Nearly one year after the Pentagon announced plans to transfer Hawk medium-range surface-to-air missiles to augment other more advanced systems, Ukraine has this air defense system in its arsenal of Western weapons.
The public debut of the American system took place about a year after the beginning of its transfer to Ukraine by the United States and other allies.
What is the MIM-23 Hawk?
The MIM-23 Hawk (“Homing All the Way Killer”) is a medium-range air defense system created by the American weapons manufacturer Raytheon, which also developed the legendary MIM-104 Patriot.
This system was developed in the US in the mid-1950s. It was already in service with the US Army by 1960. Even though the MIM-23 Hawk appeared during the Cold War, it remains relevant in a large number of countries around the world, such as Japan, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others.
During its more than 60 years of existence, the MIM-23 Hawk has undergone a number of upgrades and improvements. The third-generation system was adopted in 1989. Most likely, this is the improved version that Ukraine will receive.
The MIM-23 Hawk is capable of effectively shooting down almost the entire range of aerial threats, from aircraft and helicopters to cruise missiles and attack drones. The average air target hit rate of the MIM-23 Hawk is around 85 percent.
In the third-generation system, the developers managed to increase the overall efficiency of the complex due to full digitalization. This significantly reduced the time required to launch a missile and allowed quickly changing targets in event there were several of them. It is important to note that each launcher can launch only one missile at a given target at a time.
A warhead weighing 74 kilograms usually delivers complete destruction of the target in the air. This is important because there are cases when a cruise missile or an attack drone is shot down from a man-portable air defense system (MANPAD) but not destroyed.
The problem is that the mass of the MANPAD warhead is sometimes insufficient to initiate the explosion of the target warhead that needs to be destroyed. A missile or drone may suffer damage and go off course but will continue to move and can hit anywhere and explode on the ground.
The MIM-23 missile develops a speed of 2.4 Mach (approximately 800 m/s), which is enough to effectively counter cruise missiles and even aircraft.
The range of the MIM-23 Hawk is about 50 kilometers. In addition, the system is capable of hitting targets at an altitude of up to 20 kilometers. For comparison, Soviet-made Buk [NATO: SA-11] air defense systems have a radius of destruction of air targets of 35 kilometers.
The composition of the air defense system
The system uses multiple radars for target search, acquisition, tracking and guidance. The AN/MPQ-50 surveillance radar can detect high-altitude targets at up to 100 kilometers. In addition, there is a special AN/MPQ-62 continuous wave doppler radar designed to detect low-altitude targets, including cruise missiles and attack drones, which usually fly at altitudes below 150 meters above ground level.
Since the missiles in the MIM-23 Hawk are equipped with a semi-active radar homing, target illumination by a separate offboard radar is required. The system includes the AN/MPQ-61 doppler tracking and missile guidance radar, which is responsible for this function.
The complex includes an anti-aircraft battery, which usually consists of two fire units, each with three launchers. Each mobile launcher is equipped with three MIM-23 anti-aircraft missiles. Launchers can have both self-propelled and trailed configurations.
The last-generation HAWK XXI system, which was modernized in Turkey, has become easier to use and easier to handle compared to the first modification. With the development of electronics, the developers managed to reduce the number of radar machines required for the operation of the system. The latest generation received the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar station, which is the same radar used in the NASAMS air defense complex.
The main advantages of the system
A significant advantage of the MIM-23 Hawk is its mass production as the systems were produced in sufficient quantities. About 1,700 launchers were manufactured. The supply of missiles is not a problem because missile stocks in US warehouses allows organizing their regular supply to Ukraine. This is especially relevant in the conditions of war, in which the enemy has significant production and technical resources.
The MIM-23 Hawk fits perfectly into the Ukrainian defense strategy. The increasing supply of these systems to Ukraine will not affect the defense capability of those countries that will transfer them. Europe and the United States switched to more advanced ground-based air defense systems. Western countries use the MIM-23 Hawk as auxiliary and secondary but not as the main means of defense. NATO countries mainly rely on the work of interceptor aircraft.
The American systems will help Ukraine compensate for the loss of Soviet air defense systems and, in general, strengthen the protection of our airspace.
Today, Ukraine is interested in these systems due to their mass production. The US has a sufficient number of launchers and missiles in its warehouses. During the entire period of existence of the MIM-23 Hawk, the Americans produced about 40,000 missiles for them.
Clearly, during active combat operations, the latest missile versions are needed, because the service life of the first-generation missiles has already been exhausted. However, the number of 40,000 anti-aircraft missiles gives a general idea of the former large-scale production.
The United States has not used these systems since 2002, so their further fate after storage could include disposal [by destroying them], which requires significant costs from the American budget. Considering Ukraine’s need to strengthen air defense, disposal of these systems now would be too irrational. After all, these systems can be effectively used for the protection of Ukrainian military facilities and critical infrastructure.
Air defense capabilities are now extremely important for Ukraine. The MIM-23 Hawk system will definitely not be superfluous.
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