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By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington D.C.) With more Bradley Fighting Vehicles, tanks, Humvees and even Strykers on the way, the Pentagon’s most recent $2.5 billion support package to Ukraine contains some potentially lesser recognized yet extremely significant assistance…. air defenses.

“History is watching us,” were the strong words spoken in Germany by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin when addressing the 50-plus nation Ukraine Contact Group to announce the latest Pentagon support package for Ukraine.

"This is a crucial moment," Austin said in a press availability Jan. 20. "Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip. This is not a moment to slow down: It's a time to dig deeper. The Ukrainian people are watching us. The Kremlin is watching us. And history is watching us."

Air Defenses

Alongside more armored vehicles and the standard or more long standing support items such as artillery and ammunition, the Pentagon is making a strong move to step up air defenses. This most recent package includes new National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems and eight Avenger air-defense systems, according to a recent Pentagon report.

NASAMS: National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System

NASAMS: National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System

"Our new package provides even more air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its cities and its skies," Austin added.

While the Ukrainians have been receiving some NASMs already, this increase seems quite significant in a number of key respects, particularly given that neither Ukraine or Russia has established air superiority. This has been, and continues to be, a somewhat unexpected mystery of the Russian invasion, given that they have hundreds more fighter jets than Ukraine. However, Ukrainian air-war resolve and tenacity, air defenses and perhaps a Russian reluctance to take risk may potentially be reasons. Also, Russia has largely relied upon long-range ground rockets to attack Ukrainian neighborhoods, children and infrastructure throughout the country.

While more air defenses will certainly help Ukraine prevent Russia from gaining air superiority, there is yet another potentially lesser recognized tactical aspect to Ukraine’s acquisition of Ukrainian air-defenses and Avenger air-defense systems. As a vehicle-mounted counter-air system, Avenger missiles would prove optimal for attacking Russian helicopters, drones, some low-flying fixed wing and even incoming ground fired missiles. NASMs, and Avengers in particular could prove useful alongside the Patriot missile as weapons, radar and fire control systems able to track and intercept many of Russia’s ground-fired rockets. 

Many of Russia’s attacks have been with both precision and non-precision ground-fired rockets capable of reaching 200-to-300 km in some cases, placing the launchers well beyond the reach of traditional 155mm artillery which typically travels roughly 30 km. This is why the arrival of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and HIMARS rockets have proven so impactful, as it would seem they give Ukraine the ability to destroy Russia’s missile launchers. Ukraine certainly has and benefits from ISR, and can therefore track and destroy some Russian launchers from reachable distances with GMLRS and HIMARS. Many have said the arrival of GMLRS and HIMARS have proven paradigm-changing in the war. Similarly, the arrival of NASMs and Avengers could also be quite impactful.

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Yet another factor to consider is the recent addition of the Patriot missile, as that could prove critical with efforts to stop incoming Russian rockets and cruise missiles.  Modernized Patriot missiles are well-positioned to track and intercept some of the weapons now being fired by Russia. The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 is an advanced kinetic energy hit-to-kill interceptor surface-to-air missile designed to knock out incoming threats and protect ground forces, buildings and other assets. As a kinetic energy interceptor, the weapon relies upon the sheer force of impact to destroy approaching enemy attacks and does not need to use explosives – thus the “hit-to-kill” description. 

While it may have emerged as a Scud killer in Desert Storm, today's Patriot is almost an entirely new weapon. Software upgrades going back many years, some referred to as Missile Segment Enhancement, have improved the guidance and intercept technology of the weapon, In more recent years, Raytheon radar upgrades have enabled Patriot missiles to simultaneously track and destroy two maneuvering cruise missiles. To intercept an incoming missile, it steers towards a predetermined intercept point chosen by its ground-based fire solution computer, selects the proper trajectory, and then applies a direct, body-to-body hit on the target.

Warrior spoke with Daryl Youngman, deputy director of the Air and Missile Defense Cross Functional Team, Army Futures Command in August 2021 about the progress of these innovations. Enhanced Patriot connectivity is an integral part of the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS), an air and cruise missile defense system that connects targeting and sensor nodes across a wide operational envelope. Youngman said that during one assessment, the IBCS system networked Patriot missile batteries to other ground nodes and F-35 Lightning II fighter jets.

Does Ukraine Need Even More Armor

The arrival of Bradleys is certainly welcome and likely to be paradigm-changing as Ukraine continues its counterattacks and seeks to reclaim and hold territory, a development supported by many Humvees, tactical trucks, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and other transport and logistical support systems to advance forces into territories previously held by Russia.

This latest $2.5 billion package, announced by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Germany, includes 59-more Bradleys, as many as 90 Strykers and 350 Humvees. More tanks are reportedly on the way as well from other allied nations as well, something likely to be of critical value for Ukrainians.

There may be a need for an even greater volume of armored and tactical vehicles, given the pure numbers associated with the Russian force, however the Bradleys arriving thus far are likely to give Ukrainians a previously unprecedented ability to “breach” a Russian perimeter, close to contact with enemy and “mass” the kinds of heavier mechanized forces necessary to hold new ground.

While Russian forces have of course had strategic, tactical, logistical and morale problems, they do have sheer numbers, therefore it seems there may be a need for Ukrainians to “mass” armored forces to an even greater extent to propel their counterattacks and ultimately prevail. Bradleys and Stykers will clearly need tank support to maximize Combined Arms Maneuver effectiveness.

This latest Pentagon support effort may be the first time “Strykers” were sent to Ukraine, something which will greatly fortify arriving Bradleys. As wheeled vehicles, Strykers can reach speeds up to 60 mph or faster, much more than Bradleys which are tracked, so they can be impactful when it comes to using roads and existing infrastructure to advance infantry and firepower.

It would be interesting to see which Stryker variants are sent, as there are reconnaissance variants which could prove vital when it comes to locating or “targeting” Russian formations for advancing ground forces. There is also the standard Stryker infantry carrier which can of course reach impactful speeds advancing into enemy territory with both 30mm cannon firepower and armed infantry. It would be interesting to learn which Stryker variants Ukraine is receiving because they may be the more recently modernized vehicles with “air-burst” 30mm ammunition for “area” attacks and dispersed fragmentation to increase anti-personnel lethality.

Perhaps some of the Strykers on the way are Short Range Air Defense or SHORAD-capable as well. SHORAD arms Strykers with a previously unprecedented counter-air capability to fire HELLFIRE missiles against enemy drones and helicopters while on the move in combat. Should these be arriving, which may be less likely given they have only emerged with the US Army in the last several years, it would certainly complement the additional air defenses now arriving with this latest package in the form of Avengers and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems.

Regardless, looking at what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine, it seems much more armor such as Bradleys, Strykers and tanks may be necessary. While drones, precision fires such as rockets and 155mm artillery continue to have a massive impact in blunting, slowing down or in some cases destroying and stopping Russian attackers, Ukrainian forces will likely still need more pure “mass.”

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Sun Tzu’s famous “mass matters” in war quote remains as true today to a certain extent as it did centuries ago. When countering a larger mechanized force, regardless of its tactical and technological proficiency, having a force large enough to break through, advance and hold territory will clearly be essential for a longer-term Ukrainian victory. This is particularly true in Ukraine as, at least thus far, neither Ukrainians or Russians are believed to operate with air supremacy, a reality which makes ground targeting and mechanized advances even more critical to combat success.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky addressed the group to express his thanks for the large measure of international support and say more is needed at this crucial time. A Pentagon report says Zelensky asked the international supporters to “remember "the world your parents dreamed of for you. And I'm addressing those who themselves dream of a certain world for their children. It is time now to protect those dreams."

"People who dream that freedom will be protected for Ukraine for all of Europe for each and every coalition country," Zelensky said. "It is about people who believe that evil and hatred will always lose. The Kremlin must lose."

Impact of Bradleys and Heavy Armor

President Biden’s decision to send Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine could well be a defining moment in their ongoing war against Russia, in a manner just as significant and potentially paradigm-changing as the arrival of longer-range, ground fired rockets such as HIMARS and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) were months ago.

Infantry carriers able to transport a 9-man squad into combat, supported by a 25mm cannon, TOW anti-tank missiles, reactive-armor and upgraded thermal targeting sights could massively improve Ukraines ability to “breach” Russian perimeters, move to “contact” and “occupy” or “retake” previously-held Russian held areas. This has of course become increasingly necessary as the war has shifted to Eastern Ukraine and Ukrainians have demonstrated an ability to not only halt, stop or destroy invading Russian mechanized forces but also now advance with successful counterattacks.

In recent months the Ukrainians have of course migrated their tactics from a primarily defensive posture to an ability to advance in some areas and “reclaim” territory through counterattacks. The Ukrainian disaggregated, dispersed, ambush style hit and run attacks against invading Russian mechanized armor with anti-armor weapons, which captured the world by storm with success in incinerating invading Russian tanks and other vehicles, proved to be a defining element in the opening months of the war. Coupled with Russian logistical and strategic errors, and of course faltering if not fractured Russian morale, Ukrainian intensity to stand up against invaders not only revealed an incalculable “spirit” but also demonstrated tactical proficiency and enterprising applications of weapons systems such as drones, artillery, anti-tank missiles such as Javelins and a decentralized attack formation.

Retaking territory, however, requires logistics, sustainment, mobile offensive weaponry such as vehicles and more traditional Combined Arms Maneuver formations. This is likely why the Pentagon has, in recent months, been sending more tactical trucks, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, Humvees and other equipment able to support troop maneuvers, supply lines, construction of forward bases and other things necessary to “hold” new territory.

Bradley Fighting Vehicle

Pentagon officials described the rationale for Bradleys in a briefing to reporters.

“It is obviously an armored capability that can transport mechanized infantry into battle in support of both offensive and defensive operations, providing a level of firepower and armor that will bring advantages on the battlefield as Ukraine continues to defend their homeland,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen Pat Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon January 5.

Heavy armor is critical to this effort to breach a Russian perimeter, advance into occupied areas and “maintain” captured ground. This is why there has been an increased effort to find and send heavier armor to Ukraine in the form of tanks.

Certainly advancing forces will need forward positioned food, fuel, weapons and ammunition available as they maneuver, and they will also need portable structures such as tents, bedding and other accommodations for arriving forces reclaiming key areas. This means the Ukrainians may also require a new amount of small forward operating bases from which to launch further offensives into Russian held territory.

To a large extent, the overall nature of their fight in the East has been shifting in a way that requires more heavy armor and more mechanized forces. While they clearly have some already, more may be needed to close in on and “break through” Russian barriers, fortifications and troop positions. Ukrainian forces may need to “mass” to a greater extent and maneuver in different, larger formations than they have thus far. This requires force protection, meaning Ukrainian forces on a counterattack will need built-in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) in the form of drones as well as certain kinds of base protections such as sensors, interceptors, jammers or other countermeasures. This may mean base protections such as something similar to the US Army’s Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) which links sensors to fire control and small interceptor rockets or area weapons such as a Phalanx gun able to fire hundreds of small projectiles per second to knock out incoming enemy fire.

The Ukrainians already have US provided small, hand-launched drones able to operate “organically” in close coordination with on-the-move ground commanders looking to find and anticipate enemy threats likely to emerge as their forces advance. Concentrations of advancing Ukrainian forces will also need a greater degree of command and control to coordinate and deconflict areas of attack, advancement or occupation.

While they can still leverage the effective “decentralized” approach they have used with great success thus far to a certain extent, there will be a need for greater coordination and connectivity regarding wider-area maneuvers with larger forces reclaiming territory. This is precisely why there is a need for more infantry carriers to move units between forward positions, transport vehicles such as tactical trucks and Humvees and coordinated logistics and command and control.

The exact number and arrival timeline have yet to be announced, however Ukraine is likely to want them soon given their potential impact. Why might this be just as impactful as long-range rockets? During the opening months of the war, Russia appeared to deliberately target and destroy residential areas within Ukraine, murdering children, destroying infrastructure, abducting children and indiscriminately terrorizing and killing civilians and committing war crimes, according to public reports such as a recently published Yale University Humanitarian Research Laboratory report.

At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian President Zelensky asked for Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and other longer-range, ground-fired rockets able to reach beyond traditional artillery typically able to travel 30 km or so. The reason these weapons were needed is because without air superiority, the only way to stop or impede Russia’s rocket attacks would be to find and destroy the launch sites.

Ukraine has had surveillance, with allied help, and has likely been able to find and target many of these launch sites, however many Russian rocket launchers may be mobile and hard to find. The Russians were firing rockets able to reach 200 to 300 kilometers from location well beyond the range of traditional 155mm artillery, meaning that the launchers could not be targeted without air superiority. It is no surprise that the arrival of GMLRS and HIMARS helped turn the tide of the war, saved countless civilian lives and helped the Ukrainians operations transition from a purely defensive posture into the ability to advance, retake and hold previously Russian occupied areas.

The arrival of Bradleys could be paradigm changing in a comparable fashion, if supported by more tanks, mobile artillery and tactical trucks. Several key reasons for this, the Bradley can transport infantry in support of offensive operations to close with and destroy an enemy in a way that dismounted soldiers simply cannot. It can transport an entire squad under armor in support of mechanized formations, enabling infantry to dismount and advance against enemy forces.

It may not be clear which variant of the Bradley the Ukrainians will get, and certainly while any Bradley will help, an export variant similar to the US Army’s newer Bradley might prove most advantageous, as it has a range of new potentially paradigm-changing technologies. The A4 variant has added acceleration potential due to its having more horsepower and vehicle maneuverability technologies. It is armed with a Bushmaster 25mm cannon that fires explosive and armor-piercing rounds as well as a tank-killing TOW missile.

Interestingly, the A4 Bradley is the latest iteration in a longstanding Army-BAE Systems effort to sustain Bradley functionality and combat effectiveness over a period of many years. Previous upgrades have included the addition of reactive armor, new armor configurations and materials, a commander’s independent thermal viewer for targeting and data sharing and advanced ammunition able to tailor its explosive or targeting effects.

Kris Osborn is President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.