TechDaring Ukrainian strike reveals Achilles' heel of Russian air defense

Daring Ukrainian strike reveals Achilles' heel of Russian air defense

Launch of the MGM-140 ATACMS missile.
Launch of the MGM-140 ATACMS missile.
Images source: © East News

11:08 AM EDT, May 2, 2024

Satellite images recently revealed the consequences of a Ukrainian strike on the Dzhankoy airfield on April 29, 2024. Despite being equipped with the S-300/400 defense system, the airfield was vulnerable to an MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missile attack, escaping destruction seemingly by luck. This incident sheds light on the ongoing conflict and the effectiveness of the weaponry deployed.
In an earlier assault on the same airfield, a complete unit of the S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft and missile system was obliterated. This time, however, either a unit of the same system or its predecessor survived with minimal damage. Images from April 26 and May 1 illustrate a deployed battery that narrowly avoided annihilation by relocating to a different combat position. It appears that the Ukrainian forces based their missile launch on outdated information, while the Russians, adapting from previous encounters, frequently alter the positioning of their defense systems as a tactical measure. In this instance, the adjustment might have been made mere hours before the attack.

As a result, the MGM-140 ATACMS missile launched did not directly hit the intended target. Still, it caused significant damage to at least one vehicle, possibly a critical component like a detection radar or fire control radar. Such a hit could render the battery inoperative until the damaged equipment is replaced. It's also probable that other vehicles sustained minor damage from shrapnel.

The MGM-140 ATACMS, a distinguished and formidable American weapon

The use of MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missiles by Ukrainian forces has notably increased, presenting a challenge to Russian defense systems. These missiles, particularly the M39 and M39A1 variants equipped with cluster munition warheads, have been documented in various attacks.

The M39 missile boasts a range of 102 miles and utilizes inertial guidance, whereas the M39A1 extends the reach to 186 miles and incorporates satellite navigation for enhanced accuracy. Nonetheless, Russian forces have been effective in jamming GPS signals, complicating the use of precision-guided munitions like the GLSDB or M982 Excalibur.

Both the M39 and M39A1 variants dispense hundreds of M74 APAM bomblets. The earlier version carries up to 950 bomblets, while the M39A1, designed with a larger fuel tank, contains about 300. These bomblets, encased in tungsten, can pierce armor and detonate on impact, dispersing a deadly mix of explosives and incendiary material over a broad area. The design of these munitions means that soldiers in the target zone have little chance of survival unless adequately sheltered.
This detailed analysis of the recent attack and the capabilities of the MGM-140 ATACMS missiles highlights the ongoing adaptations and countermeasures in the conflict, underscoring the sophisticated nature of modern warfare.
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