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FrankenSAM debut: Ukraine shoots down Russian drone 9 km away

Five hybrid FrankenSAM air defense systems, which pair Western missiles with Soviet launchers, are already operating in Ukraine. One that will use Patriot missiles to down ballistic targets is on the way.
The FrankenSAM project will use components of a Soviet Buk-M1 and US Patriot air defense systems used by Ukraine. (Picture source: Russian social media and US DoD)
FrankenSAM debut: Ukraine shoots down Russian drone 9 km away

Ukraine has deployed its first hybrid air defense system under the “FrankenSAM” program, a joint project of Ukraine’s Defense Forces and the Pentagon, using it to shoot down a Russian drone on 17 January, officials announced.

The FrankenSAM systems aim to address Ukraine’s shortage of missiles for its Soviet-era air defense systems by combining old Soviet surface-to-air missile systems with new American missiles and radars. Air defense is the top priority for Ukraine as Russia continues missile and drone attacks.

Minister of Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshin revealed the news during the World Economic Forum summit in Davos. He said the unspecified FrankenSAM system shot down a Russian Shahed-136 drone from a distance of 9 km during an overnight attack.

“We shot down a Shahed from 9 kilometers away, and this is the first successful use of such a system,” Kamyshin said. “I’m very happy we deployed it on the battlefield to protect our skies and our people.”

Overall, Ukraine’s air defenses shot down 19 out of 20 attacking Shahed drones overnight, according to officials, with FrankenSAM contributing to the success.

“Instead of developing some completely new air defense system, which would take many years, we took Soviet components and applied Western missiles to them,” Kamyshin said.

Kamyshin said approximately five FrankenSAM systems are already deployed after successful testing, although the first test launch failed. Thanks to close Ukraine-US cooperation, developers fixed issues and brought the system to full combat readiness.

Three possible FrankenSAM variants have been publicly voiced, according to Defense Express:

  • Buk launchers fitted with American RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles
  • Soviet-era radars paired with American AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
  • Patriot missiles and launchers combined with Ukrainian radars

Kamyshin did not specify which FrankenSAM version was used on 17 January. But Defense Express believes it was likely the Sea Sparrow missiles on Buk launchers, which can hit targets up to 20 km away, matching the 9 km strike.

“The accuracy of the system was proven in difficult combat conditions,” Kamyshin said. “This is an important step towards strengthening Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.”

By integrating Western missiles, the FrankenSAM systems address Ukraine’s shortage of munitions for Soviet-era air defenses. Russia is the only source of new compatible missiles.

Kamyshin stressed the FrankenSAM project is “filling critical gaps in Ukraine’s air defenses” as Russia continues attacks. More variants are coming, including one with Patriot missiles to shoot down ballistic missiles.

The New York Times reported in October that the first FrankenSAMs will be delivered to Ukraine in the fall of 2023. However, Kamyshin’s announcement today is the first confirmed case of its use.

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