TechUkraine Struggles to Intercept Russian Ballistic Missiles Amid Supply Shortages

Ukraine Struggles to Intercept Russian Ballistic Missiles Amid Supply Shortages

Effects of the Russian missile attack on a residential district in Kyiv.
Effects of the Russian missile attack on a residential district in Kyiv.
Images source: © Getty Images | Anadolu
7:54 AM EDT, March 22, 2024

Russia continues its relentless rocket bombardments and drone attacks on Ukrainian soil. While Ukrainians have been successful in intercepting most drones and maneuvering missiles, ballistic missiles remain a significant challenge. This article delves into the reasons behind this vulnerability.

Despite ongoing concentrated rocket and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure, the defense forces have shown remarkable resilience. In the latest attack on January 22, 2024, they neutralized almost the entire fleet of 63 Shahed drones (55 destroyed), all Ch-59 missiles, and 35 out of 40 maneuvering missiles from the Ch-101 and Ch-55/555 series. However, their efforts to intercept ballistic missiles were unsuccessful.

In this assault, the Russian forces deployed seven Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, 22 missiles from S-300/400 systems, five supersonic maneuvering Kh-22 missiles, and 12 Iskander-M ballistic missiles.

The Ukrainian antimissile defense is facing a dire shortage of missiles for the S-300P and S-300V systems, which are only produced in Russia. This scarcity complicates the procurement of missiles from Western countries.

Efforts to secure missile supplies for these systems have been largely limited to Slovakia, which provided Ukraine with its sole battery, Bulgaria, and Greece. The former transferred several missiles needing repair, while the latter had firmly opposed such aid till a recent change in stance following an attack in Odessa where a Greek delegation was present. Changes are now anticipated.

The West has supplied Ukraine with four medium-range systems to mitigate the shortfall from Soviet-era systems (three Patriots and one SAMP/T). However, this provision falls short of the burgeoning demand. These systems can only cover critical locations like parts of Kyiv or Odessa, leaving the rest vulnerable to attacks, which the Russians have exploited by targeting less protected areas.

Ballistic missiles — their velocity grants them a degree of impunity

Iskander-M ballistic missiles follow a ballistic trajectory, rising to higher atmospheric levels before descending and accelerating to speeds exceeding Mach 7 (over 2237 mph). This rapid pace greatly hinders interception efforts, with only a few antimissile systems globally capable of neutralizing them, namely in the USA, some European countries, China, and Russia.

On the other hand, maneuvering missiles travel at low altitudes at speeds between Mach 0.8 – 1 (around 600 - 735 mph), using radar horizon phenomena to evade detection. Once spotted, however, they can be effectively targeted by individual soldiers with portable air-defense systems like the Piorun or gun systems like the Gepard. Against ballistic missiles, though, these defenses fall short.

Some maneuvering missiles can reach supersonic speeds up to Mach 3 (about 2237 mph). Russia's Raduga Kh-22 anti-ship missiles, designed initially for American aircraft carriers, exemplify this capability. Due to arsenal shortages and high velocity, they are now deployed against land targets. On the Western side, the French ASMP-A missiles, equipped with a thermonuclear warhead, share similar characteristics. France has offered them as support.

The development of hypersonic weapons, which move at ballistic missile speeds but can maneuver, such as evading interception, is a focus of international research. Russia's exploration into this area, notably with the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles, underscores its interest, although their effectiveness in conflict remains to be seen.

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