Russia Deploys Latest Medium Range Air Defence System BuK-M3 ‘Viking’ to Ukraine

The Russian Military has for the first time deployed its newest medium range surface to air missile system the BuK-M3 for combat operations, with images released on March 21 confirming its presence in Ukraine. The development is significant due largely to prior uncertainty as to whether the BuK-M3 was even in service, with the Russian Military previously appearing to favour the S-350 for medium range engagements and intending the BuK system primarily for export. Perhaps more importantly, the deployment of a new system indicates that Russia may still be facing challenges from Ukrainian aircraft despite the large majority of Ukrainian airfields having been destroyed and fighter units taking heavy losses to cruise missile strikes. Lighter aircraft, most notably drones, have continued to fly, and Ukraine continues to operate Tochka ballistic missiles from the Soviet era which it has used both against Russian airfields and against civilian areas in parts of Eastern Ukraine that have supported Moscow. 

The BuK-M3, like older BuK variants, makes use of a tracked launch vehicle and is highly mobile, with the new variant having a faster setup time. The platform has a much extended maximum range reportedly as long as 70km, although some sources have indicated that it could exceed 100km, and uses a command post that can integrate with other radars and air defence systems to form a multi layered network. The systems are usually organised into battalions of three batteries each, with battalions themselves operating in groupings of four which between them share one command vehicle and one search radar. The system may well revolutionise the protection Russian ground units enjoy against drone and missile strikes, and is mobile enough to move alongside mechanised infantry or armoured formations. While the Russian Military previously refrained from deploying top end weapons systems to the Ukrainian theatre, a notable example being its heavy reliance on the T-72B3 tank while holding back its elite T-90Ms, the deployment of the BuK-M3 represents a deviation from this. Its deployment comes as Russian forces have secured more territory in the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, and have successfully taken large parts of Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine. 



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