The West Needs to Keep Supporting Ukraine with MANPADS

April 20, 2022
Photo credit: Popsuievych /
The countries of the transatlantic alliance have responded to the invasion of Ukraine with large amounts of military aid to the country in addition to unprecedented sanctions on Russia.

These arms transfers have boosted Ukraine’s defense capacity, but this effect will be short-lived if the flow of weapons slows. This especially includes man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). Many countries have provided Ukraine’s armed forces with many of these, making them essential in Ukraine’s defense of its airspace.

Developed in the late 1960s, MANPADS are surface-to-air missile systems designed to be carried and fired by a single individual. They were one of the weapons most transferred during the Cold War. The Soviet Union and the United States used them as one of the primary ways to provide military support their allies and proxies. The most prominent example of this was the United States supplying the Mujahideen in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles, which helped put a substantial dent in the Soviets’ control of the country’s airspace.

More recently, the countries of the transatlantic alliance, particularly the United Sates have been more hesitant to provide MANPADS to the allies involved in different conflicts. This is due to the wide proliferation of these systems, which in some cases led to their falling into the hands of non-state armed groups. Most notoriously, the Taliban inherited the MANPADS that had been supplied to the Mujahideen. These same weapons were then used against the United States during the war in Afghanistan.

The delivery of newer MANPADS like the US-developed FIM-92 Stinger has boosted Ukraine’s already effective usage of its older systems such as the Soviet-developed 9K38 Igla. The effectiveness of Ukraine’s older systems has to some degree been a surprise. These MANPADS are still effective but they do not contain the same tracing mechanism as newer ones and therefore are less accurate. Most recently the United Kingdom has promised to deliver its ultra-modern and highly efficient Starstreak to Ukraine.

With the conflict moving toward greater urban warfare, these systems will continue to rise in importance for Ukraine.

Although the United States and other countries are no longer giving details of the number of MANPADS included in their defense aid to Ukraine, it was estimated to have been at least 5,000 within weeks of the invasion. Their continuous transfer demonstrates that the transatlantic allies continue to support the defense of the country’s airspace, even if they have rejected its demands for the creation of a no-fly zone.

MANPADS have been shown to be effective in downing Russian aircraft. However, although the Russian air force has suffered high losses as a result of Ukraine’s strong air defense, it is still able to strike not only strategic targets in the country and but also civilian ones, with a rising death toll as a result. This is why the Ukrainian government has included more MANPADs in its list of military needs.

Additionally, with the conflict moving toward greater urban warfare, these systems will continue to rise in importance for Ukraine as their portable and compact nature as well as their shoulder-firing capacity becomes more relevant. This is why the transfer of MANPADS to Ukraine, particularly that of newer generations, must continue. They can protect the Ukrainian skies more fully to prevent further atrocities.