Polish SA-3 Surface-To-Air Missiles Appear To Be In Ukrainian Forces’ Hands

The enhanced Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system would add to Ukraine’s ever-expanding and increasingly diverse air defense arsenal.

byEmma Helfrich| PUBLISHED Dec 7, 2022 5:00 PM
Polish SA-3 Surface-To-Air Missiles Appear To Be In Ukrainian Forces’ Hands
Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation
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Photos of a Polish S-125 Newa SC surface-to-air missile system, a modernized variant of the Soviet-era SA-3 Goa, that appear to be in Ukrainian forces' possession have emerged online. Neither Poland nor Ukraine had previously announced the transfer of this system, making its appearance unexpected. Nonetheless, it would be in line with the increasing volume of air defense-related aid making its way to the country. 

The photo now circulating of what is unmistakably a Newa SC first surfaced Monday on Facebook where it was shared by the Ukraine-based Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation in a post thanking its donors for funding a tranche of unrelated aid recently received by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In the image, two Ukrainian soldiers can be seen in the foreground showing off a diesel generator they were gifted, and the Polish air defense system is also seen bristling with missiles in the background. Interestingly, Serhiy Prytula’s Facebook post makes no mention of the air defense system’s presence. It is also unclear if these photos were taken in Poland or Ukraine, making it difficult to pinpoint where exactly this system may be presently located. However, being that the Facebook post specifically points out the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense personnel in the photos, it seems likely that the system is in Ukraine or at least that troops are training to use it in Poland. But this too seems unlikely as it would be questionable for a Ukrainian charity to deliver a donated generator to soldiers in Poland.

Considering that no formal announcement on the Newa SC delivery has been made by either Poland or Ukraine, it is unclear when exactly it occurred, if it is still yet to occur, and how many systems Ukrainian forces may have received in total. There is a separate photo that seems to have been taken by a civilian in Poland showing an unarmed Newa SC launcher being transported by trailer reportedly on a local highway, and the Twitter user who shared the image claimed that it was taken around four weeks ago. Though, that information is wholly unverified and could be unrelated to the system’s emergence in Ukraine altogether. 

The War Zone has reached out to the attache at the Polish embassy for more information but has yet to hear back.

The Newa SC is an upgraded version of the S-125 Pechora surface-to-air missile system originally developed in the Soviet Union to defend against an array of low- and medium-altitude airborne threats. First deployed in the early 1960s to augment the Soviets' S-25 and S-75 missile defense systems, the Pechora is known by a few names, with Neva being its nickname in Soviet service, Pechora being its export identifier, and SA-3 Goa being its NATO reporting designation. 

Generally, a Pechora battery consists of two to four missile launchers, one SNR-125 fire control radar, one acquisition radar such as the P-15 Flat Face/Squad Eye-series types, and one PRV-11 height-finding radar. Its primary weapons are the V-600 and V-601 missiles alternatively known as 5V24 and 5V27. The missiles perform within the altitude range of 65 feet (20 meters) to 59,055 feet (18,000 meters) and at distances of 15 miles (25 kilometers). 

V-600 missiles on the S-125 quadruple launcher. Credit: Srđan Popović/Wikimedia Commons

In the 1990s, Poland began working on an upgraded version of these systems dubbed the S-125 Newa SC, which replaced Pechora’s dated analog electronics with more modern digital control equipment to improve reliability and accuracy. This is said to have included new interceptors, updated radars, and an added identification friend-or-foe capability all while retaining the system’s compatibility with the V-600/V-601 missiles. Poland then took the old static four-rail launcher and its associated systems and mounted them on the chassis of a WZT-1 armored recovery vehicle, thereby increasing the system’s otherwise limited mobility.

The system was finally retired in 2020, and it is unclear exactly how many S-125 Newa SC batteries Poland currently has in its reserve arsenal. It is also important to note that all that can be seen in the photo of the Newa SC shared by the charity is the launcher and its missiles. This means that it isn’t immediately obvious if Ukraine has received the full Newa SC battery complete with its command post and combination of radars, or if its armed forces have instead linked them to radars it already has in its possession.

The Polish S-125 Newa SC with its WZT-1 chassis in full view. Credit: Polish Armed Forces

Ukraine does have its own arsenal of Pechoras as well, though the systems were ultimately retired and it’s unclear how many, if any at all, were put back into use when Russia's invasion began. Despite the retirement, local companies continued to refurbish them over the years with updates and technical support, which has given the country institutional experience with the system. This modernization program even led to the testing of an improved missile for S-125 in 2018, and Ukrainian troops were later seen training with the system in 2020. 

Footage also emerged in August of this year showing the Ukrainian Air Force maintaining and preparing a V-601 missile for the S-125, raising questions about whether the country had pulled these weapons out of retirement for necessity’s sake. Regardless, it’s uncertain what the status of Ukraine's pre-war S-125 systems was when the conflict broke out or if they've done anything to change that amid the surge in Russian strikes

Either way, the performance specifications of Newa SC’s missiles show that the system is not a long-range capability, which means that despite the unexpected yet seemingly welcomed appearance of it, Ukraine’s gap in far-reaching air defense systems will remain for now. 

Allies across the globe have been supporting Ukraine’s air defenses with numerous deliveries of advanced missile systems over the past few months. The widespread aid, for both the near and far terms, began ramping up this fall when Russia first started employing armed Iranian combat drones, along with cruise missile barrages, against cities across Ukraine. The targeting specifically of civilian energy infrastructure has brought a new aspect to this crisis and prompted a more robust response from international allies.

Since then, the missile strikes have grown in frequency, and the threat of ballistic missile attacks, especially those that could be waged if Iran is to provide Russia with types from its arsenal, is only increasing in urgency. While surface-to-air systems like the U.S.-supplied NASAMS and the German IRIS-T, for example, have been pivotal in defending Ukraine from Russian aerial attacks, the country is still lacking a modern air defense capability that can reach great distances and work reliably against ballistic missile threats. 

All told, the S-125 Newa SC won’t be the answer to all of Ukraine’s air defense needs. However, the country’s armed forces are likely more than willing to use whatever its allies can offer in this regard, and there is still plenty for the system to shoot at, likely making it a very welcomed addition.

Contact the author: Emma@thewarzone.com

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