Avenger Air Defense Systems Headed To Ukraine

The Ukrainian military’s air defense arsenal is set to expand again, this time with Humvee-based Avenger systems from the U.S. military. The Avengers, which can fire Stinger heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles and engage air and ground targets with an onboard .50 caliber machine gun, could be particularly effective as flexible point defense assets against the scores of Iranian-made drones that have been flowing into Russian hands in recent months.

The Pentagon announced plans today to transfer four Avengers, a system Ukraine does not currently have in inventory, as well as additional HAWK surface-to-air missiles, more artillery and small arms ammunition, other types of Humvees, and other material as part of a new tranche of military aid valued at approximately $400 million in total. This package is a so-called “draw-down,” meaning that items will come directly from U.S. military stocks. This brings the total value of all American military assistance delivered or pledged to Ukraine since Russia launched its all-out invasion in February to $18.6 billion.

An Avenger air defense system. DOD

The Avengers are the latest in a growing succession of air defense assets that Ukrainian forces have received, or are expecting to, from the U.S. government and other foreign partners in the past few months. More air defense capabilities have been high on the Ukrainian government’s wishlist from the start of the conflict.

However, Russia’s use of Iranian-supplied drones, which started in September, and a recent spike in missile strikes against largely civilian targets in Ukraine, including the systematic targeting of the country’s power grid, have all put new emphasis on Kyiv’s requests for more air and missile defense capabilities. Last month, the U.S. military announced a broader, longer-term initiative intended to help Ukraine establish a more modern and capable nationwide integrated air and missile defense network.

Avenger is a short-range air defense (SHORAD) system that “will provide Ukraine with capability to protect Ukrainian troops and critical infrastructure against unmanned aerial systems and helicopters,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokesperson, told The War Zone and reporters from other outlets at a briefing today. Singh also highlighted how they could also be employed as point defenses against incoming cruise missiles.

The system, which is formally designed AN/TWQ-1, consists of a turret with two four-round launchers for Stinger missiles, an M3P .50 caliber machine gun, and a sighting system that includes an infrared camera, optical sight, and laser rangefinder. Ukrainian forces already employ Stingers, which they have received from the United States and other countries, using shoulder-fired launchers, also known as the Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) configuration.

The complete Avenger system is most commonly carried on the back of a Humvee, but can also be dismounted and employed from fixed positions. Offboard sensors, such as the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar, examples of which the U.S. military has already transferred to Ukraine, can be used to cue the AN/TWQ-1 via a centralized fire direction center.

Given the aerial threats that Ukraine currently faces, any additional air defense assets are certain to be a boon, but the Avengers make particular sense from operational and sustainment perspectives. As already noted, the Ukrainian military has significant experience with Stinger, which it has already employed to good effect, and the Humvee platform.

In addition, the missiles come in common launch tubes that can be fired from the Avenger system and shoulder-mounted launchers. So, the Ukrainians will be able to issue any existing or future stocks of Stingers to Avenger-equipped units, as well as those with MANPADS.

US Army soldiers load training versions of the Stinger missile into an Avenger system. US Army

As such, it should be particularly easy for Ukraine’s armed forces to integrate the Avengers into both its force structure and its supply chains.

Four Avengers is, of course, a very small number of these systems, and they could easily end up deployed to protect specific high-value sites. With this in mind, its interesting to note that Avenger is one of the systems that the U.S. military uses to defend the heavily restricted airspace over Washington, D.C. and other surrounding areas, known collectively as the National Capital Region.

Their mobility could still allow them to be relatively rapidly repositioned as required to displace at irregular intervals from one specific location to another within a designated area to help avoid enemy attacks while still providing defensive coverage. A recent report from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank in the United Kingdom has underlined what The War Zone has said before, that the Russian military’s targeting process is so lengthy and convoluted that it is difficult to prosecute mobile targets of any kind.

In addition, based on what has been seen already in how the size and scope of U.S. military aid packages have expanded since February, additional Avengers may well end up heading to Ukraine in the coming months as the country’s military demonstrates its ability to effectively employ and sustain them. Separately, the U.S. Army is in the process of acquiring new Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) systems based on the 8×8 Stryker armored vehicle, which are set to replace at least some of the service’s Avengers. This, in turn, could make it easier to send more Avengers to send to Ukraine.

Any quantity of Avengers is, of course, not the end of Ukraine’s air and missile defense needs. The country has already received or is in the process of receiving a number of Western short and medium-range surface-to-air missile systems to help provide sorely needed additional air defense capacity. This includes examples of the much-touted U.S.-Norwegian-developed National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), which is another system the U.S. military has deployed around Washington, and could potentially be paired more directly with the forthcoming Avengers.

Ukraine has acquired or is in the process of acquiring a number of German IRIS-T SLM, American-made HAWK, and Italian-designed Aspide systems from multiple countries. Various Soviet-era systems have been delivered since February, too.

“We’re basically creating… a net of air defense systems with different ranges… , whether it’s the HAWK missiles or the IRIS-T that the Germans provided, or what we are providing today with the four Avenger air defense systems,” Pentagon spokesperson Singh said today. “All of them have different ranges, all of them contribute differently on the battlefield.”

So far, unfortunately, none of the air defense systems heading to Ukraine, including the newly announced Avengers, address the looming threat of a surge in short-range ballistic missile strikes. There is a very real danger if Russia follows through with reported plans to acquire significant numbers of weapons in that category from Iran. The possibility of Ukraine’s military eventually receiving longer-range Western air defense systems with at least some degree of ballistic missile defense capability, such as Patriot, does remains a topic of discussion.

When exactly the four Avengers for Ukraine will actually arrive in the country now remains to be seen. Whenever they do, it’s hard to imagine they won’t be a welcome addition to the Ukrainian military’s already growing array of air defense capabilities.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com

Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.