukrainian officials sought assistance from their allies to address the challenges of acquiring Russian-manufactured munitions compatible with the Soviet-era Buk systems. The proposal to adapt the launchers for NATO-caliber antiaircraft missiles donated by the United States gained traction, leading to the development of three distinct hybrid air defense systems known as FrankenSAMs.

The first FrankenSAM system involves retrofitting Soviet-era Buk-M1 systems with American RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles. This solution addresses the shortage of Soviet 9M38 missiles and combines the Buk-M1 launcher with Sea Sparrow missiles, offering an innovative approach to overcome compatibility issues.

The second hybrid air defense system, currently under development, integrates Soviet-era radars with American AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. This approach leverages the adaptability of the AIM-9M Sidewinder missile with minor modifications for integration, simplifying target engagement.

The third and most powerful FrankenSAM system represents a notable advancement, combining Patriot missile components with domestically produced radar systems. Currently in the testing phase, this system is expected to be delivered to Ukraine during the winter season, reinforcing the nation's air defense capabilities.