Weapon Systems

NASAMS: a trusted international air defense


NASAMS is a mid-range air defense system, designed to protect high-value assets and mass population centers against air-to-surface threats. It is used by 13 countries around the world.

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A NASAMS launches an AMRAAM. [RTX]
A NASAMS launches an AMRAAM. [RTX]

With its combat-proven track record, the National (or Norwegian) Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) empowers countries across the world to defend their airspace from a range of threats.

NASAMS is a mid-range air defense system, designed to protect high-value assets and mass population centers against air-to-surface threats.

It was developed jointly by RTX (formerly Raytheon) and a Norwegian company, Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA). It can identify, engage and destroy aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Development of the system began in the 1980s when KDA and other partners worked on a system for the Royal Norwegian Air Force to protect their southern air bases. The system integrated US-built air defense, radar and missiles with Norwegian-developed battle management systems for command, control and communication.

The Royal Norwegian Air Force and KDA conducted a mid-life update to the system in the early 2000s. The update, NASAMS 2, allowed for quicker identification and target destruction with more missile launchers and improved radar and standard tactical data links. ​​

The fully upgraded third generation was developed in the 2010s and fielded in 2019. NASAMS 3 comes with an updated fire distribution center, redesigned canister launcher and a number of upgrades to extend the range of its missiles.

Trusted around the world

NASAMS has three primary components: the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel Radar, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and the Fire Distribution Center.

The system provides air defenders with a highly adaptable system to maximize their ability to acquire, engage and destroy current and evolving enemy fixed and rotary wing aircraft, UAVs and emerging cruise missile threats, according to RTX.

The system can provide extended coverage. The radar and launcher elements can be deployed over a large area and separated by more than 20km from the Fire Distribution Center, according to KDA.

Across the world, 13 countries use NASAMS for their homeland defense: the United States, Norway, Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Oman, Lithuania, Indonesia, Australia, Qatar, Hungary, Ukraine and one undisclosed country, according to RTX.

It has been a part of the 24/7 surveillance for air defense in the US National Capital region since 2005.

Kuwait adds NASAMS to its arsenal

The government of Kuwait is also adding NASAMS to its air defense system, as part of a larger effort in the region to form a missile defense shield.

An attack in 2019 demonstrated that Kuwaiti airspace was penetrable by low-observable munitions like drones and cruise missiles.

Drones and cruise missiles presumed to have passed through Kuwaiti airspace attacked the oil processing facilities of Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

In response, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense commissioned several air defense upgrades to its existing systems and new radar procurement programs, including NASAMS.

In October 2022, the US State Department approved a possible foreign military sale to Kuwait, including NASAMS and other related equipment. The estimated cost was $3 billion.

As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which has been tasked with forming a regional ballistic missile defense shield, Kuwait is working with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to achieve this goal.

Linked for defense

When KDA and the Royal Norwegian Air Force upgraded NASAMS in the early 2000s, they created the ability to use standard tactical data links, including the Link 16 system.

Link 16 is a tactical data link that supports joint operations by linking communications among land, sea and air forces. The system allows NATO and coalition forces that are operating in one area to share information. It uses data encryption and frequency hopping to maintain secure communications.

Link 16 allows participants to share information and interoperate within the battle space. It is different from other tactical data links because it does not depend on any one terminal to act as a node for the network. Instead, all Link 16-capable terminals act as nodes, so various military forces can operate.

NASAMS can use multiple warning and tracking radars shared across Link 16 networks, along with a variety of air defense interceptors, to defend airspace all over the world.

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Hope our Lebanon will get such a system; we urgently need it to support the capabilities of our brave army.