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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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U.S.

Project FrankenSAM sending air defense systems to Ukraine

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The United States is running out of approved funding for Ukraine while congressional dysfunction is threatening future funding. Meanwhile, Ukraine said it can’t afford to give Russia another winter to dig more trenches, and plan on pressing the attack.

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These two factors create a hard truth: Ukraine needs more air defense systems, but the U.S. is running out of money to supply them. In response, the Pentagon is now looking into more creative solutions to supply Ukraine with needed systems months ago.

The Pentagon’s most recent solution is called Project FrankenSAM. It looks to create new air defense systems out of various tech that isn’t being used.

One product Project FrankenSAM created donated radar kits and paired them with Aim-9M Sidewinder missiles. On Oct. 11, the U.S. announced it would send Ukraine Sidewinders as part of the latest aid package, totaling around $200 million.

Sidewinders are the most widely used air-to-air missiles on the market. They use infrared guidance to track heat signatures, so they work even against electronic warfare countermeasures.

In another Franken-system bit of engineering, the U.S. worked with Ukraine to put RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles on Soviet-era Buk launchers.

Sea Sparrows are typically used by the Navy to protect ships from pop-up threats like subsonic cruise missiles. Sea Sparrows don’t have the range of the Buk’s original missile, however, Ukraine is running out of those anyway.

Putting Sea Sparrows on Buks also gives Ukraine options when it comes to providing short range air defense for advancing troops.

The Pentagon’s efforts to provide Ukraine with more discounted air defense doesn’t stop at this kit, though. Project FrankenSAM also revived the Hawk air defense system and shipped it to Ukraine.

The U.S. stopped using the Hawk system more than 20 years ago, when the Patriot missile air defense system came online. However, the U.S. military has kept some of the older equipment, and still has plenty of missiles for the Hawk system in storage — as do other allies.

It is unclear how much longer the Pentagon will need to keep up deliveries of discount defensive packages. The U.S. has around $5 billion left in approved Ukraine aid, and any allocation of more funds requires an act of Congress, where nothing is guaranteed.

The systems devised and revived under Project FrankenSAM are all sorely needed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Ukraine’s counteroffensive is now in its fourth month, slowed by the overwhelming size and complexity of Russian defenses, such as miles-deep minefields.

Russia had months to prepare hundreds of miles of trenches and minefields last winter, ahead of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Ukraine said it won’t give Russia the same time to dig in this winter, which will make short range air defense systems all the more valuable in the coming months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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THE US IS RUNNING OUT OF APPROVED FUNDING FOR UKRAINE, AND CONGRESSIONAL DYSFUNCTION IS THREATENING FUTURE FUNDING. UKRAINE SAYS IT CAN’T AFFORD TO GIVE RUSSIA ANOTHER WINTER TO DIG MORE TRENCHES. SO, IT’S PRESSING THE ATTACK.

THESE TWO FACTORS CREATE A HARD TRUTH: UKRAINE NEEDS MORE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS, BUT THE U.S. IS RUNNING OUT OF MONEY TO SUPPLY THEM. PERHAPS SEEING THIS PROBLEM ON THE HORIZON, THE PENTAGON STARTED LOOKING INTO MORE CREATIVE SOLUTIONS TO SUPPLY UKRAINE WITH NEEDED SYSTEMS MONTHS AGO.

WHAT THEY CAME UP WITH IS CALLED PROJECT FRANKENSAM, AND IT LOOKS TO CREATE NEW AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS OUT OF VARIOUS TECH THAT ISN’T REALLY BEING USED.

ONE PRODUCT OF PROJECT FRANKENSAM COBBLED TOGETHER DONATED RADAR KITS AND PAIRED THEM WITH AIM-9M SIDEWINDER MISSILES.

SIDEWINDERS ARE THE MOST WIDELY USED AIR-TO-AIR MISSILES ON THE MARKET. THEY USE INFRARED GUIDANCE TO TRACK HEAT SIGNATURES, SO THEY WORK EVEN AGAINST ELECTRONIC WARFARE COUNTERMEASURES.

IN ANOTHER FRANKEN-SYSTEM BIT OF ENGINEERING, THE U.S. WORKED WITH UKRAINE TO PUT RIM-7 SEA SPARROW MISSILES ON SOVIET-ERA BUK LAUNCHERS.

SEA SPARROWS ARE TYPICALLY USED BY THE NAVY TO PROTECT SHIPS FROM POP-UP THREATS LIKE SUBSONIC CRUISE MISSILES. SEA SPARROWS DON’T HAVE THE RANGE OF THE BUK’S ORIGINAL MISSILE, BUT UKRAINE IS RUNNING OUT OF THOSE ANYWAY. PUTTING SEA SPARROWS ON BUKS ALSO GIVES UKRAINE OPTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO PROVIDING SHORT RANGE AIR DEFENSE FOR ADVANCING TROOPS.

THE PENTAGON’S EFFORTS TO PROVIDE UKRAINE WITH MORE DISCOUNT AIR DEFENSE DOESN’T STOP AT COBBLED TOGETHER KIT THOUGH. PROJECT FRANKENSAM ALSO REVIVED THE HAWK AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM AND SHIPPED IT TO UKRAINE. THE U.S. STOPPED USING THE HAWK SYSTEM MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO, WHEN THE PATRIOT MISSILE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM CAME ONLINE. BUT THE U.S. MILITARY LIKES TO HANG ON TO OLD STUFF, AND STILL HAS PLENTY OF HAWK MISSILES IN STORAGE, AS DO OTHER ALLIES.

WE DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER THE PENTAGON WILL NEED TO KEEP UP DELIVERIES OF DISCOUNT DEFENSIVE PACKAGES. THE U.S. HAS AROUND $5 BILLION LEFT IN APPROVED UKRAINE AID, AND ANY ALLOCATION OF MORE FUNDS REQUIRES AN ACT OF CONGRESS, WHERE NOTHING IS GUARANTEED.