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It is not modern or fancy. Here are the most important weapons in Ukraine

During the war in Ukraine, several newer weapons dominated the headlines – such as the US HIMARS missiles and Turkish TB2 drones. However, it is the older weapon, mainly the Soviet one, that dominates the battlefield.

Many of the most important weapon systems are not new – said Rob Lee, an American expert on the Russian army, at a recent conference organized by the think tank New America.

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When, for example, Russia entered Ukraine, it was widely expected that its air force would play a decisive role, especially given the lower number and quality of Ukrainian aircraft.

Instead, Moscow’s air force has become an almost inferior factor in the conflict, and Russian pilots are reluctant to operate in Ukrainian airspace after heavy casualties early in the conflict.

Ukrainian soldiers next to the BM-21 rocket launcher "Hail" in eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers next to the BM-21 “Grad” rocket launcher in eastern Ukraine


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JUAN BARRETO / AFP / East News / East News

One of the reasons for this is Ukraine’s air defense systems from the Soviet era, such as the S-300 and the Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missiles.

“I think the most important achievement is that the anti-aircraft defense of Ukraine has survived and continues to prevent the Russian air force from attacking objects outside the Ukrainian frontline,” said Lee. – Russia cannot hit HIMARS. They cannot effectively attack the Ukrainian command and control system. They can’t stop them from replenishing their supplies – added.

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– The most important factor are probably such facilities as Buk-M1 or S-300 systems. These are Soviet installations. They are not new. They are not fancy. They’re not sexy, but they play such an important role – explained Lee. ‘Thanks to them, more modern systems such as HIMARS can play a very important role,’ he explained.

Russian air defense systems

Russian air defense systems


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AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev / East News

In reports from the war, it is often emphasized that Western weapons sent to Ukraine turned the tide of the conflict and allowed the Ukrainian counter-offensive to undo Russian gains.

Meanwhile, Javelin and NLAW anti-tank missiles and HIMARS missiles were still in US and UK warehouses when Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022. Ukraine did not receive them for weeks or months because the US and other countries hesitated to send large weapons such as like artillery.

The weapons that Ukraine used to stop the Russian attack are mainly older designs: T-72 and T-64 tanks (from the 1960s and 1970s), MiG-29 fighters, and Soviet rocket launchers and machine guns.

This equipment has been enriched with new electronics, ammunition and other improvements. For example, Ukraine extended the range and modernized the electronics of the Soviet Kh-35 anti-ship missile to produce the native R-360 Neptune missile, which sank cruiser Moscow, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in April 2022.

Militarily, the strangest aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian war is that both armies have essentially similar arsenals and tactics that date back to when Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union.

For Ukraine, this brings an unexpected advantage: all these captured Soviet tanks and artillery can be easily used by Ukrainian crews, accustomed to these models.

This, however, is changing. As older Soviet equipment is destroyed or replaced, Ukraine is being equipped with more and more Western weapons. Although newer and more technically advanced, these diverse weapons from more than 30 countries will pose logistical and integration difficulties, and will require the Ukrainian armed forces to adopt a more Western style of warfare using high technology.

Russia has an even more difficult perspective ahead. Moscow has introduced several new weapons, such as hypersonic missiles and the T-90 tank (one of which has just been captured by Ukraine intact), but with Western sanctions depriving it of electronics and other imported components, Russia will have increasing difficulty production of advanced weapons.

It’s a sign of desperation that after losing more than 1,000 tanks, Russia is using T-62 tanks that were obsolete almost half a century ago. This, however, is better than the lack of any tanks, and proves that old weapons can be retired but are not dying.

Author: Michael Peck

Translated by Mateusz Albin

Michael Peck is a defense specialist. His work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy and other publications. He holds a master’s degree in political science. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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