How Raytheon Rapidly Surged Air Defenses to Ukraine
In the early stages of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as it became clear to Kyiv that it critically needed air defenses to fend off missile and drone attacks, the Ukrainian government asked the U.S. for urgently needed help. The initial U.S. response was that it usually takes two years to get a system on contract, then two more to build and deliver it—about a 4-5-year process.
Ukraine’s reaction, according to an official involved at Raytheon, a division of RTX, was: “Are you kidding me?”
- The procurement marked the first foreign military sale for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System
- Every person in the organization played a key role
That exchange spurred Raytheon and partner Kongsberg to break records by begging, borrowing and “stealing” equipment to rapidly surge the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (Nasams) to Ukrainian forces, which were using it to defend population centers by the end of 2022. The system is now a crucial piece of Ukraine’s networked air defenses, with successive deliveries of aid from the U.S., including more ammunition for the launchers.
“The main driver for this program was the motivation and the people,” Laura Bear, Raytheon’s program manager for medium-range air defense, said in a presentation at Aviation Week’s A&D Programs Conference on Nov. 8. “I think we made it very clear throughout the organization that every single person played an incredibly important part in this program. Whether you were logistics packaging a box, whether you were the guy turning a screw on the floor of the factory, your efforts within days or weeks could be implemented and needed in Ukraine.”
The procurement was the first Foreign Military Sales case for the Nasams, and it involved a customer within the U.S. government—the Army’s Program Executive Office Missiles and Space—that was not aware beforehand it would be facilitating a transfer to Ukraine. The office had also never previously worked with Nasams.
To speed up delivery, the U.S. government gave Raytheon Nasams kits from its stocks and asked the company for reimbursement instead of contracting new-build equipment. With that expediency, two kits were sold and shipped off within one day of contract award, Bear said.
Such a quick turnaround for contract award and “DD-250-ing” is “quite a feat” and almost unheard of in modern Pentagon acquisition, Bear said, using the term for the document that is signed for transferring ownership. A letter of subcontract with Kongsberg was in place within two business days of contract award. Twenty additional components of the system were also sent out within five days.
All of the equipment was out the door within a couple weeks, Bear said, and headed to Norway along with a large contingent of Raytheon personnel to help train Ukrainian personnel to operate the Nasams.
The October 2022 training process “changed the entire team’s lives,” Bear noted. With the Raytheon team excited about just getting the systems out the door, a contingent of Ukrainian troops arrived anxious to learn a system they hoped would save lives at home.
“Not only did the reality of the moment hit us, but we realized these soldiers [were] trusting us and our system with their lives,” Bear said. “They were so appreciative, thanking us for every minute we spent with them.”
Throughout the training process, the groups worked extremely long days, giving all they could to move as quickly as possible. The Raytheon and Kongsberg teams put together a small graduation ceremony and certificates to mark the end of the occasion before Ukrainian forces headed back, first to Poland and then driving the systems over the border to their new operating locations in Ukraine.
Before leaving, the Ukrainian forces boarded a bus to the nearby flight line where a Boeing C-17 awaited. They drove by a hangar where contractor teams were working. “They were waving; we were outside waving. A last thank-you appreciation and a bond,” Bear said.
Shortly after that process, two fire units were deployed to Ukraine within 71 days of the original contract award. Within two days of becoming operational, the Nasams achieved their first successful intercepts—hitting 10 out of 10 targets.
News of the success broke quickly at a Pentagon briefing on Nov. 16, 2022, where Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin lauded the system’s effectiveness. “I’m pleased to report that the Nasams air defense systems that we sent to Ukraine are now operational, and their performance so far has been very impressive,” Austin said. “The Nasams systems had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian missiles as the Kremlin continues its ruthless bombardment of Ukraine.”
When that news broke, Bear said, she was back in Raytheon’s California office. “We shut the door to the office and danced around and cried. [It was] one of the best experiences of our lives, one of the hardest things [we’ve] ever done, but successful.”
The system was critical in protecting Ukrainian infrastructure through the winter, as Russia targeted electricity and broader energy infrastructure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also began to praise the Nasams. Company executives were able to visit Ukraine in the fall of 2023, where they were told the system has allowed locals to return to normalcy in their lives and not worry as much about incoming missiles and drones, Bear said.
Those first two lots are part of eight that are now on contract following a $1.92 billion contract award. Raytheon has crews on standby near Ukraine to respond to remote telemaintenance requests.
The Nasams quick-turnaround example is unlikely to be replicated in an era in which defense procurement moves extremely slowly. Those involved had to create a culture of urgency to immediately support Ukrainian troops in danger. “For us, this wasn’t just another program—this has touched our lives,” Bear noted.