Following President Biden’s additional $800 million military assistance package to Ukraine announced last week, the US is reportedly sending a number of its Soviet air defense equipment to Ukraine. These were secretly purchased by the US government decades ago for research purposes but were discovered in 1994 by the public and were subsequently kept under wraps.

This report comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had requested more weapons from the US and its allies. Ukraine aims to defend itself from Russian airstrikes and the Russian Air Force, which has been bombing both the port city of Mariupol and Kyiv for the past few days. The bombings are inflicting not just the death of Ukrainian soldiers but also countless civilian casualties, which the Russians are allegedly deliberately targeting.

Apparently, the United States had procured several units of Soviet-made air defenses in order to examine and understand the technology behind it. These small number of units were purchased around 1994 when it was reported that a Soviet-made transport plane landed in Huntsville, Alabama. A report by The Wall Street Journal revealed that the plane had originated from Belarus and that the contents of this transport plane were the S-300 air defense system that the US had purchased from the now-Russian allied country. It reportedly cost around $100 million to acquire during that time.

These weapons were subsequently transported to Redstone Arsenal, a historical base typically known for its research on missile weaponry, particularly research and development efforts by German scientists during Operation Paperclip, which is also in Alabama. It was said that a number of the Soviet weapons stored in this base were loaded on a C-17 to be transported to Ukraine.

Despite these reports, the Pentagon and the National Security Council did not comment on the planned weapons shipment.

“They’re fighting for their country, and the Pentagon is not going to be detailing publicly the tools with which they are doing that,” Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said.

 A Romanian 9K33 OSA (NATO designation: SA-8 Gecko) surface-to-air missile system during a military exercise at Capu Midia firing range (Wikimedia Commons). Source:
A Romanian 9K33 OSA (NATO designation: SA-8 Gecko) surface-to-air missile system during a military exercise at Capu Midia firing range (Ştefan CiocanCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

However, it was revealed that the S-300 acquired from Belarus was not included in the list of weapons that were going to Ukraine. Instead, units of the 9K33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko) were reportedly included in the weapons to be sent to Ukraine.

The SA-8 Gecko is a surface-to-air missile system that is effective in engaging targets at short-range and at low altitudes— all variants of the 9K33 use a 9A33 transporter launcher. However, the SA-8 utilizes four exposed 9M33 missiles per TELAR 9A33B. It has a reported maximum range of 7.5 miles. Current notable operators include Syria, Poland, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Houthi rebels. Of course, Ukraine also operates the 9K33M2 Osa-AK, thus making it easier for them to operate the SA-8 as there would be a seamless skill and knowledge transfer.