Air Defense: NASAMS Exploits NATO Standards


November 16, 2017: An innovative Norwegian air defense system (NASAMS) gained two more export customers in October 2017. Lithuania paid $128 million for two NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System) batteries together with logistic support such as spare parts or crew training. The second order was from Indonesia and was worth $77 million, did not include missiles and will be handled by the United States government. American firms make many NASAMS components. The United States is a customer, and still uses some of the original NASAMS to guard key sites in Washington DC.

Each NASAMS 2 battery consists of 12 launcher vehicles (each carrying six missiles), eight radar vehicles, one fire control center, and one tactical control vehicle. NASAMS often uses the American AMRAMM radar guided air-to-air missiles but fired from a six missile container instead of an aircraft. This ground based AMRAAM weighs 159 kg (350 pounds), has a range of 30 kilometers (it's radar can see out 50-70 kilometers), and can hit targets as high as 21 kilometers (65,000 feet). What makes AMRAMM effective as a SAM (surface-to-air missile) is the capabilities of its guidance system (which is about two thirds of the $400,000 missile's cost). Testing also revealed that AMRAAM could be used to shoot down cruise missiles.

Norway believed that the combat proven AMRAAM used by NASAMS was a good long term choice for air defense because the United States is constantly updating the missile. Norway developed NASAMS in the early 1990s and deployed the first missiles and radars in 1995 and the original NASAMS entered service in 1998. Norway pioneered the use of AMRAAM as a surface-to-air missile and other systems have been developed using AMRAAM. But the Norwegian version is seen as the best of the lot. Norway has six NASAMS batteries for its own defense. Spain, Holland, Finland, Chile, and the United States also use NASAMS. Finland, like Lithuania are on the Baltic Sea and adjacent to Russia. So is Norway, far to the north. Norway and Lithuania are both NATO members, as are Holland and Spain. All three nations bordering Russia have been convinced that NASAMS is a cost-effective defense against Russian air power and cruise missiles.

The NASAMS was initially designed for Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) by Norwegian firm Kongsberg and its American partner Raytheon. A major upgrade, NASAMS 2, officially entered service in 2007 and since then it has gained interest in so far 6 nations (not including Lithuania and Indonesia). The NASAMS is a truly open architecture unlike the competitor systems. Initially it used the American made MPQ-64 Sentinel radar and AMRAAM missile but some customers requested different configuration. For now NASAMS was tested and configured to work with more than 25 different radar systems and can fire just about any air-to-air missile that can be fired from NATO aircraft. All that is required is modifications to the size and electrical connections in the NASAMS launcher cells and software modification of the fire control system. Since NATO has long established standards for “NATO weapons” NASAMS takes full advantage of this.

So far NASAMS has been configured with AIM-120 AMRAAM (together with ER variant), AIM-9X Sidewinder, ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) and IRIS-T. The last one is an interesting story. The Norway has a big stock of them for their F-16 but the new F-35 is no compatible with these so they have decided to use this very modern European missile as anti-aircraft one in NASAMS system. This example clearly shows how flexible this system is while the competitor systems are “tied” to a limited number of missiles and radar.

Thanks to this purchase the Lithuania as well Indonesia will acquire system which can engage targets at much longer range and altitude ( range is 20/40 kilometers at attitude up to 15 kilometers) than currently used man portable launchers (range is a few kilometers and altitude usually up to 6 kilometers). Furthermore this sale will encourage neighboring NATO members, especially Latvia or Estonia, to join the “NASAMS club.” The largest potential NASAMs customer is Poland because the Poles still need to select a winner for their Narew (short range air defense) program. --- Przemysław Juraszek


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