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The United States is dusting off Cold War-era weapons for use in Ukraine

cold war weapons for ukraine

Launch of a Hawk missile.

Some good ol’ American weapons technology designed to be used against Russia may finally live for its intended purpose. With Ukrainian troops expending weapons to take out Russian soldiers at mind-boggling rate, the United States is delving into its old Cold War stockpiles to keep Ukraine’s armed forces fighting with new old Cold War-era weapons.

The idea behind a human wave attack is to overwhelm defenders with sheer volume of numbers, hopefully overrunning their position before they can be wiped out with superior firepower. There are clearly some huge disadvantages to this tactic, especially if the defenders have more ammunition they can dispense before the human wave overruns them. 

Russia, with its inferior vehicles, untrained troops, and lack of cohesive firepower, appears to be using a long-term form of a human wave against Ukrainian defenses. No matter what strategy the Russians happen to be using, things don’t look good for the hundreds of thousands of newly-mobilized and soon-to-be conscripted Russian soldiers, because the Ukrainians aren’t going to expend their ammo anytime soon. 

To ensure Kyiv has that kind of firepower, the United States and its European allies aren’t just sending the latest and greatest to the front lines of Donetsk and elsewhere, they’re looking to the past to give everything they can to the war for democracy. This means going back to a time when the United States was uniquely interested in killing Russians: the Cold War. 

The U.S. is going into Cold War-era weapons stockpiles to dust off weapons made to fight the Red Army in Europe, refurbishing them where necessary and upgrading them for use in Ukraine. The first weapons to be revived: the American-made HAWK air defense system. 

First developed by Raytheon in the 1960s, the MIM-23 Hawk was designed to be a mobile and smaller version of the MIM-24 Nike missile. Its a radar-tracking surface-to-air missile (SAM) that was upgraded in both the 1970s and 1990s to increase its homing capability and allow it to successfully intercept incoming cruise missiles: just what Ukraine needs right now. 

MIM_23 Hawk Cold War weapons
MIM-23 Hawk loading vehicle reloading a launching trailer.

The HAWK was phased out of U.S. military service in 1994 to make way for the new MIM-104 Patriot missile batteries without ever using them in combat. Israel still uses the HAWK system, as does Iran (who acquired it during the Iran-Contra Affair), and Norway. 

Though the U.S. might not have used the HAWK in combat, a number of other nations have, They were used effectively in the Six Day War between Israel and an Arab coalition, the Iran-Iraq War between 1980 and 1989, and against Iraq again by Kuwaiti forces during the 1991 Gulf War. Upgrades the the system being used in Ukraine give the HAWK an 85% chance of intercepting its targets. 

HAWK missiles are being sent to Ukraine by the United States and are being fired by launchers donated to Ukraine from the U.S.’s NATO ally, Spain. The HAWK is not considered a viable option for targeting the small kamikaze drones made by Iran, but can be used to intercept the volleys of Russian cruise missiles that have devastated Ukrainian infrastructure in recent weeks. 

As time goes on, Russian strategy evolves, and the need for expanded Ukrainian support evolves with it, who knows what Cold War-era weapons might come out of the attic? British Chieftain tanks, American F-4 Phantoms and maybe even some of the older, Jeep-mounted recoilless rifles may see new light from the Arsenal of Democracy.

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