Ukraine has received a boost to its air defense capabilities with the arrival of two batteries of upgraded Soviet-era Kub-M2 surface-to-air missile systems from the Czech Republic. The Kub-M2s, nicknamed the “Three Fingers of Death” by NATO, are mobile and able to engage low-flying targets such as drones, cruise missiles, helicopters and fighter jets123.
The donation of the Kub-M2s, announced by Czech President Petr Pavel in May, comes as Ukraine faces a two-front threat from Russia: constant attacks by cruise missiles and Iranian-origin kamikaze drones hitting civilians in Ukrainian cities, while low-flying attack helicopters and fighter-bombers carry out pop-up attacks on Ukrainian troops on the frontline12.
The Kub-M2s are a unique Czech modernization of the original Kub systems that entered service in 1967. The upgrade includes an overhauled body and chassis, modern cabling, power supply, NATO interoperable communications systems, and air-conditioning. The radar and control systems were also digitized, improving jam-resistance and identify-friend-or-foe (IFF) through signal processing, while new displays and more automated control systems allow for a smaller crew with reduced workload12. The upgrade also extended service life of the vehicles and missiles, improved reliability, and decreased maintenance costs through use of digital self-diagnostic tools12.
The Czech Army still retains at least two of its original four Kub-M2 batteries in 251st Battalion of the 25th Air Defense Regiment based in Strakonice, often deployed in defense of nuclear power plants1. Prague will replace these with four truck-based Spyder-LR air defense systems purchased from Israel in a $627 million deal1.
The deployment of the Kub-M2s in Ukraine is seen as a sign of solidarity from the Czech Republic, a NATO member state, amid the ongoing crisis between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s future. Moscow wants guarantees that its neighbor, a former Soviet state, will be permanently barred from joining the US-led alliance4. NATO, however, has reaffirmed its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own security arrangements4.
The Kub-M2s could help Ukraine fill a short-to-medium range air defense gap and deter further Russian aggression. However, they are not without limitations: each battery can only engage a single target at a time, and the missiles have a range of only 24 kilometers (15 miles) and a ceiling of 14 kilometers (8.7 miles)12. Moreover, the Kub-M2s are still based on Soviet technology that may be vulnerable to Russian electronic warfare and countermeasures12.
Some analysts have suggested that the Kub-M2s could be upgraded with Western missiles, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM or the RIM-162 ESSM, to enhance their performance and interoperability with NATO forces12. However, such a modification would require additional funding and technical support from Western partners, as well as approval from Russia, which still holds intellectual property rights over the Kub systems12.