TechUkraine struggling with Russian ballistic missile attacks, finds drone interceptions easier

Ukraine struggling with Russian ballistic missile attacks, finds drone interceptions easier

Consequences of the Russian missile attack on a residential district in Kiev.
Consequences of the Russian missile attack on a residential district in Kiev.
Images source: © Getty Images | Anadolu

12:19 PM EST, January 8, 2024

Throughout the summer, the Russians have been assembling Shahed drones, maneuvering, and ballistic missiles to bombard Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure in the winter. In their recent attack on January 8, 2024, the Ukrainians were successful in intercepting all eight Shahed drones and 18 out of 14 missiles from the Ch-101 and Ch-55/555 families. However, they failed to intercept four Ch-47M2 Kinjal missiles, seven missiles from the S-300/400 systems, eight Ch-22s, six Iskander-Ms and two anti-radar Ch-31Ps.

Regrettably, the Ukrainian air defense exhausted its missile reserves for their medium-range air defense systems from the S-300P and S-300W family a while ago. These were produced solely by Russia, and their availability among Western nations is quite limited.

In essence, the only available sources are Slovakia, which supplied Ukraine with one battery, and Bulgaria and Greece. Bulgaria has given Ukraine a certain amount of missiles in need of overhaul, while Greece is reluctant to relinquish their systems without immediate compensation due to tense relations with Turkey.

To mitigate the shortage arising from the post-Soviet systems, Western nations gave Ukraine four medium-range systems (three Patriots and one SAMP/T). However, this supply is woefully inadequate compared to the demand. They can effectively guard strategic venues like parts of Kiev and Odessa, but not much else.

Understanding ballistic missiles - their secret revealed

Ballistic missiles such as the Iskander-M type travel in a ballistic arc, reaching high into the Earth's atmosphere before descending and accelerating to speeds greater than Mach 7 (over 4470 mph). Such high speeds significantly complicate interception attempts, with only a handful of global air defense systems equipped to tackle them.

Conversely, maneuvering missiles travel at considerably lower speeds (Mach 0.8-1, or about 600-740 mph), typically flying as low as possible to utilise the radar horizon phenomenon and sneak past air defenses. However, if such a missile comes within range, even a soldier equipped with a handheld air defense system like the PPZR Piorun or a gun system of the Gepard type can counter it.

That being said, some maneuvering missiles can reach supersonic speeds of roughly Mach 3 (2237 mph). An example is the Raduga Ch-22 anti-ship missiles developed by the Russians to target American aircraft carriers. Due to a shortage of missiles and their high speeds, they are now also being employed against ground targets.

Even so, many countries are developing hypersonic weapons that can reach the speeds of ballistic missiles while maintaining maneuverability during flight and performing evasive actions. Russia, with its Ch-47M2 Kinjal missiles, is part of this initiative, although their results, as evidenced by the war in Ukraine, have disappointed expectations.

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