Norway Has Sent Its Mistral Anti-Aircraft Missiles To Ukraine
Norway gifted over 100 Mistral missiles to Ukraine, which now has the most diverse short-range SAM arsenal on earth.
According to the announcement made by the Norwegian Minister of Defense Bjørn Arild Gram, the country has already shipped Mistral man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, to Ukraine.
“The Mistral air defense system is an effective weapon that is being used by the Norwegian Navy.” Gram said. “The system will be of great benefit to Ukraine.”
The Norwegian government says it sent approximately 100 Mistral missiles and an unspecified number of launchers. An official press release noted that Norway had already sent 4,000 M72 light anti-armor weapons, along with helmets and flak jackets.
Produced by the European missile consortium MBDA, the Mistral is a heat-seeking, short-range surface-to-air missile with a top speed of around Mach 2.5 and that features a high-explosive fragmentation warhead chock full of tungsten ball projectiles. It is designed for use against a varied array of aerial targets, including unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.
More modern variants are also equipped with a thermal sight to allow for operations during both day and night. Currently, many of the MANPADS delivered to Ukraine lack this capability and we know that Russian aircraft have switched to focusing on nighttime operations. It's not clear if the systems being sent from Norway have this feature.
The Norwegian Navy has been the primary user of Mistral in the country, employing them on minesweepers and corvettes using the SIMBAD maritime point defense system, which is made up of a manned deck launcher with two missiles. These SIMBAD launchers are not being sent to Ukraine, Norwegian Navy Captain Tom Kismul told the country's TV 2 television station. Instead, Man-portable land-based launchers that can be folded up and transported easily are being sent. They use the same missiles as the SIMBAD maritime systems.
The complete man-portable system can be carried by a team of two. After it is set up, one individual then operates the launcher, while the other can act as a spotter.
Norway's liquidation of its Mistrals fits with a larger strategy to up its air defense capabilities. Plans have emerged outlining the country’s decision to purchase a new maritime surface-to-air missile as a replacement, with speculation surrounding the possibility of it being another NATO-produced surface-to-air missile system.
Despite the donation being so significant in its volume, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense insists that the relinquishing of the missiles will not affect the country’s military readiness. In fact, the move could be a win-win situation for all parties involved.
According to the initial announcement, the system was already slated to be gradually replaced over the next few years.
“The missile is going to be phased out of the Norwegian Armed Forces, but it is still a modern and effective weapon that will be of great use to Ukraine.” Defense Minister Gram said. “Other countries have also donated similar systems.”
He also pushed against the idea that Norway was pawning off an outdated system on Ukraine by transferring Mistrals that were already slated for retirement. "We constantly have to make compromises between our own defense capability and Ukraine’s arms supply. This is a powerful weapon that will be important, so we think it’s a good contribution," he told TV 2.
The Mistral is one of many MANPADS that have been donated to support the Ukrainian military leading up to and since the conflict with Russia began. Other types that have gone to Ukraine include the U.S.-made Stinger and the Poland-made Piorun.
In late March, the U.K. Ministry of Defense announced that it would equip Ukraine with the Starstreak MANPADS, as well. This system is impervious to decoys and is very fast flying, as you can read more about here. It has already scored kills on the Ukrainian battlefield.
Literally, thousands of MANPADS of various types are now making operations for low flying Russian aircraft, and especially helicopters, very challenging, in Ukraine, which has led to some interesting tactics being employed by Russian aviators.
With so many different systems in play, it will continue to be a major challenge for Russian aircraft to overcome the MANPADS threat, which is now the most diverse anywhere on earth. This, of course, is bad news for Moscow, which has just launched its eastern offensive, an operation in which close air support will be in very high demand.
Ukrainian missileers will surely be waiting.
Contact the author: Emma@thewarzone.com