A Facebook post by Ukraine’s Air Force (UAF) Command on Monday, July 1 details how one of its air defense crews was put together to operate a 1960s vintage S-125 (NATO: SA-3 Goa) air defense system.

While applauding the achievements of the team, the post says Ukraine still has an urgent need for the West to supply more modern air defense systems.

In the post, the UAF tells how the launch battery from the Odesa Brigade, which is led by a young professional officer identified only as “Lev,” came together.

“You can't prepare for war, but I tried,” Lev says.

While still attending school Lev said that, following Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas, he already understood that it was only a matter of time before there would be a full-scale invasion.

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So, when he left school, he chose to enter military academy despite his family not having any military connections. He concluded his only choice was to “run away or fight for your own.”

Lev had almost graduated when the full-scale invasion began. He and others in his course graduated in time to enter the war as “inexperienced, but trained officers.”

He was allocated to an air defense unit equipped with the 9K37 Buk-M1 (NATO: SA-11 Gadfly) and spent the best part of a year in training before joining the newly formed S-125 unit.

As the UAF post says, Lev’s S-125 crew quickly achieved outstanding combat results – on their first combat engagement shooting down a 3M14 Kalibr (NATO: SS-N-30A) ship-launched cruise missile.

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Since then, it’s shot down around 50 long-range missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), the post says.

The amazing thing, bearing in mind that level of success is that the S-125 was designed as a static, point-defense asset that must be guided onto the target by the operator.

This requires the crew to manually enter the target azimuth, monitor the angular coordinates of the targets, and control radar antenna settings on each encounter – a complex, multistep procedure.

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Lev’s team operating the S-125 fire control and guidance system. Photo: Facebook

The S-125 system uses two different missile variants: The V-600 has a 60-kilogram (130-pound) high explosive warhead and a range of around 15 kilometers (9.4 miles). The second version, the V-601 has a 70-kilogram (150-pound) warhead made up of a 33-kilogram (70-pound) high explosive bursting charge that expels around 4,500 fragments out to around 18 kilometers (11 miles).

Not only are the launchers 60 years old but the missiles are all manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s, each having to be checked for operability before being used.

The key to a successful hit on the target, according to Lev, is the professionalism and teamwork of a crew “that works together as one.”

The battery consists of several launchers, each with four missiles, as well as the associated radars and other components. The thing that is even more remarkable is that Lev and his crew have needed to move constantly from firing position to position with a system that was never intended to be mobile.

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Not only is the constant moving difficult, but it affects the functionality of the system and its missiles, which because of their age must be regularly maintained and repaired. Even when there are no operations the crew always has something to do.

Lev says that he would, of course, love to eventually move to a more modern air defense system. He sees that he and his “brothers” wouldn’t refuse, the opportunity, and most of them know English and are all pretty fast learners.

He adds, the fact that they do the best they can with their old system and are “aware of the insane responsibility placed on” him and his boys.

“For now, we are fighting on with what we have and squeezing the most out of the technology,” he said.

“I'm not complaining at all, we do one of the most noble things – protecting our people, our country – defending the Ukrainian skies,” he said.

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