Ukraine receives more Stinger missiles from the US at a key moment

On March 12, under the Presidential Drawdown Authority, the United States announced a $300 million aid allocation to Ukraine.

This aid focuses mainly on the supply of essential ammunition to Ukraine, highlighting among the arsenal sent the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, critical for ground-to-air defense operations.

The timing of this aid is crucial, given Russia’s recent escalation of air activities. Russian air forces have played a key role in the renewed offensive, providing air cover for its ground troops and piercing Ukraine’s defenses. To counter this and preserve its sovereignty, Ukraine considers it imperative to intercept these aircraft, with Stinger missiles being a vital element in this strategy.

Developed by General Dynamics and in service since 1981, FIM-92 Stinger missiles are an essential component of the defensive capabilities of not only the United States but also the world’s armed forces.

These missiles use infrared guidance technology to detect and track the heat emitted by aircraft engines, giving them great precision when setting their targets. Although current aircraft can apply countermeasures, the intense thermal signature of their engines makes them only partially effective.

A clear advantage of the Stinger is its portability. Housed in a 1.5-meter launch tube, the entire system weighs approximately 15 kg, allowing a single Marine to transport and operate it autonomously in theater.

The Ukrainian arsenal of Stinger missiles has been declining despite previous deliveries by the United States and allies such as the Netherlands, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Germany, which numbered more than 2,000 units before the war. The intensive use of these systems in the current war has been widely documented, including visual records of downed Russian aircraft.

Reinforcement of Ukrainian air defense with Stinger missiles

Although Ukraine has more complex anti-aircraft systems, the Stingers offer a differential advantage: their mobility and the minimum training required for their use. This characteristic makes them ideal for strategic dispersal along the extensive battlefront.

With the front line stretched across Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, a Stinger operator turns out to be a less noticeable target compared to more voluminous air defense installations.

The available Stinger arsenal is depleted in the face of increased Russian air activities, reflected in a growing number of intercepted Russian aircraft.

Although Oryxspioenkop reports indicate the destruction of a moderate number of Russian aircraft since the beginning of the year, Ukrainian authorities report higher numbers, demonstrating notable effectiveness in the use of these missiles.

This shows that, despite the casualties suffered, the Russian military maintains a considerable air fleet, which, until the recent increase in the offensive, had been underutilized.

Key to advancing through minefields

The increase in Russian air activity could be directly related to the complex ground defense systems implemented by Ukraine, which include minefields designed to slow the advance of Russian troops. Ukraine has deployed a drone surveillance network over these fields, identifying and marking Russian units trying to overcome these obstacles. These units are subsequently targeted by Ukrainian artillery, positioned outside the effective range of Russian artillery to avoid counterattacks.

In this context, Russian forces are forced to neutralize both Ukrainian surveillance drones and their artillery to ensure passage through the minefields. The superiority in drone technology on the Ukrainian side has led Russia to opt for the strategy of using its air force to attack Ukrainian artillery directly.

As Russian units approach Ukrainian mine barriers, Russian fighter jets are deployed to locate and neutralize Ukrainian artillery batteries. This tactic follows a similar strategy planned by Ukraine, which was limited by the lack of aircraft to implement it in the face of Russian obstacles.

The supply of Stinger missiles to Ukraine becomes a decisive factor in this context. Russian aircraft, in close support of its ground forces, are a priority target for these anti-aircraft missiles. Although the most advanced Russian aircraft have countermeasures that can reduce the effectiveness of the Stingers, the simple fact of having to perform evasive maneuvers to avoid being shot down prevents them from being able to carry out precise attacks against the Ukrainian artillery, temporarily neutralizing them.

In this war, which has become a war of attrition, the ability to overcome defensive barriers is essential. Russia’s need for close air support to breach Ukrainian defenses contrasts with Ukraine’s ability to regain airspace dominance with the integration of more Stinger missiles, which could be decisive in slowing Russian offensive momentum.