The statement was made during a press conference by Sweden’s Defence Minister and Finance Minister. While the package includes financial assistance for Ukraine’s central bank and other armaments, the most significant supply to the Ukrainian Armed Forces was the RBS-17 missile system, a manpack anti-ship version of the AGM-114C Hellfire.
“Sweden’s government has proposed donating further defense weapons to Ukraine, including the Robot 17 missile system, the AG 90 automatic rifle and ammunition, and another 5,000 armored shots 86. Sweden also plans to pay SEK 60 million (US$6.3 million) to the NATO-created fund to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces.”
Swedish MoD press release
The Swedish ministers stated that the RBS-17 missiles were a special request from the Ukrainian government.
Sweden donated SEK 500 million ($52.4 million) to the Ukrainian central bank’s fund to help the country’s armed forces earlier this spring. The Swedish government is now proposing that Sweden contribute an additional SEK 578 million ($60 million) to the fund. According to the proposals, allotted funding for the central government budget will increase by SEK 1.0 billion ($105 million) in 2022.
RBS-17 is a laser-guided missile system used by units of the Swedish Amphibious Brigade to make it difficult for the enemy to penetrate ships or ports in the Swedish archipelago. The system has high precision and can be deployed from shore on ships and other locations at sea and on land. The amphibious units can illuminate the target at which the missile is directed with a laser designator.
The RBS-17 missiles are equipped with a 9-kilogram warhead and have a range of about 8 kilometers. The length of the missile is 163 centimeters and it has a diameter of 17.8 cm.
RBS-17 will not be the first missile system to be transferred; it will join the UK-provided Brimstone guided missiles that were already in use. As previously reported, the U.S. has also considered delivering Harpoon or NSM coastal missile systems to Ukraine, among other weapons.
Although the increase in the missile arsenal is beneficial to Ukrainian forces, the new missiles don’t appear to have a significant impact given the range of the RBS-17 alone in the field. Hellfire missiles are typically used by air forces to neutralize smaller fighters with limited air defense capabilities. A deployment range of 8 kilometers is quite short for naval warfare and has no deterrent effect on enemy units.
On the other hand, Robot 17 missiles should be considered as a part of Odesa’s layered defence against the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In addition to Ukraine’s Neptune anti-ship missiles, which sank Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship Moskva, the U.S. has been planning to send Harpoon anti-ship missiles with an operational range of 75 nautical miles. These two missiles are capable to engage the Russian units from a long range, while the Brimstone missiles sent by the UK can strike the adversary units from a medium range.
In this defense doctrine, RBS-17 missiles can fill the gap to engage the enemy at point-blank range, since Harpoon and Neptune missiles cannot engage a ship at such close range due to “minimum range” limitations. Consequently, Ukraine can establish an A2/ AD (Anti Access/Area Denial) bubble across several layers, with the Neptune, Harpoon, Brimstone and RBS-17.
Robot 17 missiles can be used efficiently against enemy surface targets in an amphibious assault, which has been under discussion since the beginning of the war. Since we mentioned in the previous analysis that amphibious operations are not an easy choice for Russia and the loss of significant surface resources has reduced this possibility, it is not reasonable to claim that the threat of an amphibious assault on the Odesa coast is over. In this case, the Robot 17 missiles could cause dramatic losses for Russia in an amphibious assault.
Of course, there will be some challenges to operating these missiles. Ukraine doesn’t have much time to train the crew for operational use of these systems. While there are some reservations about how Ukraine will train personnel to use land-based Harpoon missiles in wartime conditions, the Ukrainian armed forces now have two other new missile systems, Brimstone and Robot 17. On the other hand, Ukraine has used anti-tank weapons in wartime and has destroyed so many Russian armoured vehicles with outsourced anti-tank missiles such as Javelin and NLAW that this experience may help the armed forces use RBS-17, also an anti-tank missile system, effectively.
Furthermore, while having numerous types of missiles in the arsenal increases firepower and creates a problem for the opponent to solve in terms of implementing countermeasures against incoming missiles, it can generate some logistical issues if the war lasts longer than expected. Because system maintenance requires a more trained workforce than missile’s operational usage, it is a question mark if Ukraine can train well-versed maintenance personnel during wartime. It is critical to keep the missiles operational in order to sustain the A2/AD zone.
“Defense against the enemy is a delicate balance that must be maintained. As the fight continues, measures developed to counter new threats may result in new issues in the long run.”